Canon HG20

HD video at its finest.

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Canon HG20
  • Canon HG20
  • Canon HG20
  • Canon HG20

Pros

  • Unsurpassed image sharpness, 60GB hard drive, lots of manual control

Cons

  • Slightly oversized, questionable build quality

Bottom Line

The HG20 is an excellent high-def HDD camcorder that easily matches anything else on the market. Although the build quality could be better, its video performance more than makes up for any shortcomings. Highly recommended.

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If camcorders were types of wine, the Canon range would be an exceptionally fine vintage preferred by foppish aristocrats and worldly connoisseurs. Time and time again, the company’s optical and imaging maestros have produced the best models for serious videographers.

Its latest high-def model — dubbed the HG20 — is yet another cellar-worthy offering. Sporting a maximum resolution of 1080p, an increased AVCHD bit rate of 24 megabits per second (Mbps), an extensive array of manual options and a 60GB hard drive, it is one of the best camcorders we’ve tested this year.

The HG20 is the current ‘number two’ in Canon’s consumer-level camcorder range, surpassed only by the HG21. Annoyingly, it shares nothing in common with the above euphemism, which means all our scatological puns are wasted. [Bummer — Ed.] In terms of specifications, the HG20 is almost identical to the HG21, with the exception of its smaller hard drive (60GB vs. 120GB) and lack of optical viewfinder.

If you tend to ignore optical viewfinders in favour of LCD displays, the HG20 is probably the better option; especially when you take its SD memory card slot into account. This allows you to boost the storage space by an additional 32GB, for a total of 92GB. By itself, the camera’s inbuilt hard drive will net you around 5.5 hours of high quality video, which is easily enough to see you through a day’s worth of shooting (as mentioned, the HG20 records data at 24Mbps, which is currently the fastest bit rate on the market).

Compared to some of its current rivals, the HG20 is a bit on the portly side. [That better not be a wine pun — Ed.] With dimensions of 81x75x129mm and weighing over 500g, it’s not something you can carry around in your pocket with ease, though it should fit comfortably into most medium-sized bags. While we’re on the subject of design, we weren’t huge fans of the HG20’s dull grey finish either. We much prefer the sleek black colour scheme of its bigger brother, the HG21. To top it off, the camera’s build quality has a curiously hollow and ‘tinny’ feel, which is surprising for a Canon camera. Thankfully, what the HG20 lacks in appearance, it more than makes up for in ability (a bit like the GoodGearGuide team, in fact).

When it comes to image quality, the HG20 is up there with the best camcorder models on the market. It is equipped with a 1/3.2-inch CMOS sensor with a gross pixel count of 3310k. While this may seem a little on the weedy side, Canon’s advanced optics ensures an exceedingly crisp picture. We were particularly impressed by the level of sharpness it exhibited. Close-ups of foliage were captured in razor-like detail, with every twig, vein and leaf clearly defined. While this is somewhat predictable (Canon is a market leader in this regard), it remains an impressive feat nonetheless.

Being a ‘consumer pleaser’ first and foremost, the HG20 sacrifices colour fidelity in favour of rich, primary tones. While this might cause image purists to baulk, we found the level of vibrancy worked in the camera’s favour. It gave our footage a pleasingly vivid appearance that was perfectly suited for playback on high-def TVs. (For those who prefer a cooler look, the saturation can be adjusted manually to achieve the desired result.) We were equally impressed by the HG20's low-light performance — usually the bane of all consumer-level camcorders. When we used the camera in a dark environment our footage retained its sharpness, with noise failing to mar fine details.

As befits a market-leading camcorder, the HG20 comes packed with an extensive range of modes and features. This includes an optical image stabiliser, external mic and headphone jacks, aperture priority, shutter priority, adjustable exposure, focus and white balance, multiple frame rate options (60i/30p/24p), 13 programmed AE modes, assorted image effects and a 12x optical zoom lens. Naturally, the camera also takes still pictures, though at 3.3 megapixels it is slightly underpowered when compared to its contemporaries.

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