02.Colour & Noise Performance
03.Motion & Sharpness Performance
04.Low Light Performance
05.Compression & Media
08.Handling & Use
09.Playback & Connectivity
Canon Legria HF S21
Handling & Use Summary
• The HF S21 is easy to use, but its dedicated auto mode isn't clearly labeled.
• The new touchscreen interface is not good for making manual adjustments or navigating menus, but it is intuitive to figure out.
• The right side of the camcorder is a bit uncomfortable thanks to a slightly bulkier design than last year's model
• Stabilisation has been improved with the new Powered IS feature, but the camcorder still didn't do as well in our testing as Canon's high-end models.
• Camcorder includes an electronic viewfinder and a 3.5-inch LCD.
• The provided battery had a dismal performance in our battery life test.
Ease of Use (5.75)
Canon does include a dedicated auto mode on the HF S21, but it isn't labeled all that well. It is called Dual Shot mode (same as last year), and you activate it by pushing the slider on the right side of the camcorder towards the little green icons (and away from the 'M'). In Dual Shot mode you can't access any of the menus on the HF S21. Instead, the camcorder uses scene selection process called Smart Auto to automatically pick the best settings for your shooting situation. This feature is identical to Panasonic's Intelligent Scene Selection option that is part of its iA control setup. Smart Auto works well enough for beginners, but its lack of flexibility is sure to frustrate advanced users.
Dynamic stabilisation is turned on in Dual Shot mode and it cannot be turned off. You do have control over Powered IS, however, which is turned on and off by pressing the button on the side of the LCD panel. Face detection is always on in Dual Shot mode and you can use the camcorder's tracking feature to automatically focus and exposure moving subjects. Dual shot mode definitely makes the HF S21 an easy camcorder to work with, but we wish Canon would make the setting more obvious by calling it something like Easy Mode or Simple Mode.
We haven't seen the instruction manual for the HF S21 yet (Canon didn't ship one with the camcorder), but Canon usually provides top-notch production in this field. We would have liked to see a few help or info boxes in the menu system on the HF S21, but overall the camcorder is pretty easy to figure out. The new touchscreen system is intuitive and good for beginners, but we did find it a bit frustrating for navigating the camcorder's long menu system.
|Function menu||Main menu|
First of all, we must say that it is surprising to see a touchscreen LCD on a Canon camcorder. After Panasonic implemented touchscreens last year, however, it appears to be a strong trend in the industry. The touchscreen on the Canon isn't bad, and we like a number of the features it affords, but using the touchscreen to adjust manual controls and navigate menus is still a pain. The good news is you don't really have to use the touchscreen to set controls manually—thanks to Canon's excellent control dial. Plus, we're very happy to see Canon increased the size of the LCD to 3.5-inches. We consider this upgrade a more significant improvement than the implementation of a touchscreen system.
|The HF S21 is one of the larger consumer camcorders on the market.|
When we put the HF S21 into our hands we noticed the right side of the camcorder didn't feel very comfortable in our palm. Instead of offering a smooth, curved right-side grip, the HF S21 has a hard edge near the top of the camcorder that digs into the top of your palm when you hold it. The comfort factor of this design will probably vary depending on how big your hand is, but this is clearly a less ergonomic design than what we saw with last year's HF S100. We're not sure why Canon altered the design of the right side on the HF S21, but we're guessing that it is a result of the extra space taken up by the addition of a second memory card slot.
|The control dial is excellent for making precise adjustments.|
The aforementioned control dial on the HF S21 is one of the camcorder's best assets. The dial is great for adjusting manual controls, and its placement and design is excellent. Canon also improved the dial on the HF S21, as you can now select what the dial controls by holding down the small button on the front of the dial for a few seconds. This means you don't have to go into the camcorder's lengthy menu system as often.
|The HF S21 is Canon's only new camcorder to feature an electronic viewfinder.|
Speaking of the menu system, we like the large button design for the camcorder's function menu, but we found the main menu setup difficult to navigate using the touchscreen. You have to scroll through the menu by sliding your finger slowly across the LCD, which we found to be a nuisance when we wanted to select a specific menu option. There were also plenty of times when the LCD was simply not responsive or produced an inaccurate response based on our touches, but that is a problem with nearly all touchscreen systems—as is the fact that the screen is always covered in fingerprints and smudges.
|The right side of the camcorder has a slightly uncomfortable design.|
We should also mention the presence of a slight rattling sound coming from inside the camcorder when you pan or jerk the HF S21 quickly. The rattling is much louder when the camcorder is turned off (we think this is part of the stabilisation system), but it is also slightly audible when the camcorder is turned on. If you're the type of shooter who is overly concerned about getting clear audio, you may have to think about purchasing an external mic to use with the HF S21.
Stabilisation is the area where Canon probably spent the most time improving the HF S21 over last year's models. The HF S21 includes an optical image stabilisation system (OIS) with a multitude of options. There's the Dynamic OIS, which Canon rolled out previously on the HF S11, but there's also the new Powered IS. Powered IS is supposed to improve stabilisation when you're using lots of optical zoom, but we saw mixed results in our testing. (More on how we test stabilisation.)
