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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.
There is no power button; you turn the camcorder on and off by opening and closing the 2.7-inch touch screen. The lens cover is operated with a switch on the right side of the lens barrel, and other than a Home button next to the LCD, everything else is operated via the touch screen. It's adequately responsive, but its size can make it difficult to accurately tap on things.
The screen rotates 180 degrees, so you don't have to record yourself blindly. It'll rotate 90 degrees down, too, letting you easily shoot overhead. It's not a particularly good LCD, though, and can be very difficult to see in full sun.
Worth mentioning is that the camcorder can be used in either the right or left hand thanks to a sensor inside that flips the image. If you don't need this, you'll want to shut it off in the menu system; simply tilting the camcorder a little too far left or right will flip the image.
Inside the screen cavity behind a sliding door are Micro-HDMI and Micro-USB ports, and a tiny AV output. There is no jack for an external mic (there's a stereo mic on top) or a headphone input. There is no way to adjust the mic sensitivity, either. If you're recording anything that's very loud, it will end up overloading the mic.
|Key specs||Samsung HMX-QF20|
|Dimensions (HxWxD)||1.7x2.1x4.7 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||6 ounces|
|Storage capacity||SDHC/SDXC cards|
|Resolution, sensor size, type||1.75 megapixels, 1/6.3-inch BSI CMOS|
|LCD size, resolution||2.7-inch LCD, 230K-dot touch screen|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||20x, f1.8-3.9, 38.4-768mm (35mm equivalent)|
|Minimum illumination||5 lux|
|File format (video, audio)||MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (.MP4)|
|Resolution (video/photo)||1,920x1,080 pixels (60fps, interlaced, 14Mbps VBR), 1,280x720 (60fps, progressive, 12Mbps VBR)|
|Recording time at highest quality||1 hour 3 minutes (16GB)|
|Image stabilization type||Optical|
|Battery type, rated life||Lithium ion rechargeable, 105 minutes|
Though there is a Manual mode, the QF20 is designed for easy automatic shooting. Its Smart Auto mode picks the appropriate settings based on 10 scene types, including macro and backlit subjects, and it works well. Manual mode lets you adjust brightness, white balance, and focus, and turn on backlight compensation or a 3-lux low-light mode.
Other shooting options include an Art Film mode that applies digital effects while recording: Black & White, Sepia, Negative, Art, Ghost, Noir, Western, and Dazzle; Art Time Lapse with several recording settings for different effects; and a Vertical Smart Auto for those who want to record tall, thin movies.
Once you're done shooting, the QF20 has embedded viewing, editing, and sharing software for Windows computers. Named Intelli-studio, the software isn't overly simple, especially for those who've never edited video before, but it's not difficult to figure out either, and it has a very good set of editing tools. You can also use it for quick uploading to sharing sites including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.
Then there is the built-in Wi-Fi that can be used for wireless backups of your videos to a Windows computer (using the Intelli-studio software); streaming from the camcorder to DLNA-supported devices such as Web-connected TVs; and direct uploads to Facebook, YouTube, and, for photos, Picasa. The wireless is fairly easy to set up, but entering passwords can be a pain. You also won't be able to connect to any public hot spots that require you to agree to terms and conditions.
Also, you can't do wireless video uploads of movies shot at 1080i or 720p. The camcorder has a special HD/Web video resolution that creates two clips: one at 1,280x720-pixel resolution and one at 432x240, with the latter available for Wi-Fi sharing. You have to shoot in this mode in order to get Web video version; there is no way to convert a 1080i or 720p clip to the lower resolution in camcorder.
The Samsung HMX-QF20 is hard to recommend simply because its video isn't very good. What you're paying for here are the design, size, weight, and zoom lens, and, in the case of the QF20, Wi-Fi features. (The Samsung HMX-Q20 is the same, but doesn't have Wi-Fi.) If you're just looking for something inexpensive to shoot Web-friendly movies with, it'll get the job done. But those who want better video than they can get from an average smartphone and a long zoom lens will need to spend more money on a higher-end camcorder or get a point-and-shoot camera like the Panasonic Lumix ZS20 or Sony Cyber-shot HX30V.