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Canon Legria HF S21 review: Canon Legria HF S21

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The HF S21's touch-sensitive interface is easier to use than previous models because of the large, 3.5-inch display.

Most of the other boxes on enthusiast checklists are ticked off, too, including an input for external microphones and a headphone output for monitoring audio. HDMI, component, USB and standard AV round out the other connections. The 58mm lens thread is compatible with many professional filters and adaptors. An accessory shoe is available for attaching other add-ons (though it only works with Canon-branded kit) and there's even a colour viewfinder for expert framing and composition.

Mos (high) def

The most important element for experts, however, is image quality and, in this regard, the HF S21 doesn't fall short. The device has five video-recording modes, two of which film in 1080p interlaced high-definition at 50 frames per second (fps), while the other three record at a slightly lower resolution of 1440x1080 pixels. Bit rates range from just 5Mbps at the lowest setting, right up to 24Mbps, which is the highest quality the AVCHD standard allows.

Recording at the top-end mode provides simply astonishing results: silky smooth motion combined with vibrant colours and hyper-realistic detail. Skin tones are pleasantly reproduced, too and, apart from anything, it's possible to achieve some stunning depth-of-field photography, throwing your subjects into sharp focus while blurring out the background. Techniques like these just aren't possible to any degree of effectiveness with most consumer models, and help to elevate your footage to near-professional quality. It helps if you know what you're doing, though. Our auto-mode tests produced some fine video, but it wasn't until we flipped the safetys off and started to tweak and tinker with the manual controls that we truly unlocked the Legria's potential.

Still photos can be good, too, but again, those with more advanced camera skills will be best equipped to make the most of what the HF S21 has to offer. The Legria takes un-interpolated stills at up to 8 megapixels. It's possible to take snaps during filming, though results are better in the dedicated photo mode. We found colours could look a little off in certain conditions, particularly if you have left the unit in full auto mode.

Indoors, the HF S21 is one of the better camcorders we've seen. It has just one large CMOS so, theoretically, it's not quite as capable in low-light conditions as devices that use three separate image sensors, but it's really not far off the competition. You can aid performance in low light by switching to the 25fps progressive mode. Motion isn't as smooth, but the lower shutter speed helps to brighten the image with minimum impact.

Start saving

We won't pretend the HF S21 is perfect. For example, it doesn't feature a 1080p/50fps progressive mode, which you can now find on many of Panasonic's top-end offerings. It's also somewhat cumbersome, its design and heft making it feel a throwback to a more primitive era of consumer electronics. If you're anything like us, you may find the touchscreen annoying to use at first -- though this does get easier with practice, trust us.

Conclusion

For enthusiasts who really want to push the limits of what you can achieve with a home video device, it probably comes down to a choice between this and the aforementioned Panasonic HDC-TM700. Both have their pros and cons but, for our money, the HF S21 provides the opportunity to take some truly remarkable footage. In saying that, you have to work hard to achieve the best results, and even the most enthusiastic of enthusiasts may flinch at this flagship product's premium price tag.

Edited by Emma Bayly

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