Samsung SC-HMX20 Camcorder Review
Here\'s a surprise. It\'s been a while since we\'ve seen a strong camcorder from Samsung. Then the SC-HMX20 comes along and all we can say is \"wow!\" Samsung\'s second generation HD camcorder, the HMX20 is the replacement for last year\'s lackluster SC-HMX10. The generational differences are unexpected, and not all obvious ones. For one thing, the new SC-HMX20 is actually larger than its predecessor, but only a little. It retains its ultra-stylish looks, and surprisingly useful swivel grip on the hand strap. Under the hood, however, Samsung staged a tiny revolution. The SC-HMX20 features a huge 1/1.8-inch CMOS sensor, dwarfing the previous generation\'s chip. The performance boost was simply enormous, particularly in low light, where Samsung has shot to the top of the list. To add to its charms, the SC-HMX20 is incredibly easy to use, making it a good choice for beginners. It may not have all the bells and whistles of its competitors, but this camcorder is definitely worth investigating.
Video Performance* (9.75)*
The Samsung SC-HMX20 is equipped with an enormous 1/1.8-inch CMOS. The gross pixel count is 6,400,000, with an effective pixel count of 4,000,000. A sensor this big—particularly a CMOS as opposed to CCD sensor—should theoretically produce amazing low light performance. (We'll explore that in detail later down the page.) The pixel density, however, is quite high, which could cut into some of those potential gains in surface area. Let's see how it performed.
Samsung SC-HMX20 at 3000 lux in auto mode
First, we'll examine our standard lab tests. We shoot a DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde chart at an even 3000 lux, then compare the results to our huge bank of previous test results. Shooting in auto mode with a manual white balance, the Samsung SC-HMX20 produced a good, strong color palette. At first glance, the saturation is high, but not so much so that the colors look neon or otherwise unnatural. The picture certainly doesn't lack for sharpness. The fine detail is quite impressive. However, the video has an unmistakable graininess to it. You'll see a lot more of this in less than perfect light.
The HMX20's performance is a big improvement over the previous generation SC-HMX10. We saw a big gain in sharpness. The color is less saturated in last year's model, which is arguably better and worse. The colors may actually be more accurate, but most consumers prefer the extra saturation because they associate it with 'strong colors.'
The Canon HF10, another competing camcorder, is far and away a better camcorder is all respects, including performance. In fact, Canon has been pretty far ahead of the pack this year. The only close performer was the Sony HDR-SR12, which is a fair bit more expensive than the Samsung SC-HMX20. However, the Sony HDR-SR11 and new HDR-CX12 include the same imaging specs, and should therefore produce the same great results. The Sony SR12 produced an excellent color palette and was just shy of the Canon HF10's resolution.
The Panasonic HDC-HS100, just released this month, has a much higher color saturation—the colors are intense. Under these lighting conditions, the Samsung appeared to offer a higher resolution. It's not surprising, considering that the Panasonic has three small CMOS chips, while all the other camcorders mentioned here use a single, large sensor. The Panasonic HDC-SD100, which is closer in price to the Samsung SC-HMX20, can be expected to perform identically to the HS100.
Samsung SC-HMX20 at 3000 lux in 30P mode* *
Under this bright light, there was no qualitative difference in color between 1080/60i and 1080/30P, which we also tested. However, there was a huge difference in how motion was treated. Let's look.
Out of the lab, the Samsung SC-HMX20 looked very good. As we noticed in the lab, the saturation is strong, but in outdoor shooting the colors popped nicely. We noticed a tendency to blow out the whites, which was a small problem on sunny days. On overcast days, the video looked great.
Compression artifacting was not too bad. There was definitely some trailing that occurs if you swing the camcorder around or shoot while walking. We also saw some line break-up during horizontal panning, but sadly that's just par for the course in this age of H.264 and AVCHD compression.
