Camcorder manufacturers may have dropped standard-definition models from their lineups, but the components live on in entry-level high-definition models such as the Samsung HMX-Q20 and the Wi-fi-enabled HMX-QF20, reviewed here.
Though these models are sold as "full HD," they use low-resolution sensors and interpolate the video up to HD resolutions. Samsung is not the only manufacturer doing this; Sony, Canon, Panasonic, and JVC all do this with their entry-level models.
Unfortunately, using this method to get an HD resolution results in some pretty mediocre-looking video. If you were hoping for a camera that gets better results than your smartphone, this likely won't get you there.
On the other hand, if your needs don't go much beyond creating fully automatic Web-friendly video clips and a 20x zoom in a lightweight, compact body, then the HMX-QF20 is an OK choice.
The video from the QF20 is nothing you'd want to view on a large HDTV or even at big sizes on a computer monitor. In general, movie clips are loaded with noise and artifacts and they're soft and lacking in fine detail. Color is about the only thing that's pleasing, but highlights blow out easily.
The image above is a screen grab taken from a clip shot at 1080i and enlarged to fill a 24-inch monitor. You don't have to look too hard to see that subjects are pixelated and everything looks soft and flat. Again, highlights are blown out and, although there isn't a lot of it, there is some purple fringing in high-contrast areas.
Reduce the video to Web-player size and things look a bit better. Scenes still look flat and mushy, though, and do not look high-definition regardless of what resolution they were recorded at. If you switch to shooting at 720p, scenes get even softer, but have less noise and artifacts.
And all of this is with good light, too. Shooting indoors or in low light produces the same results, but more of it. I've seen worse, though, so as long as you're not too picky and you just plan to share it online at small sizes, the video isn't too bad. Also, the autofocus will do some hunting when it has less light, which is typical for lower-end camcorders.
One advantage that the QF20 has over some of its competitors (and smartphones for that matter) is that it does have optical image stabilization. It does make a difference, so if you're trying to pick between this Samsung and another model that just has electronic image stabilization, go with the QF20.
Design and features
One of the advantages to going with a camcorder like the QF20 is its size. It's lightweight and comfortable to shoot with and small enough to stash in large coat pocket or small bag. As far as controls go, the QF20 is a lot like Samsung's shoot-and-share waterproof HMX-W300 minicamcorder.
Many camcorders have a battery that juts out the back, which in turn puts the controls on top. The battery and SD card slot for the QF20 are in an internal compartment in the bottom. That frees up the back for a record button and zoom control to the left and right of it. (This also means there's no option for an extended-life battery.) Above and below the record button are buttons for Samsung's My Clip feature, which is used to tag a favorite scene in a clip, so you can quickly and easily watch it again and again without fast-forwarding or rewinding.