Samsung SC-HMX20C Full HD Camcorder

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Product: Samsung SC-HMX20C Camcorder
Provided By: Samsung Canada
Price:  ~899.99CDN MSRP - Lowest Price Here!

Introduction:

Camcorders have come a long way from the early over-the-shoulder full-sized VHS units that people used to pack around when I was a kid.  Over the years they evolved from the 5Kg monstrosities to smaller Mini-VHS and 8mm units.  The smaller size was nice, but consumers demanded better quality so S-VHS and Hi-8 came along to quench our desire for higher quality and better resolution.  This was followed by Digital-8 and mini-DV which led into mini-DVD camcorders which have never been that popular due to their limited recording capacity.  The quality of each of these camera generations improved and companies started to throw in new features like built-in digital camera capability and flash card slots.

All of these were just steps in the evolutionary ladder that leads us to today's generation of camcorders.  Today you can buy a full-HD camcorder with a hard drive or flash storage of some sort that offers better quality, more features and a real digital camera that is actually useful rather than those old 640x480 shots taken by the cameras of yesteryear.  Today we are looking at Samsung's latest Full-HD Camcorder the SC-HMX20C and are going to find out if 1920x1080p is as good as we hope or if it's just a high resolution - low quality camera.

I managed to use this camera for a couple of weeks, but only sporadically so I'm sure I haven't covered everything.  If reader interest is high, we'll try and get this camera back for a more detailed look when we actually have a bit more time.  That being said, let's jump in.

 

First Look:

When Samsung first offered us the SC-HMX20C, there was very little information about this camera on the web and I assumed that this would be a larger "Pro-sumer" unit that would pack a hefty price tag and a large body.  When the SC-HMX20C showed up, I marveled at its small size.  Despite its small size, this unit is quite heavy thanks to a metal camera body.

In Hand For Scale
In Hand For Scale

 

The camera is much smaller than I thought it would be but still manages to pull off a 6.4MP CMOS sensor and some flash storage to keep you recording on the go.  Please click the images below for larger pictures of this unit before we carry on and talk about the overall appearance and connectivity.

 LCD & Open Connections
LCD & Open Connections
Rear View
Rear View
   
 Front Open
Front Open
 Side View - LCD Inverted
Side View - LCD Inverted

 

When the LCD is swung out it reveals a sliding door on the camera that hides a mini-USB connector as well as another connector for hooking up AV cables to the camcorder.  Buttons under the LCD include an information display/hide button, flash control and the "Easy Q" button that puts the camera into a very simplistic mode so anyone can use it.  On the LCD we have a menu button, zoom controls and a record button.  The lack of buttons on this unit is due to the touch-screen LCD that allows greater control of the camera.

 

The back of the camera is quite plain and here you find the standard record, photo, mode and zoom controls for your finger on the top.  The back also has access to the battery, SD Card slot, and DC Input jack to charge the battery.

As we move around to the front you see that Samsung has included a proper flash that pops up for still picture taking when needed.  It would be handy if Samsung had included a light of some sort for video recording in dark environments as well.  Lastly we have a look at the left side of the camera with the LCD inverted.

 Touch LCD Action
Touch LCD

 

While the image above makes the LCD looks washed out, the quality of the image on the screen is actually very good in real life.  It's not as good as a new Full-HD TV but it's not bad. 

 

Closer Look:

The more I looked at this unit, the more I liked it as it has a very good build quality and its overall design is very well done.  It fit my hand very nicely and everything was where it should be when looking for controls and ports to plug it in.

 Lens Info
Lens Info
Battery & Card Slot
Battery & Card Slot
   
 Back View - Mode Indicator
Back View - Mode Indicator
Camera Bottom
Camera Bottom

 

The Lens shows an F6.3 to F1.8 capability and a 10x zoom feature.  By all accounts the lens is very good for a camera of this price range and the 10x optical zoom is really ample for most situations.  The SC-HMX20C Camcorder uses a Lithium Ion battery and supports additional storage though the use of a SD card slot.  This slot supports MMC+ and SDHC cards and accepted an 8GB SDHC card with no issues.

