At the very pinnacle of Canon's consumer range sits the Legria HF S21. This fully fleshed-out camcorder is effectively the last stop on the road towards the manufacturer's broadcast-standard models. Clocking in at nearly half a kilo, the HF S21 is a more heavyweight prospect than many other home video cams, in more ways than one. Its manual control options and £1,000 price tag put it firmly in the 'enthusiast' bracket.
The incredible hulk
Let's just say the HF S21 is not particularly small. Or light, for that matter. It's by no means the type of shoulder-mounted behemoth you see local news crews carting around but, by the same token, it's probably the least palm-friendly consumer camcorder we've seen for a while. You're going to want to invest in a decent carry case to go with this one.
The Legria's chunkier proportions can be attributed, in part, to the sizeable 3.5-inch fold-out LCD display. Not only is it vast (compared to screens found on most other models), but it's also extremely high-resolution, with 922k pixels providing almost Full HD resolution for monitoring and playback.
Also adding to the HF S21's bulk is its 64GB of built-in storage. This is generous in anyone's books, and Canon goes one further by providing the option of adding not just one, but two additional SD memory cards. With a pair of 32GB SDHC cards, this would allow you to potentially double the device's storage capacity, while the Relay Recording feature automatically detects when one storage medium is full and switches to the other.
Two SD card slots is a great idea, although, sadly, the HF S21 doesn't support the newer, higher capacity SDXC format, which means a total of 128GB is currently your absolute upper limit. We say 'currently' because we've noticed that, in some territories, Canon has made a firmware update available, which potentially fixes the SDXC-compatibility problem. Canon UK doesn't yet offer the update and we don't recommend you download it from another country's website.
Barrel of fun
We're guessing that most of the HF S21's size and heft can be put down to the device's optics. A large, high-quality Canon HD video lens has a defining influence over the barrel shape of the unit. 10x optical magnification is provided by the zoom, and this can be boosted further without degrading the image using Canon's 1.7x Digital Tele-Converter, which employs otherwise unused pixels on the 8.59-megapixel sensor for a kind of faux zoom effect. A 'proper' optical image stabiliser (OIS) is included. The OIS has a dynamic mode, which can provide a little extra steadiness in times of need. It is also supported by Powered IS, which does a surprisingly good job of steadying your shots when you're filming at the telephoto end of the zoom.
Despite the presence of Canon's simplified Dual Shot mode, for those who want to indulge in fully automatic point-and-shoot operation, this is clearly an enthusiast's camera, with all the manual features that high-end users require. The HF S21 provides full control over exposure, aperture, focus and so on, either via the touch-sensitive screen or the handy context-sensitive control dial below the lens. The latter isn't quite as good as a lens ring (like the one you'll find on Panasonic's), but it's still a great tool for those who need an effective way of fine-tuning their shots.
We'd go so far as to suggest you may eventually find yourself using the on-screen controls as well as -- or even instead of -- the hardware dial. We tried both methods during our tests and, though we initially felt more comfortable with the dial, we began favouring the touchscreen equivalents a little more once we got used to them.
The touch-sensitive interface is essentially the same one that has infuriated us in the past on Canon's lower-end models, such as the HF M31. Here, however, the control system is much more usable, largely due to the simple fact that the screen itself is much bigger. We still had some issues with its responsiveness, but on a larger display it's much easier to hit the right options with your fingertips, while touch and swipe-based modes, such as Touch Tracking, Touch Focus and Touch Exposure all make much more sense too.