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Samsung has changed the image of its camcorder range considerably over the last year, culminating in the excellent VP-HMX20. Stylistically, the VP-MX20 has a lot in common with its bigger brother. But where the HMX20 is a heavy-hitting HD model, the MX20 is a much more budget-oriented affair. Sporting the now almost obligatory YouTube sticker on its side and a sub-£200 price, this is a camcorder for the masses, rather than a premium shooter for the discerning video maker.
After the HMX20, the MX20's specification seems pedestrian. Instead of a large, high resolution CMOS sensor, a small 1/6in CCD one with 800,000 pixels plays the central role. The tiny sensor means the MX20 can offer a massive 34x optical zoom, but it doesn't bode well for image quality. On the plus side, Samsung is boasting optics from Schneider Kreuznach, a company with nearly a century of experience in the lens business. The lens is protected by a shutter mechanism, but it doesn't open automatically. Instead, a slider on the side of the lens operates this manually.
Most standard definition camcorders from mainstream names use the MPEG-2 format for recording, but the MX20 instead relies on MPEG-4 H.264 AVC, packaged as MP4 files, the same as the HMX20. Four quality modes are available. TV Super Fine, TV Fine and TV Normal use a 720 x 576 resolution, whilst Web & Mobile operates at 640 x 480, which will be more directly compatible with YouTube. Data rates vary from over 7Mbits/sec in the top TV mode, to around 4.5Mbits/sec for the lowest. The Web & Mobile mode operates at 3.5Mbits/sec. All four options run at 25 frames per second, with 50 interlaced fields. The MX20 records to SD or SDHC, so a 4GB card is enough for 1.5 hours of footage in TV Super Fine mode, and nearly 4 hours in Web & Mobile.
The MX20 is primarily controlled by a jog dial and selection button on the edge of the LCD, with a menu button providing access to more settings. The only discrete buttons are for toggling Easy Q mode and cycling through the C.Nite low light modes. The jog dial is a little fiddly, but it gives rapid access to some useful functions by pressing the central button. Manual exposure is available, with 30 steps. The shutter can be adjusted from 1/50th to 1/10,000th, independently of exposure. The dial is also used for manual focusing, and curiously you can turn off sound recording. Without pressing the central button, the dial offers another method for controlling the zoom.