Don't expect the footage to have the same tonal characteristics as film, however. To address this, Canon includes cine mode, which can be combined with 24p mode if desired and tries to achieve a film-like look by changing the colour and gamma performance. Purists probably won't be satisfied, but it's worth a try if you want a different, more muted look to your footage.
In its more accurate 'typical recording time' spec, Canon clocks battery life at 65 minutes in HDV mode with the LCD set to bright, when using the included 1,200 mAh BP-2L13 battery. Powering video lights and microphones will take a chunk out of this, however.
Canon also offers the higher-capacity BP-2L14 and the lower-capacity NB-2LH batteries as accessories. An extra battery is always a good idea if you plan to bring the HV20 on holiday.
We were very impressed with the video we shot with the HV20. Our footage was quite sharp, colours showed plenty of saturation, and we saw surprisingly little noise, especially in good lighting conditions. Like the HV10, the HV20 did tend to lose some information in highlights, though it preserves noticeably more highlight detail than most non-HD camcorders, and shadow detail was impressive.
Since it's a single-chip design (as opposed to three-chip), low-light performance isn't amazing. Still, the graininess in low light was considerably better than you'd see in a camcorder with a smaller sensor, though in extremely dim conditions, colour fidelity and overall dynamic range drop precipitously, leaving largely monochrome video with very little shadow detail. Canon's night mode does little to fix this, instead dropping the shutter to such a slow speed that you end up with video that looks like lazy stop-action animation.
Still images reminded us of what we saw with the HV10. While very impressive for a camcorder, you still won't want to print larger than snapshot size. But if you don't print larger than 100x150mm (4x6 inches), you may be pleased with the results.
Despite our handful of gripes, the HV20 will probably be a big seller for Canon. We wouldn't be surprised if it's among the top-selling nonbudget camcorders this year, especially if retailers drop the price to less than £700. The HV20's stunning high-definition video and comfortable operation make it a great choice for nonprofessional, HD-happy videographers.
If, however, you often find yourself shooting in low light, don't mind a touchscreen interface, and can stand to fork out a little extra cash, Sony's Handycam HDR-HC7 is definitely worth consideration.
Additional editing by Nick Hide