Yes, the HF S21 did better overall in our stabilisation test than last year's HF S100, but the improvement wasn't all that drastic. In our low shake test, the camcorder performed best when we used the Dynamic OIS setting—without the Powered IS turned on. With regular OIS and Powered IS, the camcorder didn't do a great job reducing the shake.
|Canon HF S21 Stabilisation Effectiveness|
|36% correction at low shake (above)
57% correction at high shake (below)
In our high shake test, the results were very different. The camcorder did the best job when we tested it with Powered IS engaged (along with regular OIS turned on). The strange thing is, the camcorder did a terrible job stabilising the image with just regular OIS in our high shake test, and the Dynamic OIS setting didn't help very much either. Powered IS, however, really improved things in our high shake test, as the camcorder ended up reducing 57% of the shake with this setting turned on.
Canon HF S21 Stabilisation Examples
Click Here for large HD Version
The point of all this is that you really need to play around with the stabilisation settings on the HF S21 to figure out which is best for your specific shooting situation. The camcorder has lots of options since Powered IS can be engaged on its own, or it can be used in conjunction with the regular OIS and Dynamic OIS settings. If you're doing the math, that means the camcorder has a total of 5 different stabilisation settings. Even with all these settings, however, the Canon HF S21's stabilisation system wasn't as effective as the JVC GZ-HM1 or Panasonic HDC-TM700.
|Stabilisation Score Comparison|| Compare the Canon HF S21
to the Panasonic HDC-TM700
| Compare the Canon HF S21
to the JVC GZ-HM1
| Compare the Canon HF S21
to the Canon HF S100
Thanks to the inclusion of its viewfinder, larger LCD, and additional memory card slot, the HF S21 weighs a bit more than last year's HDC-TM700. The camcorder is definitely bulky compared to the ultracompact models on the market, but it never feels unwieldy. The inclusion of two SD/SDHC memory card slots, along with 64GB of internal flash memory means you shouldn't have to worry about running out of space to record your videos—as long as you remember to load the camcorder up with two memory cards before you leave for vacation.
|Canon HF S21||Panasonic HDC-TM700||JVC GZ-HM1||Canon HF S100|
|Primary Media||64GB internal flash memory||32GB internal flash memory||64GB internal flash memory||SD/SDHC card
|Media||2x SD/SDHC card slots||SD/SDHC card||SD/SDHC card||None|
|Weight||520g (with battery)||440g (with battery)||485g (with battery)||500g (with battery)|
|Size||75 x 74 x 148mm||66 x 69 x138mm||67 x 72 x 141mm||70 x 69 x 136mm|
Battery Life (4.0)
The battery life with the provided BP-808 battery pack on the HF S21 is not good. The camcorder lasted just 80 minutes in our battery life test (1 hour, 20 minutes, 8 seconds). This is disappointing, as the battery life is worse than last year's HF S100 from Canon, as well as the high-end competition from Panasonic and JVC. (More on how we test battery life.)
|Battery Life Comparisons|
The good news is the HF S21 has an open battery compartment, which means you can purchase larger battery packs if you want to get longer performance out of the camcorder. Canon sells a variety of additional batteries that work with the HF S21, including the BP-809 and BP-819.
|The HF S21 with its provided battery pack.|
LCD & Viewfinder (12.54)
One of the first things you'll notice about the HF S21 is the fact that Canon increased the size of the LCD to 3.5 inches (from 2.7 inches on last year's models). This new LCD, which also has a much higher pixel count than last year, is quite impressive to behold—and it makes certain manual controls (like focus) a lot easier to adjust. But Canon didn't simply increase the size of the LCD on the HF S21, they also implemented a touchscreen interface with the LCD. Canon's new touchscreen system isn't bad, but it can take a bit of getting used to, particularly if you're accustomed to working with joysticks or dials instead of touch-sensitive buttons.
|The new LCD is 3.5-inches in size and has a 922,000-pixel resolution.|
The HF S21 is Canon's only new camcorder in 2010 that features an electronic viewfinder. Actually, we're quite surprised to see an EVF on the HF S21, as it seemed Canon was in the process of phasing out this feature. The viewfinder isn't great, but it does extend about 1/4 of an inch from the camcorder for easier access (it cannot pivot or rotate, however). There's also a tiny diopter adjustment slider on the underside of the viewfinder.
|The viewfinder can extend, but won't pivot or rotate.|
|Canon HF S21||Panasonic HDC-TM700||JVC GZ-HM1||Canon HF S100|
|LCD Size||3.5 inches||3 inches||2.8 inches||2.7 inches|
|LCD Resolution||922,000 pixels||230,000 pixels||207,000 pixels||211,000 pixels|
|Canon HF S21 Comparisons|
|Panasonic HDC-TM700||JVC GZ-HM1||Canon HF S100|
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