Pros: High capture quality for a sub-£1,000 camcorder. Wide range of accessories.
Cons: Few manual controls. No pro audio inputs.
Compared to Panasonic’s sleek HDC-SD1, the Canon HV20 looks a bit ungainly with its large MiniDV tape mechanism grafted onto one side.
The HV20 records 1920-x-1080-pixel interlaced (1080i) HDV video (or standard DV) footage to MiniDV tapes. It offers a 24p mode to simulate the look of film recording and this setting adds a certain lushness to video, as long as you don’t use it to capture fast-action or low-light clips.
It doesn’t have a full-manual mode, but does have aperture- and shutter-priority modes. However, unlike past Canon models, the HV20 lacks a mode dial on its body, so you have to scroll through a menu and use a tiny joystick to select different capture modes.
The HV20 has some tiny buttons – an avoidable design decision given the size of its body; the start/stop button and the zoom button are particularly small, though the latter has a variable-speed setting, which helps smooth zooming. The lens cover is integrated into the body – and it’s motorized, so it slides open when you power up and slides shut when you power down.
In our lab tests, nothing stood out in the HV20’s output as a serious failing, but its performance in low light lagged somewhat. In less-challenging, well-lit settings, the HV20 produced superb-looking video. It’s not in the same league as Canon’s XL A1 or H1, or Sony’s HVR-A1, but it’s perfectly usable in tight spots or as a secondary camcorder. We got nearly two hours out of its battery, an outstanding mark.
An accessory shoe hides beneath a removable plastic panel on top of the camcorder – though as a consumer-level camera there’s no XLR connectors.
Canon offers telephoto and wide-angle adaptors – but it is the third-party accessory makers that really show the potential of the HV20. For example, you can buy a 35mm film adaptor from Redrock Micro for around £640.
If you’re looking for an HDV camera to complement your XL A1 or H1, or for Web or motion-graphics projects, the 510g HV20 is the best sub-£1,000 model on the market.