Pocket HD camcorders are fine tools for shooting Vimeo shorts, but if you’ve got bigger screen ambitions you’ll be after something a little more high-end. Something like Canon’s new Legria HF S21.

It’s a Full HD camcorder, of course, but also rocks manual modes a-go-go, a 25p Progressive mode for giving video a film-like sheen, and 64GB flash memory that’s backed up by two SD card slots. So fill it with two 32GB SD cards, and you have a whopping 128GB storage.

The incredible bulk

The pay-off for this glowing spec sheet is that the HF S21 is bulky – there’s just no way it will fit inside a jacket pocket (we tried). But it is a camcorder for those who take their moviemaking seriously.

For a start, the LCD is as big as it gets on camcorders and the 3.5in display also happens to be a touchscreen. It’s perfect for framing shots and offers crystal-clear playback, and is definitely more effective than the small colour viewfinder.

Unfortunately it can be unresponsive, making it tempting to whip out a stylus pen rather than prodding with smudgy fingers.

Running the Relay

There are five recording modes available (from 24Mbps to 5Mbps) to 64GB flash memory – with over 24 hours of storage at your disposal if you opt to record in the LP setting. When the flash memory becomes full the camcorder automatically starts recording to SD card (a function known as Relay Recording).

When it comes to pro-style features, the HF S21 includes not only common settings such as manual focus, exposure and white balance but also a manual control dial to make using them more effective. There’s even a zebra-pattern function that warns when a scene is overexposed and a Colour Bars mode that pros use to ensure colours are consistent when matching the output from two camcorders.

Cinema scope

The HF S21 takes high-end cred seriously with its 25p Progressive mode for cinema-style recording. This halves the usual 50i frame rate and gives video a less harsh, more filmic quality.

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Audio quality isn’t forgotten, either: sound is recorded in two-channel Dolby Digital and an optional microphone can be used to create 5.1-channel surround sound.

Packed with potential

It’s certainly not hard work to extract superb results from the HF S21 but to make the most of its potential it pays to dive into the spec sheet and take time to become familiar with all the controls. The image quality is very compelling, with vivid yet realistic colours and eye-popping levels of detail.

As you’ll have gathered from the price tag, the HF S21 is no toy: it’s a captivating if demanding camcorder that delivers top-notch HD video.  

Stuff says... 

Canon LEGRIA HF S21 review

Not the easiest camcorder to use, but more than compensates with fine hi-def performance and pro-level features