Power is toggled on by the black switch located below the "record" button on the back of the camera.  The Mode button is used to select video, photo or playback.  On top of the camera is the button for taking photos as well as the zoom control.  The bottom of the camera is tripod ready and also has an interface for docking with the included dock.  More on this on the next page.


Included Accessories:

The included accessories are pretty decent for a Camcorder and include the a nice paper manual as well as a more detailed electronic manual on a CD.  On another CD is some software that allows you to edit your HD video.  The software is a nice bonus as many older software programs don't allow editing of HD video.

The SC-HMX20C includes cables for hooking the camera up to your computer; your older TV set (Composite) as well as your new HDTV through the Component video cables.  All of these cables can either be hooked directly up to the camera itself, or to the included dock.

Included Cables
Included Cables

 

I'm sure many of you noticed the lack of HDMI cable in the picture above as well as there being no HDMI port on the camera itself.  Don't worry - HDMI is supported on the dock and it interfaces with the connector on the bottom of the camera.

 Dock Connections
Dock Connections
Remote Control
Remote Control

 

The remote included is well thought out and includes pretty much all of the buttons needed to play back, record and navigate the SC-HMX20C menus.

Before we get too far into the review, let's take a look at the specs and features of the SC-HMX20C.

 

Features:

high definition camcorder
You won’t miss any of life’s special moments with this compact, lightweight camcorder. The SAMSUNG SC-HMX20C has an amazing built-in 8 GB of flash memory for 90 minutes of recording time. Plus, with the 2.7-inch touch screen LCD and a convenient swivel handgrip, you’ll easily capture odd-angle shots like baby’s first steps. Full HD recording with 1080p delivers breathtaking images and brilliant resolution.

twice the memory options
Play videos quickly and easily using internal and external memory. The external memory slot accepts both high capacity SD and MMC. The SC-HMX20C has 8 GB of built-in flash memory and 90 minutes of recording time so you never miss anything.

capture images farther than the eye can see
With its high quality 10x optical zoom and 100x digital zoom lens you can get close to the action from a safe distance. And for those ultra long distance shots, the 100x digital zoom will let you see it all in perfect detail.

HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface)
Transfer hi-definition video and audio from your camcorder to your TV, home theater, or other digital AV components. Simply connect your camcorder to your home theater system with a single cable for high-quality picture and sound.

4 mega pixel still camera
Watch your images come to life! A 4 megapixel still camera which will create a crisp, crystal-clear picture that is more lifelike than ever before.

USB 2.0 port
The USB port lets you easily upload your movie clips and JPEG still images to your PC.

2.7” touch screen
You’ll never miss a shot with the 2.7” touch screen LCD display. Catch more of the action and guarantee that the entire image is recorded.



Full Specs:

We've pulled the full specs from Samsung's site and reposted them here for your convenience.






 

On the next page we'll take a look at the menus and setup of this camera before we jump into testing.


Menus and Settings - System Settings:

There are a lot of menu screens, settings and customization that can be done with this camcorder and I won't insult you by explaining every slide.  Instead, you can choose the ones you want to look at and we'll briefly cover some of the details at the bottom of each section.

 System Settings 1
System Settings 1
System Settings 2
System Settings 2
System Settings 3
System Settings 3
     
 System Settings 4
System Settings 4
  System Settings 5
System Settings 5

 

The one notable thing in the setup menus is the "Storage Type" in the top middle image.  The storage type can either be to the internal 8GB of memory or to your SDHC card in the slot.  You cannot choose a separate location for either the video or the pictures.  This setting is global meaning that both pictures and video will end up on the media that you select here.  I'd prefer to be able to save pictures on a card and put video on the internal memory or vice versa.


Menus and Settings - Photo Settings:

This next section deals with the photo settings alone.  They are pretty self-explanatory so click on any that look interesting for more information. 

