Samsung SMX-C20 at a Glance
The Good: Lightweight, inexpensive, unique lens, good feature set
The Bad: Flimsy record button
The SMX-C20 records 720 x 480 resolution video via a 680K pixel 1/6-inch CCD sensor in the H.264 format. It's no fair to ding the C20 for being a standard definition camcorder - if you don't own an HDTV, have no interest in owning an HDTV and plan on never buying an HDTV, you can make a plausible case for not wanting an HD camcorder.
The video quality was what you'd expect from a lower-priced standard definition model: adequate. Colors were a bit muted outdoors, but I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the SMX C20 in very low light situations (see here, for instance). The camcorder does boast two low light scene modes: night (for when some lighting is available) and darkness (for when there's next to none). Both improve visibility, but at the expense of a grainier shot. Nevertheless, if it's the choice of low quality or nothing, most people would opt for low quality.
The C20 records in the computer-friendly H.264 format and built-in intelli-Studio software helps you speed uploads to sites like YouTube. If you're looking for a Web-friendly camcorder, it would be a good choice.
The C20 can also snap 1.9-megapixel still photos via a dedicated shutter at the top of the camcorder. Unlike the video footage, the still photos weren't too impressive. You'll need plenty of ambient light and steady hand if you want the images to be crisp. Colors were a bit muted too. There's no flash to assist you in low light environments and the resolution is too low to do much with other than email.
Good Design, But...
The design of the C20 is mostly positive. On the plus side, it's very compact, measuring in at 2.2 x 4.3 x 1.3-inches. It weighs in at about 5.3 ounces with battery and memory card, making it extremely light. It's somewhat thicker than today's slim compact digital cameras, but it's still easily slipped into pocket and purse. It's also aesthetically sharp, with soft curves and Samsung's "Touch of Color" design on the LCD panel and top of the unit.For the most part, the external controls on the C20 are functional. Atop the unit is a zoom lever and photo shutter. Pop open the LCD and the inside of the camcorder has controls for power, direct uploading to YouTube, adjusting the display, activating intelligent auto and playback. All are nicely sized and easy to operate. On the edge of the 2.7-inch LCD display is a record button, a joystick control (which can be used to zoom) and a menu button.
The problem with the C20 is its primary video record button. It's located on the back of the camcorder and sits on top of a hinged compartment for the battery and SD card. The door itself swings open easily enough but you have to take care to close it firmly lest the record button become unresponsive. Even when the compartment door is secured firmly, it often takes a determined push to start recording. When you're racing to get the scene, any small delay can be decisive. After a while I gave up using it entirely and just stuck to the button on the LCD.
Active Angle Lens
While it's no longer new, Samsung has continued to support the "active angle" lens design on the C20. This unique lens is pointed northward at a 25 degree angle. Because of the lens placement, you don't have the hold the camcorder up to your face as you do with traditional camcorders, so there's less strain on your arm. It takes a while to get used to filming with the camcorder held lower, but it does indeed reduce the strain on your arm that can result from long stretches holding a camcorder aloft.
Where the lens falls short is if you want to hold the camcorder over your head (or the head's of others). It's much harder to properly frame that kind of shot with the lens angled skyward, although it's not one you're likely to use often.
The lens itself offers 10x magnification with digital image stabilization. The lack of optical image stabilization isn't surprising at this price-point, but it's always missed.
Solid Feature Set
The C20 is well apportioned with features. You'll have a choice of 14 scene modes plus an intelligent auto mode which will automatically select a scene mode for you based on your shooting conditions. There are over a dozen video effects as well. Some, like sepia, deliver the promised effect. Others, like "emboss" just created an unsuable mess. These effects can also be used when shooting stills, which makes it doubly unfortunate that the still camera function was mediocre.
Rounding out the feature list is a time lapse recording option, manual focusing, LCD brightness control and a wind cut microphone.
The on-screen menu for the C20 is serviceable and easy to use. One area of confusion however, is the inclusion of white balance settings among the scene modes. Typically those are bracketed out. You'll have to do some scrolling to get what you want, but the joystick control makes that chore a bit easier. If you activate intelligent auto mode, the C20 will limit your ability to enter the menu (which in theory makes the camcorder a bit easier to use, since you won't go digging for the wrong feature).
In playback, the camcorder will display live previews of the videos you've recorded in thumbnail form, making it easier to locate the one you want.
The C20 records direct to SDHC cards. So while there's no memory out-of-the-box, you can add up to 32GB in capacity with an SDHC card.
The Bottom Line
If you have $199 to spend on a camcorder, you can find several high definition pocket camcorders that will offer superior video quality to the C20, but can't match the C20 as far as the feature set is concerned (nor will they have the kind of optical zoom the C20 boasts). So if you're willing to trade off video resolution for functionality, the C20 is worth a look. It's light and portable, like the Flip or other pocket camcorders, with a unique lens that lends itself to hours of recording. The flimsy record button can be a headache, but the video quality is serviceable for a low cost standard definition model and the feature set is pretty extensive as well.