One of the big questions about the Samsung SC-HMX20 is how well the 30P mode performs. We don't recommend it. It's certainly a nice option to have if you want to change up the aesthetic look, but it could only be used in a select few shooting environments to our satisfaction. Like attempts at 30P from Panasonic, Samsung shows that they haven't yet cracked the code to make it look good. Objects appear 'jerky' or 'stuttering' as they move across the frame. So far, only Canon has managed to make 30P look natural, and even it failed to do so on at least one of its camcorders. Also, in sunny outdoor shooting, the color saturation was boosted, which seemed to cause some fine detail loss in objects that had complex shading, like clothing.
In indoor shooting, particularly in darker areas, the 30P didn't really provide a huge benefit. Images appear brighter, but the noise was more obvious. Also, because the refresh rate is slower, the automatic exposure adjustments drag compared to 1080/60i shooting.
We like the 1080/30p shooting better than its implementation on the Panasonic HDC-HS9 / HDC-SD9 / HDC-HS100, because all those camcorders (inexplicably) require that you simultaneously shoot in a color mode that pushes color saturation past the point of tolerance. However, Samsung's 30P still doesn't match the smoothness of Canon camcorders like the HF10 and HF100, though it does appear a bit noisier than the Samsung.
Overall, the video performance of the Samsung SC-HMX20 is very good. We are pleasantly surprised to see Samsung stepping up its game to be a real competitor in the consumer HD camcorder space. Though it may not have the market share in the US, this is definitely one to consider if you want a stylish body and solid video performance, without the hassle of manual controls.
Video Resolution* (24.5)*
The video resolution of the Samsung SC-HMX20 was tested by shooting a DSC Labs video resolution chart at an even, bright light. We then watch the playback footage on an HD monitor to determine the resolution in line widths per picture height (lw/ph). When shooting in 1080/60i, we found the camcorder produced a horizontal resolution of 700 lw/ph and a vertical resolution of 575 lw/ph.
This horizontal resolution is the best we've ever seen from a consumer HD camcorder—better than the Canon HF10 / HF100 and the Sony HDR-SR12. However, the vertical resolution was not as good, and showed a tendency to break up more quickly. This may be a function of the compression, or it could be the sensor itself.
When shooting in 1080/30P, the Samsung SC-HMX20 retained the same horizontal resolution of 700 lw/ph, but increased the vertical resolution to 700 lw/ph, making it the highest resolution consumer camcorder we've ever tested here! Congratulations, Samsung.
Low Light Performance* (7.62)*
The low light performance of the Samsung SC-HMX20 was tested in three stages. First, we shot the DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde chart at an even 60 lux and 15 lux, then compared them with the results of similar camcorders.
Samsung SC-HMX20 at 60 lux in auto mode
At 60 lux, the Samsung SC-HMX20 retained an excellent amount of color and fine detail. It is, in fact, one of the first camcorders this year to keep up with the leading Canons and Sonys. This is clearly the benefit of the huge 1/1.8-inch CMOS. There was an obvious increase in noise, but the sheer resolution capacity of the camcorder beat back any losses in fine detail that the noise may have caused.
*Samsung SC-HMX20 at 60 lux (100% crop)
|Canon HF10 **at 60 lux (100% crop)|
|Sony HDR-SR12 **at 60 lux (100% crop)|
The Canon HF10 and Sony HDR-SR12 offer a stronger color palette at 60 lux and have a small but definite upper hand in fine detail resolution. But the Samsung SC-HMX20 was brighter overall, looking as if it had boosted the gain more than the other two camcorders. The Panasonic HDC-HS100 was not as bright as the Samsung, and the colors were definitely not as strong.
The HMX20 is a huge improvement over the previous generation SC-HMX10. Last year's model was terribly noisy and... well, why beat around the bush? It looked atrocious. Good job, Samsung, in overhauling a broken system.
Samsung SC-HMX20 at 60 lux in 30P mode
When we switched the SC-HMX20 from 1080/60i to 1080/30P, there was surprisingly little difference in brightness. We did see a positive upswing in color performance. There was also a palpable decrease in noise, which allowed the fine details to show up more clearly.
