A well-designed camcorder, but Panasonic's TM700 and SD700 provide better quality video for less money.
1/2.6in CMOS sensor, PAL, 1,920×1,080, 10.0x zoom, 480g
Every year camcorders get smaller, so it comes as a bit of a surprise to come across one that it’s actually bigger than its predecessor. The HF S21’s angular black design makes it seem bigger still. Maybe by adding a little bulk and menace to its designs, Canon hopes to underline this top of the range model’s serious credentials.
The HF S21’s has 64GB of built-in memory, which is enough for around six hours of recording even in its highest-quality 24Mbit/s mode. In addition there’s the HF S20 (which has 32GB of memory) and HF S200 (which relies purely on memory cards). Both these models lack the HF S21’s colour viewfinder, and so are around 8mm shorter, but this won’t bother most users. In every other respect the three camcorders are identical.
We were pleasantly surprised to find twin SDXC card slots on the HF S21 (though these are far more useful on the memory-less HF S200). Using these, you could add two 16GB SDHC cards, giving you 32GB of storage for just £50. The camcorder will automatically switch between the internal memory and the memory cards if one should get full, so you shouldn’t get caught out in the middle of a wedding, for example. These twin card slots help make the HF S200 the pick of the three models, as the built-in flash memory looks overpriced when compared to an additional memory card.
The large lens has an F1.8-3.0 aperture, narrower than the F1.5 we saw recently on Panasonic’s HDC-TM700. It’s also got a narrower field-of-view at the wide end of its zoom, with a 35mm equivalent of 43.5mm, compared to the TM700’s wider 35mm lens. Wide angle is particularly useful, both for group shots indoors and landscapes outdoors.
Behind the lens is a big 1/2.6in CMOS sensor, which is hard to compare directly with the TM700’s three-sensor array. In good lighting conditions there was little to tell the two apart, except for the TM700’s slightly more saturated colours. On an overcast day, though, the TM700 had a little more detail and contrast in its footage. In low light, the HF S21 was again edged out by the brighter and more colourful video from its competitor. One area where the HF S21 is superior is in its wide range of optical image stabilisation (OIS) options. There are three of these (called regular, dynamic and powered OIS), and if you’re willing to play with them you can get great-looking results.
The LCD is outstanding. It’s 3.5in across and has four times the detail of the TM700’s 3in display. It’s touch sensitive, and functions like spot focus work well, but we found the menus and other controls to be infuriating. For example its impossible to change the video quality while in automatic mode (you need to switch to manual mode to enter the main menu), but yet the setting effects both. Manual controls are comprehensive, but we prefer the TM700’s lens ring to the Canon’s small dial below the lens.
One other problem is the supplied battery, which only lasted for one hour and 22 minutes in our tests, there’s plenty of space to fit a larger battery and one should have been included. Audio is only stereo, compared to the TM700’s built-in surround sound microphone.
Putting to one side the overpriced 64GB of internal memory, and comparing the basic models in each range (the HDC-SD700 and HF S200) the Canon is outdone by the £100 cheaper Panasonic in terms of size, video quality and controls. The HF series has twin memory card slots, better image stabilisation and a nicer LCD, but then the HDC models have surround sound, wide angle lenses and viewfinders on every model. With such extras balancing out, we’d buy the HDC-SD700 as it’s cheaper and shoots nicer-looking video.
|LCD screen size||3.5in|
|Video recording format||AVCHD|
|Video recording media||flash memory and dual SDXC|
|Sound||Dolby Digital Stereo|
|Video resolutions||PAL, 1,920×1,080|
|Maximum image resolution||3,264×2,456|
|Memory slot||2x SDXC|
|Mermory supplied||64GB internal|
|Analogue inputs/outputs||AV out, component out, mini HDMI out|
|Other connections||charge jack, microphone, headphones, Canon accessory shoe|
|Battery type||7.4V 890mAh Li-ion|
|Battery life||1h 22m|
|Battery charging position||camcorder|