High definition camcorders have only been available to consumers for five years, with Sony’s HDR-HC1E leading the way. But already standard definition models are on their last legs. If you’re on a tight budget, though, opting for standard definition can give you more features for less money. Such is the case with Samsung’s SMX-C20, which costs a similar amount or less than a pocket Internet HD model, but provides a lot more control and configuration.
The most obvious benefit the C20 has to offer is an optical zoom. Virtually all pocket Internet camcorders only incorporate digital zooms, but Samsung provides a 10x optical telephoto. The C20 is built around a small 1/6in CMOS sensor with just 680,000 pixels, but one of its benefits is allowing this very respectable optical zoom, despite the camcorder measuring just 109mm along its longest edge. The sensor isn’t of the back-side illuminated variety, however, unlike Samsung’s HMX-H200. There is a digital zoom available, but this boosts the factor to an utterly ludicrous 1,200x, which as always we’d recommend avoiding.
Image stabilisation is also optical rather than electronic, so theoretically more effective than usually expected at this price. In fact, almost no pocket Internet camcorders offer any form of image stabilisation at all, with the notable exceptions being JVC’s PICSIO GC-FM2 and PICSO GC-WP10AE. Whilst JVC’s latest models also incorporate a few more configuration options than most pocket Internet camcorders, they don’t go as far as Samsung’s SMX-C20 in this respect either. A quick menu accessed via the joystick on the LCD edge lets you adjust a selection of settings with a few finger presses, including focus, exposure, and scene modes.
Focus options include face detection and fully manual, although the latter is hard to adjust with only the joystick. The exposure control has 13 positions between -2 EV and +2 EV. The scene modes include the usual suspects, such as Sports and Portrait. But the same menu also houses the white balance presets, so you can’t enable both at the same time. There is no option for manual white balance either.
If you don’t want to make these kinds of settings yourself, the C20 also offers a Smart Auto option which attempts to detect conditions and set the scene mode accordingly. However, whilst reminiscent of Panasonic’s Intelligent Auto, Samsung’s Smart Auto doesn’t offer the same range of scene modes, and is nowhere near as effective as a result. Smart Auto essentially enables low light mode in poor illumination, although a macro mode will also appear when appropriate.
If you delve into the main menu, time lapse options are available, allowing you to record a frame every one, three, five, ten, 15 or 30 seconds, for a duration of 24, 48, or 72 hours, or for as long as your media can hold. Annoyingly, back light compensation is only accessible via the main menu, where a discrete button would be more appropriate.