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Canon LEGRIA HF S21 camcorder review

By on September 7, 2010
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Top notch image quality but at a steep learning curve

Editor's Score
Features:
Performance:
Value:
The Verdict:
The LEGRIA HF S21 is not for the lighthearted

The LEGRIA HF S21 features a 10X optical zoom lens that in 35mm equivalent means a focal length of 43.5mm to 435mm with its largest aperture ranging from F1.8 to F3.0. With a minimum focusing distance of just 10mm at its widest focal length, an f1.8 lens enables you to throw the background out of focus giving you some creative leverage.

The optical quality of the lens seemed quite good though there was a bit of vignette at its widest apertures which was a little annoying in some situations even though it made the image look more creative sometimes. Also the widest focal length of 43.5 for movies (39.9mm for still images) just isn’t wide enough to capture a complete indoor scene or a large landscape.

Behind the lens you’ll find the 1/2.6inch 8.5 megapixel CMOS sensor that has effective pixels of 6.01 megapixels for movies and 8.02 megapixels for still images. The impeccable clarity, color reproduction and sharpness the videos manage to capture are stunning to the fine detail. The autofocus (Face Priority AF/Instant AF/TV AF) and metering worked flawlessly in good lighting conditions though struggled a little bit in low light.

There are 5 recording modes available ont he LEGRIA HF S21:

- 5Mbps, 1440×1080 ‘LP’ mode
- 7Mbps, 1440×1080 ‘SP’ mode
- 12Mbps, 1440×1080 ‘XP+’ mode
- 17Mbps, 1920×1060 ‘FXP’ mode
- 24Mbps, 1920×1080 ‘MXP’ mode

You can record up to 24 hours worth of video on the lowest setting while up to 6 hours with the 24Mbps setting on the internal 64GB flash drive. The quality at the ‘LP’ or ‘SP’ mode is quite average but the camcorder really shines in the ‘FCP’ or ‘MXP’ mode.

The LEGRIA HF S21 is capable of taking quality 8 megapixel still images and comes with a powerful pop up flash. Unfortunately the flash is a little harsh and makes the person look a little too warm. You can take images in 5 different sizes: 3264 x 2456, 3264 x 1840, 1920 x 1440, 1920 x 1080, 640 x 480. The images look nice even in poor lighting though a little over sharpened that was quite visible when shooting people or architecture.

The LCD screen on the LEGRIA HF S21 is technically brilliant but lacks the functionality. At 3.5inch wide with a resolution of 922,000 pixels, it’s brilliant with speckless representation of what you are shooting and beautiful colors with easy to use spot focus function but when it came to changing the settings, it can be a little frustrating especially when it’s the only way you can access the menu. The LCD isn’t fingerprints resistant though that wasn’t a problem when the LCD is on. The electronic viewfinder, even though a welcome addition, feels small and washed out in comparison though it was a life saver in bright sunlight where the LCD would fail.

Regular, dynamic and powered are the three kind of optical image stabilizers (OIS) available to the user. The regular and dynamic OIS is usually found in most camcorders and works well but what really makes it stand out is the powered OIS that worked wonders. The stabilization provided by this was at par if not better than the optical stabilization you find in many high end canon DSLR lenses.

The camcorder comes with a Canon BP-808 battery that manages to last a mere 90minutes. This is quite poor and is a major let down. You can buy the additional high capacity BP-827 battery that would give you a recording time of 5 hours, but it would have been nice to see the high end HF S21 have one packaged with it.

Conclusion

The LEGRIA HF S21 is not for the lighthearted. It requires a bit of dedication and time to understand to create the best results. A little on the pricier side, it delivers top notch and compelling image quality with serious manual controls that is plain eye candy to anyone with a keen interest in videos. Unfortunately it doesn’t make it onto the recommended list due to the few niggles (battery life, LCD usability) that limited this high on feature HD camcorder.

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