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Canon Legria HF S21 AVCHD review

Expert Reviews Staff
12 Mar 2010
Our Rating 
(

It has the full set of features most sought-after by serious users and produces output that will be difficult to match at this price-point.

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Specifications

Canon's Legria sub-brand, of which the new HF S21 is now the flagship, was the first to offer full 24Mbits/sec 1920 x 1080 HD video recording in a consumer camcorder. This, plus its ability to shoot 25p progressive scan video, could well be the feature most likely to grab the attention of the more serious video-making enthusiast. But can it improve on its predecessors?

What's undoubtedly attractive about the HF S21 is its robustness and cool, ready-foraction looks. It's quite heavy, but that will be another plus-point for the more critical digital film-makers, who associate solid build quality with improved ergonomics and stability, especially when tripod-mounted.

Look at the official specs from Canon and you'll learn that its stylish black body houses a single 1/2.6in Cmos image sensor, a Canon HD video lens with 10x optical zoom, and Digic DV III, the company's proprietary image processing engine. And that's not all. The so-called 'twin memory media' camera gives users the choice of recording either to its built-in 64GB flash memory or to one of two SDHC memory cards, each with their own slot. With maximum SDHC card capacities currently running at 32GB, that gives the user a potential 128GB of storage for movies and still images. Unlike Panasonic's HDC-TM700, there's no support for SDXC cards, though.

The HF S21 does offer 'relay recording', so if one of the available storage media fills up, the device will continue recording onto another available one automatically and seamlessly.

Five HD video recording modes are on offer, ranging from the 5Mbits/sec, 1440 x 1080 LP mode at the lower end to a 17Mbits/sec, 1920 x 1080 FXP mode; as well as 24Mbits/sec, 1920 x 1080 MXP mode at the top end. Users should note that clips shot at 24Mbits/sec may not be playable when playing back as 'AVCHD movies' on certain DVD devices. We should also mention that it has a viewfinder, too - but the small 0.27in LCD has a fixed position and therefore has limited use.

There's a host of standard features like PreREC (the camera continually caches 3 seconds of recording even when in standby in order that you don't miss any unexpected action), multiple face detection, a built-in ability to trim clips or build playlists incamera, fast start, and so on. These are supplemented by enthusiasts' must-have features like an external microphone input, headphone output and a good level of manual control over all main operations thanks to its control dial, which is located next to the large 58mm diameter lens barrel.

All models in the Legria range have been given a brand new and very attractive menu system, which is reliant upon the use of the camera's 3.5in, 922,000-pixel touchscreen LCD to navigate. While the screen itself produces fine-looking pictures from many viewing angles, it's not as responsive to touch as it should be, and the menu system could do with being a little bit more intuitive. A good example of the latter is the so-called Powered OIS (optical image stabilisation) utility. Without reading the manual, it's almost impossible for a first-time user to figure out how to disable it. And, of course, a manual didn't come with our early review sample.

However, when it comes to the quality of recordings there's no doubt that the HF S21 is a winner. Shooting in 17Mbits/sec as well as 24Mbits/sec modes produces superb full HD clips even when recording in Auto. By switching to manual and searching through the touchscreen menu to select its PF25 cine mode, you'll see beautifully-rendered shots when playing back via HDMI on a good display or when importing into your preferred Mac editing application. Even movement looks good when shooting 25p. With the price of high-capacity memory cards cheaper than ever, it's debatable whether its 64GB built-in memory is as much of a selling point as it would have been two years ago despite its usefulness. That aside, the HF S21 is a fabulous addition to the Canon AVCHD range.

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