Samsung SC-HMX20 at 15 lux in auto mode
At 15 lux shooting in the 1080/60i mode, the Samsung SC-HMX20's performance took a sad but predictable nosedive. Very few camcorders do well in this very low light, but we hoped that the huge sensor would make this one a stand-out. The noise increased a great deal. The color did remain strong, however.
Comparatively, the Canon HF10 was the best of the bunch at 15 lux, but only by a little. The color quality was about the same as the Samsung, but with less noise. The Sony HDR-SR12 was darker than both, but also had less noise than the Samsung. The Panasonic HDC-HS100 was far from excellent in this light level, and could not compete on color. However, the noise was of a finer grain, which made it a little easier to see fine detail. Finally, last year's Samsung SC-HMX10 was darker and noisier. Again, Samsung shows a big improvement since last year.
Samsung SC-HMX20 at 15 lux in 30P mode
When the Samsung SC-HMX10 was switched to 1080/30P, there was an enormous, positive change. It's amazing. The brightness is nearly the same as it was at 60 lux, but with more noise.
The second stage of our low light testing determines color accuracy, noise, and saturation. We shoot an X-Rite Color Checker chart at an even 60 lux, then ran frame grabs through Imatest imaging software. Imatest determined that the Samsung SC-HMX20, shooting in 1080/60i, produced a color error of 9.9. This was much better than the Samsung SC-HMX10 from last year. In fact, it's the most accurate color performance of any of the camcorders in this pool—the Canon HF10, the Sony HDR-SR12, and the Panasonic HDC-HS100.
The noise of the SC-HMX20 measured 1.105%. This was about the same as the Canon and Sony. The Panasonic did considerably better, and last year's SC-HMX10 did much worse. Finally, the saturation of the Samsung SC-HMX20 measured 78.85%.
The third stage of the low light testing examines sensitivity—how low can the light go and have the camcorder still see the scene? We test this by connecting the Samsung SC-HMX20 to a waveform monitor, then slowly and steadily lowering the light until the camcorder can output a maximum exposure of 50 IRE. Shooting in 1080/60i, the camcorder was able to produce this level of exposure at 9 lux.
Shooting in 1080/30P mode, the Samsung SC-HMX20 could produce 50 IRE with only 5 lux of illumination.
Both of these scores are incredibly good, and vouch for the huge low light capabilities of this camcorder. Since we introduced this test in the beginning of 2007, only a few of Canon's HD camcorders have scored this well. This score indicates that the SC-HMX20 is more than twice as sensitive as its predecessor, the Samsung SC-HMX10. Very, very well done, Samsung.
The SC-HMX20 is equipped with Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS), just like the SC-HMX10. EIS is generally not as effective as Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), which is featured on most Panasonics and top-tier Canons and Sonys. EIS functions by creating a digital buffer around the frame to compensate for abrupt panning or shaking, while OIS isolates the lens itself, in order to maintain resolution. The SC-HMX20's resistance to shake was very similar to the SC-HMX10's—pretty bad.
We tested the SC-HMX20 at two speeds using our custom-built shake emulator. Speed One is equivalent to normal stationary handheld shake, while Speed Two simulates a light jog or bumpy car ride, camcorder in hand. At Speed One, the SC-HMX20 exhibited a 66.67% shake reduction, while at Speed Two it underperformed with a disappointing 20% shake reduction. The SC-HMX20’s EIS was not designed for fast motion. The SC-HMX10's Speed 2 was a mere 11.11% shake reduction, while both camcorders displayed an identical Speed One performance.
Wide Angle* (10.0)*
We tested the SC-HMX20’s maximum field of view using a vertical laser. The camcorder was set on a tripod with the zoom pulled back fully and EIS disengaged. Test video was later interpreted on an external monitor in order to obtain a true aspect ratio. The SC-HMX20 displayed a wide angle measurement of 50 degrees, which is identical to the SC-HMX10.
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