Samsung's SC-HMX20C is small. Real small when you consider the resolution at which this thing captures at. The unit can fit within one's palm, and while it is a bit heavy, toting it around in a cargo pocket wouldn't be entirely out of the realm of possibility. The device itself felt extremely solid, the flip-out LCD was sturdy, and overall, we were very impressed with how it fit in our hands when shooting. It should be noted that the SDHC / MMC+ card slot is tucked behind the same door as the battery, but it's not like you have to remove the battery to access the card slot. Additionally, the video outputs are hidden behind a small door which is concealed behind the flip-out LCD. Not a problem for us -- just letting the quirks be known.
Touchscreen LCD monitors can always be hit or miss, particularly on handheld camcorders. We're pleased to say that the flip-out touch panel on this unit was undoubtedly useful and well implemented. The screen did have a thing for maintaining fingerprints, but it never became more than a minor annoyance. It recognized haphazard touches and only misread our true intentions once or twice during an entire week. Our only real dig here was the slight pause between menu switches; momentary lag was introduced when traversing between a deep menu item and one closer to the top, but it never proved to be anything more than a slight irritation.
The menu system itself was exceptionally well-crafted. A "Quick Menu" button pulled up the six most popular selections (Storage Medium, Resolution, White Balance, Focus, Exposure and Shutter), and at no time did we feel the screen was too cluttered with options. The in-depth menus were yet again well thought out and easy to navigate, making on-the-fly tweaks relatively easy to achieve. Switching between Movie Mode, Photo Mode and Playback Mode was even simpler, as Samsung provided a dedicated button just beside the Photo Capture button solely for swapping between that trio.
We also appreciated the twin record and zoom buttons; users can zoom in / out and stop / start recording by hitting the thumb buttons on the unit itself or by selecting them on the flip-out display. Again, a minor -- albeit thoughtful -- touch. Overall, the SC-HMX20C was designed for the average joe / jane to pick up and fire up without ever having to tear into the user's manual. Sure enough, the only time we ever referenced said pamphlet was just to make sure we didn't miss anything while surfing around the UI ourselves. Granted, this also speaks volumes about its intended audience. Yeah, it does 1080/30p and 1080/60i (along with 480/60p and an SD-only SlowMotion mode), but this camcorder isn't made for professionals. That being said, folks obsessed with archiving every single family outing in stunning HD will find plenty to love.
Okay, so the UI is remarkable, but how's about the actual performance? First off, we were quite amazed to find that the 8GB of internal storage space could hold around 71 minutes of 1080/30p or 1080/60i in Super Fine mode. Knock those resolutions down a bit (but c'mon, who is going to do that?), and you can fetch upwards of 2 hours without even slapping your own SDHC card in there. A fully charged battery showed about 90 minutes of life, and even with heavy LCD use, it proved quite accurate.
Capturing video was a cinch, and we really appreciated how the camcorder kept track of files internally. Upon connecting it to Windows XP and OS X-based machines, it simply mounted as a drive and enabled us to pull the (very manageable / playable) MPEG-4 clips over to our computer's hard drive. Simple as that. Be forewarned though -- playing back said clips via QuickTime requires a pretty potent computer. Otherwise, Full HD clips will skip and stutter as your rig attempts to churn through.
Overall, we'd have to say we're pretty pleased with the unit's ability to log clips. Yeah, we wish that totally novel SlowMotion mode was available in HD, and we wish the low light performance was a touch better (as with every other camcorder out there), but we really can't find too much to kvetch about. While shooting in broad daylight, we were satisfied with results when keeping in mind that the target audience is novice / amateur users. Clips were free from excessive grain, the audio capture was sufficient and playback on both a computer and an HDTV was up to par. The 10x zoom was decidedly smooth and snappy, as well.
While shooting in low light, the expected grain monster reared its ugly head, but such is the case with all small, handheld camcorders to be frank. In other words, we wouldn't recommend this unit for those who find themselves using it primarily at night or in dimly lit scenarios, but those who wander outside every now and then during the day (imagine that!) will probably be pleased with what it can do. One other note on the SlowMotion: it's a sweet feature, and it sure adds some wow-factor, but the inability for it to function in HD is a real bummer for us.
Alright, we get that you aren't seeking out a camcorder for its still shot abilities, but hey, Sammy included it, so we tested it. Put simply, the image capture mode isn't half bad, and it's actually passable in daylight. Don't get it twisted, however -- we'd still strongly recommend carrying your trusty P&S / DSLR around and using that when possible, but if you're trying to do everything yourself and just can't find time to fish out that shooter, the SC-HMX20C should suffice. Of course, we're comparing its results to other camcorder results that we've seen in the past, and from that, we came away reasonably happy with what it could do.
Let us restate: the SC-HMX20C isn't meant to be looked at seriously by pros. The $849.99 (or so) price tag is proof of that. For individuals seeking a small, easy to carry camcorder that will capture family vacations, impromptu get-togethers and your kid's school play, we can certainly say this one's worth the price of admission. If you're looking for expert features and an XLR jack for connecting your boom mic, you won't find that here. But the bundled CyberLink DVD Suite for HD (which includes PowerDVD 7.3, PowerProducer 4.2 and PowerDirector 6.0 for HD) was very much appreciated.
For what it is (and for what it costs), Sammy's latest HD camcorder excels. After a week with it, we simply couldn't find enough niggles to tell you to look elsewhere if you're already close to pulling the trigger. Do we wish the LCD backlight was a wee bit brighter? Sure. Do we wish the low-light performance was a smidgen better? Of course. But at the end of the day, is the SC-HMX20C a solid buy for the price? We think so. Take a peek at the (completely unedited) clips below to get a very loose feel for what this unit can do.
Right-click and Save As...
27.5MB: 480p clip at the ball field
84.9MB: 1080p clip at the ball field
38.3MB: 1080p clip in dimly lit hallway
47.7MB: 1080p shot, leisurely walk in the neighborhood
35MB: 1080p shot of flower bed
10MB: SlowMotion capture of pitcher