Canon acquitted itself well with a nearly identical trio of flash-based AVCHD camcorders -- the HF10, HF11 and HF100. Follow-up models the Legria HF20 and Legria HF200 manage to improve upon their legacy. The only difference between the two models is colour, memory configuration and price: the HF20 has 32GB built in and is available for around £760, while the HF200 has no built-in memory and costs around £600.
Smaller and slightly less powerful than the Legria HF S10, the HF20 offers a physically smaller but longer 15x zoom lens and smaller, lower-resolution 4-megapixel sensor. And, although the HF20 retains much of the same feature set as the HF S10, it doesn't supply more enthusiast-orientated niceties like a manual control dial, zebra stripes and colour bars, or a pop-up flash. Still, it's a definite upgrade from the older HF10.
Also, while the HF20 is more expensive than competitors like the Sony Handycam HDR-CX100 and Panasonic's HDC-TM20 and HDC-SD20, those camcorders lack features that some users consider essential regardless of camcorder size, including an accessory shoe, microphone input and headphone jack, which the HF20 provides. Like many new models, however, the HF20 lacks an eye-level electronic viewfinder.
It's no featherweight, but the HF20 is relatively light for a mid-range camcorder, at 394g. Albeit with some bulging, it fits comfortably into a jacket pocket, measuring 71 by 61 by 124mm. It's very comfortable to grip and use, with the photo button and zoom rocker on a slight rise, so that they fall naturally under your forefinger.
Most of the shooting controls live on the LCD bezel. The function button pulls up both the frequently used settings, as well as the full menu system another level down. In addition to the usual -- white balance, image effects, digital effects, video quality and still-photo size, program, and a handful of scene modes -- the HF20 offers real shutter- and aperture-priority shooting modes with a shutter speed range of 1/8 to 1/2,000 seconds and aperture options ranging from f1.8 to f8, giving you more control over depth of field than you generally see in a consumer model, especially a compact one.
The HF20 also offers Canon's Cine mode for adjusting colour and gamma to go with its 24f progressive modes, although 24f and 30f get recorded as 60i. In still mode, you can select metering and drive modes as well. Other high-end features accessible via the menus include three fixed or variable zoom speeds and x.v.Color mode.
Navigating down on the joystick while shooting triggers a pop-up menu for turning on the video light, digital effects, 3-second pre-record, backlight and exposure compensation, manual focus, mic level and face detection. In still mode, you gain flash and lose the pre-record. The menu system itself has been updated for a smoother feel and now gives you the ability to choose font size.
Since the 69mm (2.7-inch) display is the typical low-resolution model, the small fonts look pixellated and will be hard for some to read. The display stands up pretty well in direct sunlight, though. As we've seen with many camcorders, the recordings on the LCD look far more contrasted and blown out than the actual video, which means you can't trust it for making exposure or white-balance adjustments.
Like the HF S10, the HF20 incorporates this year's features, including Video Snapshot, which uses 4-second clips to create a 'highlights reel' effect. We like the idea, but the implementation can be annoying.