Samsing VP-HMX20C high-definition camcorder

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Samsung VP-HMX20C
  • Samsung VP-HMX20C
  • Samsung VP-HMX20C
  • Samsung VP-HMX20C

Pros

  • 1080p 'Full HD' resolution, lots of modes and features for the asking price, user-friendly interface, 250fps slow-motion mode

Cons

  • Poor night-time performance, no HDMI port on camera body, slow-motion has limited functionality

Bottom Line

The Samsung VP-HMX20C might not be perfect, but for $1199 it ticks all the right boxes. Users will be particularly impressed by its Full HD resolution and extensive recording options. Without question, it's one of the best 'value choices' on the market.

Would you buy this?

  • Buy now (Selling at 1 store)

When it comes to high-definition video, Samsung has always been the shyest camcorder manufacturer of the bunch. Its first consumer-level HD model (the VP-HMX10 (XSA)) was released barely six months ago, which made it very late to the party indeed. Attempting to cater to the budget sector, it was a fairly rudimentary effort that suffered from tacky production values and sub-par image quality.

Now, after dusting itself off, the Korean conglomerate is back with its sophomore offering. While the bargain-basement price remains, practically everything else about the device has changed. With Full HD recording capabilities, a 250 frames per second slow-motion mode, an innovative touch-screen interface and a huge 1/1.8in CMOS sensor, it is easily one of the best high-def cameras in its price range.

With an RRP of just $1199, the VP-HMX20C naturally lacks some of the bells-and-whistles found on its more expensive competitors. However, the resultant ‘sacrifices’ are far less drastic than you might be expecting. Perhaps the most notable concession is the camera’s onboard memory. While some high-def models boast 120GB hard drives, the HMX20C makes do with 8GB. This will only net you around 70 minutes of high-def video, although the recording time can be boosted by an additional 32GB using the SDHC/MMC memory card slot.

Another area where the camera falls short is its still picture mode. Compared to the 10.1-megapixel resolution offered by some of its rivals, the VP-HMX20C comes up decidedly short (Samsung is claiming 8-megapixels, though it achieves this via interpolation, which is kind of cheating.) To be honest, we don’t quite see the attraction of all this ‘still image’ malarkey — these days, practically everyone owns a digital camera, and most of them put even the very best camcorder efforts to shame.

Aside from these minor caveats, the VP-HMX20C is up there with the best of them. Its main claim to fame is undoubtedly its 1920x1080p recording mode, otherwise known as ‘Full HD’. This is the highest digital resolution available today, and will give your movies a real boost in brightness and detail. In addition, the VP-HMX20C offers a 1080i (interlaced) recording mode, along with trusty standard-definition. Handily, the playback menu divides HD and SD video files onto separate pages.

One of the most interesting aspects of the VP-HMX20C is its gargantuan 1/1.8in CMOS sensor. By contrast, the VP-HMX10 (XSA)’s sensor was only 1/4.5 inches wide. While this doesn’t affect the resolution per se, it does allow for larger individual pixels, which helps to reduce image noise. Consequently, the HMX20C’s image quality was immensely sharp and vibrant in most situations, despite its relatively small pixel count.

Unfortunately, the HMX20C performed below average when it came to night-time recording. With no inbuilt light or infrared sensor, the camera is ill-equipped to combat the onset of grainy video in near-darkness. The included night mode is essentially worthless, unless you’re going for the MTV strobe effect. This is a real shame, as it trips up what is otherwise a very impressive camera. Nevertheless, when it comes to recording in bright-to-moderate conditions, it remains a winner.

In terms of design, the HMX20C retains the same barrel-like shape of its HMX10C predecessor. It's not a look we're crazy about to be honest, but at least the camera fits nicely into the hand. With dimensions of 66x67x139mm, it is one of the smallest Full HD camcorders on the market, which will please habitual shooters to no end. Despite its diminutive size, the camera has a surprising amount of heft behind it — 500g, in fact. Keeping your footage nice and steady should therefore be a cinch. We also liked the swivelling handgrip, which makes it easier to shoot at unconventional angles. (As an added bonus, Samsung has done away with the HMX10’s hideous hand strap, replacing it with a softer suede-like material).

Taking a leaf out of Sony's book, the HMX20C eschews the traditional joystick-and-button interface for a 2.7in touch-screen arrangement. This is something that seems to divide consumers like Capulets and Montagues: some people adore the simplicity of the touch screen, while other people can't stand it. Personally, we remain steadfast fans of the interface, fingerprints 'n' all.

Like most current camcorder models, the HMX20C includes a dedicated Easy button which takes care of most camera settings for you. It's essentially a Full Auto mode that locks out the menu screen, denying you access to manual settings. This has proved to be a very popular feature with mainstream consumers, and its inclusion will be appreciated by Luddites and casual shooters.

For those who prefer a more hands-on approach, the HMX20C comes packed with a cavalcade of advanced modes and features. Some of the highlights include adjustable white balance, Face Detect technology, manual exposure and shutter speeds, a Tele Macro mode, external audio (via a 3.5mm jack), a selection of scene modes, Touch Focus (which allows you to refocus areas of the frame by tapping the LCD display) and slow motion recording. This last feature is particularly noteworthy, as it allows you to capture video at an astonishing 250 frames per second. However, the mode is limited to 10-second bursts and will only record in standard-definition. It should still be handy for golf swings and the like though.

Rather unsettlingly, the HMX20C includes an option to switch off the recording lamp so you can film people in secret. We can only assume this was implemented at the behest of sweaty-palmed voyeurs in trench coats (we always wondered who filled out those customer feedback cards!) In any event, this slightly creepy feature gives a good indication of the breadth of options on offer.

For connectivity, the HMX20C comes equipped with all the usual suspects, including Composite, USB 2.0 and Component Video jacks. Curiously, Samsung has neglected to include an HDMI output on the VP-HMX20C’s body. Instead, a port has been built into the included docking cradle, which is obviously less than ideal. It means you’ll need to keep the cradle handy whenever you want to hook your camera up to an HDTV. (You’ll also need an additional power outlet near your telly to make it run.)

All up, we were hugely impressed by this camcorder, despite its myriad faults. For the asking price, it's hard to imagine a more accomplished or feature-rich offering. Two thumbs up.

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