Canon HG21

Nice video, shame about the price.

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Canon HG21
  • Canon HG21
  • Canon HG21
  • Canon HG21
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5


  • 120GB hard drive, excellent Full HD video quality, impressive array of modes and features


  • Too expensive compared to the HG20, poorly constructed viewfinder

Bottom Line

When judged on its own merits, the HG21 is an exceptional high-def camcorder that impresses on nearly every level — it even seems attractively priced. However, when compared to the near-identical HG20, its value for money is significantly diminished. Unless you absolutely must have 120GB of storage, go for its cheaper sibling instead.

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A new high-definition camcorder from Canon is always cause for celebration at the GoodGearGuide office. Call us vendor biased if you will, but the company has never failed to deliver the goods. From generation to generation, it has continued to narrowly trump its rivals, especially when it comes to image clarity. Predictably, its latest high-def model, dubbed the HG21, is another winner. Boasting a stunningly vibrant Full HD mode (1920x1080p), an extensive array of manual features and a massive 120GB hard drive, it is easily one of the best camcorders on the market. With that being said, some users will be better off with the 60GB HG20 version, which offers an identical performance for significantly less money.

Indeed, if there is one criticism we can throw at the HG21, it would have to be its inflated price tag. At $1899, it is $400 more expensive than the HG20. For the extra dosh, you’re basically getting the same camera with an added viewfinder, a slightly larger LCD screen, and an additional 60GB of inbuilt memory: otherwise, all components and specifications remain the same. When you consider how affordable HDD memory is these days, we don’t think the extra features justify the higher premium. To make matters worse, the viewfinder is fixed to the camera and can’t be swivelled up or down, which severely limits its use. We subsequently have few doubts that the HG20 will be a better seller. (Ironically, the HG21 is significantly cheaper than its chief rival from Sony, the HDR-SR12 E). If it wasn’t for the existence of the HG20, it would probably seem like a pretty good deal!)

Dodgy pricing aside, the HG21 is just as accomplished and impressive as its cheaper sibling, a model we enthusiastically awarded four stars to. Offering an extensive array of manual features and a point-and-shoot ‘Easy’ mode, it should prove equally suitable for experienced users and casual novices alike.

As mentioned, the HG21 comes equipped with a massive 120GB hard drive, which, along with the Sony HDR-SR12 E, is the highest-capacity of any camcorder on the market. At the highest quality setting, this will record 11.5 hours of high-definition video (or close to 46 hours in LP mode). In the unlikely event that you run out of recording space while on the road, the HG21 also comes equipped with an SD slot. This allows you to boost the camcorder’s capacity by an additional 32GB, though you’ll need to purchase the memory cards separately (32GB cards currently cost around $600).

With its sinister red-on-black colour scheme, the HG21 reminded us of the chief villain’s outfit from any number of 1980s martial arts flicks. (We consequently felt suitably badass while pulling it out in public.) While a little bulkier than some competing units, it remains small enough to cram into a crowded bag without weighing you down. In terms of build quality and design, we didn’t really have any issues with this camcorder; with the exception of the afore-mentioned viewfinder. It certainly looks attractive enough, and fits comfortably into the hand.

In terms of image quality, the HG21 managed to live up to our high expectations. Like the HG20, it is equipped with a 1/3.2-inch CMOS sensor which sports a gross pixel count of 3310k. This might seem unsuitably low on paper (the Sony HDR-SR12 has a gross pixel count of 5660k, for instance), but our test results paint a prettier picture. Simply put, the HG21 takes excellent video that can easily match anything else in its price range. We were particularly impressed by the clarity of our footage, which was sharp and well detailed (even for a Canon camcorder). It also performed well in our low-light tests, with the noise levels failing to obstruct picture clarity.

Like its sister-model the HG20, the HG21 comes packed with an extravagant array of modes and features. These include an optical image stabiliser, adjustable exposure, focus and white balance, multiple frame rate options (60i/30p/24p), an external microphone and headphone jack, 13 programmed AE modes, aperture and shutter priority modes, assorted digital effects, a 3.3-megapixel stills mode and a 12x optical zoom lens. All in all, the manual features work quite well, although we would have liked a control dial of some kind: as it stands, you're stuck with the LCD-mounted joystick.

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