Canon Vixia HF R20 at a Glance
The Good: Excellent video quality, two card slots, relay recording
The Bad: Cumbersome touch-screen menu
Canon Vixia HF R20 Video Quality
In addition to HD video, the R20 also snaps 3-megapixel still photos by pressing the shutter when you're not filming. You can grab 2-megapixel images simultaneous with video recording. There's no flash, so you'll need a well lit room, steady hand and stationary subjects to get a blur-free image.
Canon HF R20 Feature Set
You'll find a nice zoom on the R20, at 20x optical. Canon offers what they dub an "advanced zoom" which adds an additional 8x worth of magnification without degrading image quality like a traditional digital zoom. Out at the full 28x I didn't notice any serious erosion in video quality. The lens also offers optical image stabilization which is definitely welcome in a 20x lens, as is the automatic lens cap.
You can add several effects to your videos (such as animated stamps) or select from several scene modes, including portrait, low light, sunset and fireworks. The R20 uses a "smart" auto mode, which instantly matches a scene mode to your shooting environment so you don't have to.
The big liability of HF R20 is the user-interface. Canon went with a touch-screen, 3-inch display, which is an increasingly popular choice, but the icons are on the small side and are not all that intuitive or, on some occasions, responsive. I found myself using the edge of a fingernail to get my choices to stick. I had particular difficulty scrolling through the various menu choices. It takes a lot longer to get the hang of the menu than it should and involves a few trips back and forth to the manual (which, in truth, you should always anyway).
Flexible Memory Options
By contrast, a big selling point of the HF R20 is its dual SD card slots, allowing you to greatly expand upon the camcorder's 8GB of built-in memory. Since it accepts SDXC cards, you could conceivably boost the R20 to 132GB worth of memory (though at present that would end up costing you more than the camcorder itself in memory cards). It also offers relay recording, which will automatically switch memory sources as you fill them up - a very convenient feature and one that, again, is increasingly popular at lower and lower prices.
Canon HF R20 Design
The Canon HF R20 weighs in at 10.9 ounces with battery and memory card, so it's quite light. It's also very compact at 2.4 x 2.4 x 4.8-inches. Ergonomically, it's comfortable to hold and the camcorder's external controls are large and responsive. . Aesthetically, it's not the most gripping camcorder you've laid eyes on, but it it's available in a choice of red, silver or black.
Bottom Line: Excellent Value
It's remarkable to think that a camera with R20's specs costs only $499, but here we are (an upside the recession, I guess). If you can overlook a cumbersome touch screen interface - a somewhat big if, considering - you'll have an excellent economy HD camcorder.