 Photo Settings 1
Photo Settings 1
   Photo Settings 2
Photo Settings 2
     
 Photo Settings 3
Photo Settings 3
  Photo Settings 4
Photo Settings 4

 

Even though the SC-HMX20C is primarily a camcorder, the camera functions and settings are quite fully featured and there are a lot of options for your to tweak the white balance, resolution, sharpness, digital effect and ISO to name a few.  You can also turn on face detection, control shutter speed and enable or disable digital zoom on the camera.

 

Menus and Settings - Video Settings:

This next section covers some of the video settings that are available on the SC-HMX20C camcorder.  We could spend pages of the review discussing these but we'll let you click the pictures for a brief summary of what is available.

 Video Settings 1
Video Settings 1
 Video Settings 2
Video Settings 2
 Video Settings 3
Video Settings 3
     
 Video Settings 4
Video Settings 4
   Video Settings 5
Video Settings 5

 

Many of the same settings for the still camera are also available for the video camera.  The exceptions include items such as Super C.Nite and Image Stabilization.  If you're expecting to shoot in extremely low light with the SC-HMX20C, you'll be disappointed.  There is no IR light feature like that Sony uses and recording in the dark is pretty disappointing.

On the next page we'll jump into testing the camcorder before we draw up our final thoughts and conclusions:


Testing the Digital Still Camera:

Most people who purchase this camcorder will do so because of the 1920x1080p video resolution thanks to it's h.264 video codec, but with a 6.4MP CMOS sensor it should perform quite well as a digital camera.  The sensor is not super high quality and this unit won't replace your current SLR, but the camera is worth looking at and using on a holiday.  Because it packs in a decent camera, the Samsung SC-HMX20C can save you the hassle of packing a video camera as well as a still camera with you.

I took a few pictures in different situations with the camera running on its automatic mode.  Better results may be obtained through tweaking, but time constraints demanded that we take some simple photographs without setting up anything too elaborate.

You can download the full resolution images here.  Due to their size, they are all included in a single *.zip file for your convenience.  The file is 6.69MB in size.

 Indoor - Bright
Click Image to Download all High-Res Images
 Indoor - Medium
Click Image to Download all High-Res Images

Outdoor - Dusk
Click Image to Download all High-Res Images

While the camera isn't spectacular, it certainly does the job well enough to print out 8x10 glossy photos of your favorite person, place or thing.  I took it to YC Alberta 2008 and used it around home for a couple of weeks and have some great photos.  I chose to include the photos above in this review as they show some of the strengths and weaknesses of the camera.  With good light the flash isn't needed indoors and pictures come out quite nicely.  At a farther distance the flash is required and does a pretty good job of capturing KJ-52 with a teddy bear and a fan.  Outdoors at dusk the colors appear a little pale and the detail is lacking.  You'll notice that all of these images have quite a bit of noise and that is more common for CMOS sensors than good high-quality CCD sensors.  However, for under $900 you can't expect perfection.

 

Testing the Video Camera - Standard Definition:

To test the video camera we started off with the Standard Definition (SD) testing.  This video is recorded at 720x480 - native DVD resolution.  The following image is of my son peeling a banana in the kitchen.  The overhead fluorescent light was on for ambient lighting.

Indoor SD
Indoor SD

Even the SD video quality is much better than my JVC Camcorder that I bought 5 months ago.  The color is pretty balanced although the red is a little saturated.

One of the features of this camcorder is the fact that it can record video in slow motion.  This slow motion can be selected as 1/2, 1/4 or 1/8 speed.  To showcase the slowest slow-motion available, we took it gopher hunting with my father.  Gophers destroy thousands of dollars worth of crop by eating young plants and the SC-HMX20C shows how some people get rid of them.  If you love rodents like rats, mice and gophers, you may not want to watch the video. . .  Please also keep in mind that no gophers felt pain.

