The Canon Vixia HF R20 is a basic HD (hi definition) flash memory camcorder that is capable of producing very high quality 1080p video in MPEG4-AVC/H.264 format, thanks to its 1/4.85-inch CMOS sensor and DIGIC DVIII processor. The unit is rated at 3.28 Megapixels (2.07 effective).
Canon positions this product as offering the ideal combination of price and performance for the budget-conscious consumer who wants Full HD 1920x1080 video.
The camcorder comes with 8GB of built-in flash memory, and accepts 2 additional SDXC memory cards, each of which can be up to 2 TB. Yes, that is terabytes. Suffice it to say, you can record a LOT of video on this unit if you make use of the expansion slots. The camcorder switches automatically from one storage device to another without interruption. Nice feature. With just the built-in memory, at highest quality, you can record 40 minutes of video. As inexpensive as flash memory is, there's no reason not to fill both slots with at least 16 GB SD cards in each ... 32 if you're feeling extravagant.
As a budget HD camcorder, the Vixia HF R20 seems a likely upgrade for pocket camcorder users. I shot indoor and outdoor video with this camcorder, and with a pocket camcorder that shoots 1080p video also. I viewed the Canon Vixia video first, and observed the quality, then watched the pocket camcorder video and made comparisons. I'll share comparisons at the end.
First, here are some Pros and Cons I observed while using the Vixia camcorder.
Excellent 20x optical zoom lens produced very sharp video in adequate lighting. This means outdoor daytime, and bright indoor lighting.. There is a 28x "advanced" setting and 400x digital zoom. The advanced zoom is supposed to yield more zoom without compromising image quality. I'll stick to optical zoom myself, but it's a nice feature if you're into zooming.
Auto Exposure worked very well outdoors, exposing bright scenes and shaded ones very well, and smoothly transitioning between the two. Indoors, I was less thrilled, because even during the daytime indoors, the video seemed a wee bit contrasty.
Combined processor/lens/metering produced stunning outdoor video. Perfectly exposed, very sharp, vibrant color without being super saturated ... if this is the main way you use your camcorder, you would be completely satisfied with the product.
Opening the LCD doesn't turn on the camcorder. You have to press the on button too. However, once it's on, closing the LCD puts the device into a standby mode and shuts the automatic lens cover, so that opening the LCD again puts you into shooting mode in less than a second. While out and about, I recommend operating in this mode ... however it likely consumes extra battery, so be sure to power down completely when you're done shooting for the day.
3" touchscreen for settings and preview. It's a good size while maintaining the light weight of the device.
Face detection works well at acquiring faces. Even cat faces. Well implemented feature.
No onboard light. There is no accessory attachment for adding light (you have to move up to the HF21 model for that), and unbelievably, there is not even a booster LED onboard. For a camcorder of this price, and for the quality of video it is capable of producing, this is just inexcusable. Even phones today have a LED for lighting. My $100 pocket camcorder has one. Seriously Canon? Because of this, indoors, even during daytime, the camcorder had a tendency to hunt for focus a bit, and indoor video was more contrasty than I like.
No viewfinder. While this adds cost, I have always found it very difficult to use LCD screens in the daylight for composing scenes. You have to move up to the HV40 to get a viewfinder. More than double the cost of this unit.
The image stabilization just didn't do that much. I tried both Auto and Dynamic modes. The jittery effect is most noticeable when zoomed in, so be aware of this.
Battery life seemed short to me. I shot video and looked through settings for no more than 1.25-1.5 hours.
The GUI. Most of the settings are made on the touchscreen, and the menu system is easy to navigate without needing to go to the manual to figure everything out. Contrarily, there are actual buttons on the body of the camera opposite the LCD (record/play, video snap, auto/web, disp/battery info). Why the mix? I spent 10 minutes trying to find the playback button in the menu system, until I was forced to go to the manual to figure out how to playback video. Sheesh. It's 2011. Can't we be consistent with GUI design? Please?
Daylight and daytime indoor white balance was set properly by the camera, but under compact fluorescent light at night, the balance was very very warm.
Comparison with pocket camcorder:
Canon Vixia produces much sharper and clearer video. This is likely due to a larger sensor, better optics, and Canon's prowess at processing.
The Canon Vixia zooms in HD modes. The pocket camcorder does zoom, but only in SD modes.
Solid colors are noisier/grainier in the pocket camcorder.
That one little LED makes the video shot indoors better exposed on the pocket camcorder. It's just enough light to fill in the shadows.
Stabilization works better in the pocket camcorder. It seems very weak in the Canon Vixia.
Outdoors, the pocket camcorder video is a little washed out, and overall exposure is a little brighter.
The pocket camcorder is much worse at processing panning video. The video image gets semi-scrambled by the pocket camcorder ... the Vixia keeps up with video processing during panning scenes.
The pocket camcorder does not handle bright to dark (and vice versa) transitions as well as the Vixia does. It's smooth as silk with the Canon. Choppy exposure transition with the pocket camcorder.
The Canon Vixia HF R20 is an easy-to-use, lightweight camcorder that produces stunning full HD (1080p) video on the easiest media of all to use, flash memory. It operates at full default, full auto settings for the novice, and allows many manual settings for more advanced camcorder users. It even lets you shoot 24p cinema-mode video. The strongest features of this camcorder are the lens, exposure, and image processing capabilities. Daytime and bright indoor video is excellent. However, Canon needlessly compromised the indoor capabilities of the camera by failing to include any onboard light. As well, the image stabilization could use some improvement, as zoomed video seemed needlessly jittery to me. Still, an entry level product cannot be at the pinnacle in every aspect of use, and Canon rightly focused its efforts on excellent quality video in what it judges as the most likely venues of usage. Battery life could be longer, so plan to have a spare (or two) on hand for a full day of shooting.