Despite a relatively deep menu, users can simply pick up the C20 and start shooting thanks to the iScene button. Press it and the C20 recognizes the shooting situation, adjusting exposure, color and focus accordingly. After testing out all the different iScene settings, I shot with it on almost exclusively, without ever having to readjust.
A common SD camcorder trait is an extended optical zoom. Some Panasonic models go past 70x. I was disappointed to see the C20 only had a 10x zoom. It’s certainly not a bad zoom – the lever is a tad bit loose, but otherwise functional – but an extend zoom makes a great selling point against pocket camcorders all sporting a fixed-focus lens. Also, dont be impressed with the 1200x digital zoom as it degrades image quality beyond recognition.
The manual focus and manual EV (exposure value) controls are both adjusted by the control knob on the LCD panel, so they aren’t especially useful for on-the-fly adjustments while shooting and are best left for when staging a shot.
The anti-shake option (image stabilization for devices with CCD sensors; the mounted sensor moves in the opposite direction of the camera) functions well, but has its limits. It doesn’t work with any of the Web resolutions, some digital effects and in Night or Darkness iScene mode. The auto focus does a fine job of keeping up with various lighting conditions and steady movement. The fully-charged battery lasted a little less than two hours with the C20 recording at the highest resolution before dying.
If it isn’t yet clear, the C20 is a standard-definition camcorder. That means its video resolutions are below those offered by a high-definition camcorder. Given HD is now the unofficial industry standard, it’s hard not to judge SD camcorders harshly.
In constant lighting, the SMX-C20 actually does an admirable job of trying to keep up with the HD boys, but can’t quite compensate for its missing pixels. There is general softness on the edges and the colors are muted – flaws that are very apparent blown up on a large-screen HDTV. But it’s passable, especially when shown on older television (not LCD, LED or plasma) or for Internet use.
The C20 actually has one slight advantage in its CCD image sensor. Unlike the CMOS sensor found in most HD camcorders, the CCD is not susceptible to skewing, eliminating the annoying image warp that occurs when you pan an HD camera too fast.
Turn off the lights and the C20 video quality predictably suffers — more so than most HD camcorders I’ve tested — even with the iScene set to “Night.”
With low-resolution video come low-megapixel stills. The SMX-C20 JPGs top out at approximately 1.6 megapixels, which is less than what most cameraphones offer these days. Still, megapixel count isn’t the only spec that matters in picture quality – the lens also plays a role. That said, the C20 stills aren’t horrible, but they are on the low end of what camcorders are capable of shooting.
I was hoping the C20 would have an external mic input, which would make this SD camcorder a bit more tempting as many low-end HD camcorders don’t offer one. Alas, Samsung disappoints. There is only a stereo on-board mic positioned underneath the lens.
The mic is reasonably sensitive, and there is a wind cut feature that cuts off low frequency sounds like wind or even crowd noise. However, it can only do so much, and loud crowds and stiff breezes will still unfavorably affect the audio quality.
Operations and Extras
The Samsung SMX-C20 ships with the battery, AC power adaptor, AV cables, USB cable, hand strap and a 125-page user manual on CD. For once, I won’t complain about the missing HDMI cable, as AV is sufficient for standard definition video.
Loaded on board the C20 is Intelli-studio video editing software. You have manually install from the device, otherwise the camera will launch a light version when you connect the C20 to a PC. Intelli-studio is like any other packaged editing suite, it’s good for quick video edits and simple effects, and is user friendly, but overall unremarkable. It’s only Windows compatible, but Mac users should have no issue using iMovie in its stead.
The camera shoots in the H.264/AVC format and spits out MP4 files. If you want to skip Intelli-studio, you can simply drag and drop the video files onto your Mac or PC.