The video show above was sped up to real-time for the first pass while the slow motion video is a straight pull from the video camera.  As you can see the camera was zoomed in as the rodent was about 80 meters away.  Unfortunately, Digital Image Stabilization was not enabled - thus resulting in the shaky view at 10x zoom.  Also it is important to note that Slow Motion video can only be recorded for 10 seconds on the 1/8th setting.  You cannot record slow motion for extended periods of time. 

On the next page we'll carry on with the High Definition testing before we wrap up with our final thoughts.


Testing the Video Camera - High Definition:

Different resolutions are available including 1920x1080i and 1920x1080p.  My current TV does 1920x1080i but we recorded video at both the interlaced and progressive settings for the review.  Because the video is simply H.264 we were able to easily play back the files on our computer using Power DVD or QuickTime.  The images below are frame grabs from the video as it played back.  They have been compressed slightly from the BMP file created by Power DVD but still maintain most of their original quality.

 Outdoor - 1080i
Outdoor - 1080i
(Click for 1920x1080 image)


You can see the interlacing on the edges of the objects in the image as we placed this back on our computer.  For best results on most devices, 1080p is by far the best method to record.

The next screenshot is from 1920x1080p video.  This was taken indoors with some spotty skylights.  The crowd was moving toward me as I was holding the camera over head and going against the flow of humanity.

Indoor - 1080p
Indoor - 1080p
(Click for 1920x1080 image)

 

The image above shows a little more noise than when in better light outside, but the quality of the full HD 1080p video is still very good for a camcorder that comes in under $900.

The last video screenshot is again at 1080p and was also taken inside.

Indoor - 1080p
Indoor - 1080p
(Click for 1920x1080 image)

 

Final Thoughts:

The Samsung SC-HMX20C camcorder was a surprise in more ways than one.  First of all, the camcorder is really quite small yet feels much more solid than I would have thought.  Also it has decent still image camera functions and can double up as your favorite still and video camera to take on your next holiday.  What makes this unit special is that it is one of the least expensive Full HD (1920x1080p) cameras around and manages to do a pretty good job in most situations.  If you are using this camera to record a soccer game outside, the quality is perfect and I managed to get some amazing footage outdoors.

Like most other cameras, quality degrades as you put it in lower light situations and even with the Super C. Nite enabled, recording video in a dark room is horribly grainy.  On the other hand, I took it to a concert and recorded a few songs at Full HD from the opposite end of the stadium.  Video quality was remarkable - for the distance, zoom and low light.

 

Another downside is the 8MB internal memory.  Many other camcorders have 20GB or more and 8GB seems a little weak.  That being said, at Full HD, 8GB will last you as long as the battery does - about 85 minutes.  With that being said, SDHC cards are very cheap and you can add more storage to this unit easily.  I grabbed an 8GB SDHC at Best Buy for $40 during testing.  This adds a lot of life and a simple way to get the images and video off the camera and onto your computer.

Pros:

  • Small Size & Big Features!
  • Full HD Capability 1920x1080p
  • 6.4MP CMOS Sensor
  • Decent Digital Camera with Flash
  • Solid Construction
  • Good Video Image Quality
  • HD Camera That Fits In Your Coat Pocket
  • Flash Storage Can Survive Shaking
  • Touch Screen LCD For Navigation
  • IR Remote Control
  • External Mic Input
  • Supports SDHC Cards For Expansion
  • Nice Lens
  • Sub $900 Full-HD Camera


Cons:

  • Digital Camera Has Noise All But Bright Light Photos
  • Slow Motion Is Time Limited (10 Second Clip at 1/8)
  • Storage Setting Is Globally Internal or External

Even with the long list of "Pros" some of the quality issues of the camera in lower light keep it from being a perfect 10 for the price.  While there are improvements to be made for $900 this is a great camera that will fit the needs of many people.  It comes in as a 9.0 and is a BCCHardware Top Pick.

 BCCRating

 Top Pick

 

I'd like to thank Samsung Canada for sending this camera our way for the review.  It was a good project that netted me hours of HD family video.  If you have any questions, comments or general feedback, please feel free to post it in the forum at the "Comments" link below.