Canon HF R21 Review
The Vixia HF R21 is Canon’s latest entry-level HD camcorder, and it's the successor to last year’s HF R11.
The Vixia HF R21 is Canon’s latest entry-level HD camcorder, and it's the successor to last year’s HF R11. The camcorder comes with 32GB of internal flash memory, two memory card slots, and a new touchscreen interface on its 3-inch LCD. In performance testing, the HF R21 produced decent results, but the camcorder lacked the clarity, sharpness, and extensive set of manual controls that you'd get from a higher-end model.
The HF R21 carries an MSRP of $499, but it has two cheaper sibling models. The HF R20 (8GB internal flash memory) is available for $399 and the HF R200 (no internal memory) has is just $379.
Design & Usability
The first entry-level camcorder from Canon to offer a touchscreen interface.
The HF R21 comes with a comfortable hand strap and the camcorder features a compact, yet balanced design. This isn't a pocket-cam, though, but merely a petite traditional camcorder that you won't have trouble fitting in a large purse or small camera bag. Even with its comfortable design, the HF R21 didn't provide much confidence when it comes to durability, as the plastic body felt cheap to the touch.
There aren't too many buttons on the camcorder, and the four located on the left side (in the area where the LCD panel rests) are rarely used. The lack of physical buttons on the camcorder means the touchscreen interface is integral to using the HF R21. This is the first year that Canon included a touchscreen on its entry-level line, and the screen works relatively well.
I wasn't happy to see the R21 has an enclosed battery compartment, as this makes it impossible to use the camcorder with a larger battery pack. This kind of limits the helpfulness of the R21's large amount of internal memory (32GB) and dual memory card slots. Even if you load the camcorder up so you can record for many hours, you'll still have to replace the battery pack or plug in the camcorder at some point.
A lot of miscellaneous controls and features are scattered throughout the R21's menu system.
If you like to control everything manually, then the HF R21 is not going to win you over. The camcorder mostly relies on automatic controls to capture a video image, although you will find basic focus and exposure adjustment options. That doesn't mean the HF R21 isn't loaded with features, however, as the camcorder has plenty of random functions and controls. Some are silly, like digital effects and decorations, but others are very useful. The camcorder's Cine Mode, which can be used in conjunction with the R21's 24p frame rate to create a film-like aesthetic, is one of these useful features, as is the 20x optical zoom capability of the camcorder's lens.
Random controls abound as you dig deeper into the HF R21's menu system. There's a flicker reduction setting to, well, reduce flicker caused when recording monitors, televisions, or some fluorescent lights, and there are a variety of automatic scene modes to play around with. The camcorder also has a pre-record function that ensures you won't miss any of the action. With pre-record engaged, the HD R21 starts recording three seconds before you hit the record button. Sounds crazy, for sure, but this feature is actually being implemented on lots of camcorders these days.
Performance doesn't get much better than this for under $500.
The quality of the video captured by the Canon HF R21 is very good for a sub-$500 camcorder. It isn’t on the same level as $1000 camcorders, but the HD images are crisp and the low light performance is solid for an entry-level model. If you're not super picky about image quality, then the HF R21 will be fine for your shooting needs. But if you're serious about capturing excellent HD video, then you'll have to spend more money.
A great camcorder for simple home movies, vacations, or YouTube—but it's not ideal for amateur filmmakers.
If you’re looking for a low-cost HD camcorder, you essentially have two options: an ultracompact “pocket” cam that is about the size of a cellphone, or a more traditional budget camcorder like the Canon Vixia HF R21. The HF R21 certainly isn’t as portable as its tiny competitors, but it has a more features and its video performance is far superior. This makes the HF R21 the ideal camcorder for someone who has used a camcorder before and isn’t afraid of new technology, but carries no illusions of being a professional videographer.
Ease of use is paramount with the HF R21, but the camcorder also has a few advanced controls that are worth checking out. There are a couple cinematic settings (including an alternate frame rate) to help you achieve a film-like aesthetic, plus fantastic audio controls for an entry-level camcorder. If you’re looking for extensive manual controls—like the ability to adjust shutter speed or aperture—the Canon HF R21 is not the camcorder for you. Some entry-level models, like the Samsung HMX-H300, do have the ability to adjust these controls, but Canon left the option off the R21.
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