Canon VIXIA HF S21 Review

The Canon VIXIA HF-S21 is a compact camcorder that captures Full HD 1920 x 1080 in AVCHD format with a number of frame rate options.

Key Features

  • 1920 x 1080 Video Resolution
  • AVCHD and H.264 Encoding Options
  • 8MP Still Resolution
  • 10x Optical Zoom
  • Dynamic SuperRange Optical Image Stabilization with Powered IS
  • Touch & Track Autofocus
  • Standard 60i Frame Rate
  • Native 24p Mode / 24p Cinema Mode / 30p Frame Mode
  • 3.5″ 922k Dot Resolution Touch Panel LCD Screen
  • Face Detection
  • 64GB Internal Memory
  • Dual SD Card Slots
  • USB 2.0, HDMI, Component and Composite Video Connections

Handling, Ergonomics and Control

The Canon VIXIA HF-S21 is larger than entry-level camcorders like the Sony HDR-CX350V; however, it’s not so big to prevent you from toting it on family outings or other casual endeavors.  For me this camera just feels nice in hand.  Being slightly larger fills out my hand nicely and doesn’t feel awkward reaching the controls like the record start stop button and zoom slide as smaller camcorders can sometimes feel.  My hands are by no means large.  I would classify them as average size.  The left hand will control the touch-screen functions and because the screen is nice and large, the virtual buttons are easy to manipulate.  The dual SD card slot is among the best features.  There is plenty of room on the internal drive for most endeavors, but for shooting quick scenes and then quick transfer the removable SD card is a great addition.  If you are using multiple storage options downtime from filming is greatly reduced.  The Canon VIXIA HF S21 can record video or still images to either SD card slot as well as the internal hard drive.

The HDMI output hidden beneath a small cover under the hand strap provides a full 1080p video source on a capable TV.  A HDMI cable is not provided and will cost a whopping $49 bucks for a Canon piece, however Sony makes one for about half of the Canon price.  I was unable to test video quality directly from the camera with a HDMI cable, but did achieve great results with the supplied component cable.  I can only speculate that the quality is slightly better with the HDMI cable and much easier to connect since audio is also transferred through HDMI.  The mini hot shoe allows for great accessories like a larger light or external microphone taking the video to the next level.

The face-detection feature works very well on the VIXIA HF-S21.  Transition while in motion on a person or panning a crowd is almost seamless as the camera picks out and stays locked on to the face of your subject person.  The auto-focus is fast and precis and the image stabilization is among the best around.  The VIXIA HF-S21 will soak up very liberal amounts of shake and jitter.  The stabilization is among the highest features of this camera and one of the very first “wows” when I first began to shoot with it.

The native 24p is also wonderful and is a breeze to edit in iMovie.  Now, I can’t commend Canon for the puny PIXELA editing software bundled with such a high end camcorder.  The software is alright for transferring and organizing files, but for editing, there is much left to be desired.  Since the imaging chip is bigger than most cameras in this class, you can get useful shallow depth-of-field even with medium zoom settings. My most noteworthy complaint to the Canon VIXIA HF-S21 is that, at the wide angle end, the zoom is not quite wide enough. While I hear  a wide angle adapter solves this problem nicely and with good image quality, it is another expense, but may be worth the extra green to an indoor videographer looking for sharp imagery in an affordable non-pro camcorder.

Shooting with the Canon VIXIA HF-S21

As stated earlier the VIXIA HF-S21 is slightly larger than many less expensive camcorders (slightly larger than a 12oz soda can).  The extra meat to the camera I’ve already stated that I like.  The buttons on the camera are easy to access and well identified.  The large viewing screen is appreciated because the camera can be held away from the body or set on a tripod with straining to see what is being filmed and the extra size makes the touch-screen interface very easy to use.  Someone with larger hands should appreciate the added space.  The VIXIA HF-S21 does have some added weight over smaller models, but the extra 7 to 8 ounces really doesn’t make much difference.  If extended filming with this camera is up your alley then be prepared to get an extra battery or two, because BP-808 model included will net only about an hour of run time.

Canon VIXIA HF-S21 Video Quality

Video quality is really outstanding from the Canon VIXIA HF-S21.  You can be the judge though.  Take a look at the video shot with the same camera you’ve seen throughout this post.

I also snapped a couple of photos to show the quality of the 8MP sensor in the VIXIA HF-S21.  If you are too close to a subject the shot can be a bit overexposed.  The pictures below are unedited, straight from the camcorder.

Canon VIXIA HF-S21 Accessories

Canon BP-809B Battery – The Canon HF-S21 comes with one of these rechargeable lithium-ion batteries; however, if you’re going to be away from power for an extended period, you can pick up spares.  The Pearstone BP-819 is a higher capacity batter that should supply close to double the run time.

Canon VFL-2 On-Camera Light – The VFL-2 works as a continuous video light source, or as a flash for still images shot with the HF-S21.

Canon SM-V1 5.1 Channel Surround Mic – The microphone features a shoe mount and accurately captures audio in all directions for accurate surround audio.

Canon ZR-1000 Zoom Remote – The ZR-1000 is a must if you need absolute zero motion from your VIXIA HF S21 while filming.

Canon LCD Hood – If you plan on spending significant time shooting in the harsh sunlight, an LCD hood can be a life saver in allowing you to get a better look at your scene.

Extra Memory – While the Canon HF-S21 comes equipped with 64GB internal memory, you may want the ability to expand that even further.  I’ve used the basic Kingston SD cards in the HF-S21, which worked just fine. No need to go all out on fast memory cards with the HF-S21. You’ll just need to make sure you pick up SD cards that are Class 4 or higher in order to capture Full HD video. The HF-S21 is compatible with all SD and SDHC cards – but not SDXC cards.

Memory card reader – If you don’t own a memory card reader, they make transferring images to your computer a world faster. I highly recommend picking one up with the HF-S21. They’re cheap and big time saver. Lexar makes a good card reader for about $15.

Camera Bag – When making an investment into a high end camcorder make sure it is protected when in storage by keeping is zipped up in a quality case.

Conclusions

The Canon VIXIA HF-S21 is a great camcorder for the home movie maker to the pro.  Use it just as it comes out of the box to capture great footage of the family and favorite events or add a few accessories and turn up the heat and capture some really stunning moments.  Either way you’ll enjoy great video quality that has been limited to professionals until great affordable camcorders like the VIXIA HF-S21.

Pros

  • Full 1080p
  • Image Stabilization
  • Dual SD card slots as well as internal storage
  • HDMI output
  • Mini Hot Shoe
  • Large 3.5 inch viewing screen
  • User friendly touchscreen interface

Cons

  • HDMI cable not included
  • Limited battery life

The Canon VIXIA HF-S21 is available from Tech Tilt’s trusted retail partner, B&H Photo, at the following link:

Canon VIXIA HF-S21 at B&H Photo/Video FREE SHIPPING

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