We typically don’t test pre-production models, but when Canon offered one of the few samples in the U.S. of its soon-to-be-released top-of-the-line camcorders, we couldn’t resist. After all, this is the updated version of our 2009 Editor’s Choice pick, the HF S10, which remains one of the best we’ve ever used with dynamite video and high-quality stills. Here, the basic innards remain the same, but the key differences are a larger LCD, two SD Card slots instead of one and a new iPhone-inspired touch menu system. Let’s see if this remains an Editor’s Choice-grade offering.
Place the HF S20 next to the S10 and you’d have to do a double take to see any major differences. They’re there, however. The camcorders are stealthy looking, dressed in black, with only a few logos marring the surfaces, and the overall aesthetic is sophisticated, matching the built-in technology. The HF S20 measures 3” wide, 2.9” high and 5.5” deep – mere tenths larger than the S10. Weight for both is 1.1 pounds with battery and card.
There really isn’t much difference spec-wise. Both units have 10x zoom lenses, 8.59-megapixel CMOS sensors, take 1920×1080 video at 24 Mbps and can snap 8MP native resolution stills. What really sets the two models apart though are the LCD and the way you interact with it. The HF S20 has a beautiful 3.5” screen rated 922K pixels versus a 2.7” 211K LCD on the older edition. That screen had a small joystick to move through the menu system (which we liked). However, the HF S20 has embraced the iPhone’s preferred mode of input, and you now use the touchscreen to make your adjustments with swipes and taps. We found it to be fairly responsive with extremely legible menus. It’s beautifully done overall, and Canon gets a tip of the hat for this new design, although nothing beats the accuracy of the joystick (it may not be as cool, but it works!). Mind you, the HF S10 had a mode dial to switch between video/still; this is also gone and you now control everything via the touch screen. As noted earlier, the camcorder accepts two SD cards, but surprisingly not the new SDXC format found on Canon’s inexpensive digicams. Go figure.
Other features of note include an improved optical image stabilization system, pop-up flash with mini video light next to it and a few operational issues we’ll get into shortly.