Canon LEGRIA HF S21 £1200
18th Mar 2010 | 16:10
Full HD camcorder with massive 64GB storage
Canon Legria HF S21: Overview
Sitting at the pinnacle of Canon's 2010 range of consumer camcorders, the LEGRIA HF S21 is a powerful and practical Full HD model with a 64GB flash memory, 3.5-inch LCD touchscreen and two (yes, two) SD card slots.
This is a camcorder targeted at enthusiasts and those who want premium image quality, maximum storage and almost-complete creative control.
The massive storage means the S21 can hold up to 24 hours of HD footage on the camcorder itself, and with Relay Recording you can continue recording to SDHC card; when one card is full the cam automatically continues recording to the second card.
With five recording modes (using bitrates from 24Mbps to 5Mbps) it's possible to select resolutions depending on how you want to view or share the movie – full resolution or web-friendly.
Shooting flexibility is an important area on the S21. As well as manual controls for focus, exposure and white balance – which can be controlled by a small, control dial on the left of the camcorder – there's also a range of pro-style features and a mammoth set of connections.
A zebra pattern setting gives a warning when a scene is over-exposed, allowing corrections to be made, while colour bars enable editors to match the output from two camcorders – ensuring they don't look dramatically different. Best of all is a 25p mode, which provides videos with a more-cinematic look.
An external mic can be fitted and there's a headphone output for monitoring sound recording. You can connect it up to a TV using composite or component output, or to maintain maximum quality use the mini HDMI terminal and hook it up to an HD TV. A USB port provides computer connectivity.
The LEGRIA HF S21's rivals are likely to include Sony's HDR-CX350 with its 32GB flash memory, 12x optical zoom and 7.1MP stills; and Panasonic's HDC-TM700, which features 32GB storage, 12x optical zoom and 7.89MP stills.
Canon Legria HF S21: Performance
Bigger and bulkier than your average camcorder, the S21 isn't interested in fitting inside jacket pockets.
This is a camcorder that wants to be seen, and seen sitting atop a tripod is often the best place for it. It has a durable build quality and responsive control buttons, as well as a 10x optical zoom that's relatively smooth and easy to control.
The increased dimensions are partly down to that 3.5-inch touchscreen LCD, which offers a sharp and clear way of reviewing recently shot footage. The colour viewfinder – a rapidly vanishing feature – is a neat addition, too, though it could have done with being bigger.
The touchscreen LCD is a little disappointing, though, especially when it is needed to access and make selections from the menu. The problem is it's often unresponsive to the touch of a finger, leaving you looking like a tech-numpty as you repeatedly prod the screen.
It's wiser, and quicker, to use some form of stylus pen or pencil to scroll through what is often an intelligently laid out menu system.
There's no disappointment when it comes to image quality, however. You're simply going to drool over the sharpness, clarity and colour reproduction the S21 delivers. A close-up of a leaf reveals exceptional fine detail, and even when rapidly changing the subject and setting, the S21's autofocus and autoexposure systems react and adapt quickly to any changes.
Low-light doesn't deter the S21 and it produces watchable movies even in less-than optimum conditions. The camcorder's auto systems do noticeably boost the image brightness in low light, but without any major detriment to the overall picture.
The S21 is bundled with Pixela ImageMixer 3 SE software and in conjunction with a nifty HD-to-SD file conversion feature on the camcorder it's possible to share movies through websites such as YouTube.
Insert an SDHC into the cam and select the clip(s) you want to convert from Full HD to SD – these are then stored on the SD card. Open the software – you'll have the chance to enter YouTube log-in details – and use it to upload and share these clips. It's simple, intuitive and addictively easy.
Stills can be reeled off (using a four-mode flash: auto, on, off, red-eye reduction) at super fine, fine and normal settings, and the 8.59MP CMOS sensor delivers sumptuous colours and absorbing detail. As with movie clips, it's a straightforward process to create playlists and albums from favourite stills and videos.
Canon Legria HF S21: Verdict
The LEGRIA HF S21's manual modes alone would make it a camcorder in need of serious consideration, but it's really the superb overall movie and stills quality that makes it a standout. In this case, the proof of the pudding is all in the viewing and with the S21 you just have to drink it in!
It's not a compact camcorder, but we liked that. The S21 doesn't reduce everything to miniature in order to serve a design ethos; it's about functionality and control.
Both movie and stills are ridiculously detailed and make for superior results, and it is even more encouraging to know you can tweak, change and play with features to better serve the type of images you want to create. The 25p film-like setting adds even more shooting versatility and serves to reinforce how far HD camcorders have come in the search for high-end visuals.
The ease of uploading, and sharing, movies is also an important virtue, and while the Pixela software is by no means pro-level, it does prove that not every facet of an enthusiast camcorder has to be overly complex to be successful. The option for HD-to-SD file conversion shows a clever understanding of what can often be a frustrating aspect of movie sharing – waiting for clips to upload.
In reality, most concerns are mere quibbles. The touchscreen would benefit from being more responsive, certainly, and a large eyecup would help cement the idea that using a viewfinder is the practical solution to framing and composition, rather than using the LCD screen.
The LEGRIA HF S21 is not for the frivolous. It's an expensive and heavily specified camcorder and one that requires time and dedication to create the best results. If that appeals to you then this is one of the most comprehensive and compelling HD camcorders on the market today.