Canon's top AVCHD models already lead the market for image quality, so the HG20's higher data rate should only make things better. Colour fidelity in optimal conditions is not noticeably different from the HF10 or HF100 - in other words bright and vibrant, with the usual heavy saturation found in consumer camcorders (this can of course be tamed with the Neutral Image Effect). However, detail appeared slightly finer, thanks to the less aggressive compression.
Low light performance was the biggest revelation with Canon's 2008 AVCHD models, however, and the HG20 continues that tradition. Even in quite poor illumination, the HG20 will still pick up quite realistic colour, even if there is a fair amount of noise evident. The image remains sharp, too, which makes this grain bearable. Performance in low light improves even further if you engage 25PF mode, because this allows the shutter to drop to 1/25th without any negative effects on resolution. The result is a brighter image, and there will be few lighting conditions you will encounter where the HG20 fails to pick up usable video. However, the higher data rate isn't so obviously beneficial in lower light.
The HG20 incorporates USB 2.0 to pull the footage off onto a computer. Despite the higher data rate, the footage still proved to be compatible with every AVCHD-capable editing app we tried - including the latest Adobe Premiere Elements 7. There are plenty of options for watching footage on a TV. An HDMI port is available, but of the mini variety, so an adapter will be required for attaching your HDTV. Alternatively, there's a proprietary socket for a component analogue breakout cable. And the headphone jack doubles as an AV output (switchable in the menu).
Yet again, Canon has proven that it currently bestrides the camcorder market like a colossus. The HG20 is another strong contender. We wish it had a lens ring like the latest flagship models from Panasonic, and a regular-sized accessory shoe. But the superb video performance makes up for both these things, under most circumstances, and otherwise the features are comprehensive. Whether you're looking to shoot family memories in the best quality possible, or have some professional pretensions, the HG20 has loads to offer, and it's reasonably priced as well.
Canon VIXIA HG20 HD Camcorder 10 bids$20.50 View Item