When Canon first showed us the HV10, we were surprised that the company chose a vertical form for its first compact HD camcorder. In our review, we found that the vertical design brought with it some irksome ergonomic issues. Canon's follow-up, the HV20, includes all the same features as the HV10, plus 24p recording, an HDMI output, a longer-lasting battery, and an accessory shoe, all in a horizontal design that is more comfortable to use.
Canon's horizontal design solves certain problems, but also made for a larger camcorder. You can fit the HV20 into a jacket pocket, but it might be a tight fit depending on the jacket. Part of the reason for its size is the HV20's nice, big, 10x optical, f/1.8 to f/3 zoom lens, which includes the company's Super-Range Optical Image Stabilization. Unlike standard optical image stabilization, this version incorporates feedback from the processor to fine-tune its shake-fighting adjustments. In our field tests, it proved effective well past the typical 75 percent of the room range, but still couldn't perfectly steady our handheld shots when zoomed out to the 10x maximum. Instant Auto Focus, which employs a helper sensor on the front of the tape compartment to measure the distance to your subject, proved very fast indeed. But it slowed considerably in low light, which is just as much of a challenge for the helper sensor as it is for a normal AF sensor. Be sure you don't accidentally cover up the helper sensor, or your AF performance will slow to subsonic speeds. We also noticed a tendency for the HV20's AF to hunt, especially in moderate-to-low light, and it occasionally focused on the wrong thing, such as a fence rather than what was behind the fence. Both of these issues seemed to happen more at the far, 10x end of the zoom.
Behind the lens, Canon places a 3-megapixel, 1/2.7-inch CMOS sensor that captures 1,920 horizontal and 1,080 vertical pixels for either 1080i high-definition or wide-screen standard-definition video. In the case of standard definition, those pixels are downconverted to fit the format. For still images, the camera captures 2.76 megapixels (1,920x1,440) in 4:3 mode and 2.07 megapixels (1,920x1,080) in 16:9 mode. Atop the lens, Canon places its Advanced Accessory Shoe. Technically, you can call it a hot shoe, because it can provide power to accessories such as video lights and directional microphones. Of course, this will take a bite out of your battery life. In its more-accurate "typical recording time" spec, Canon clocks battery life at 65 minutes in HDV mode with the LCD set to bright, when using the included 1,200 mAh BP-2L13 battery. Canon also offers the higher-capacity BP-2L14 and the lower-capacity NB-2LH batteries as accessories. An extra battery is always a good idea if you plan to bring the HV20 on vacation.