Granted that we now live in an age where standard definition (SD) televisions are no longer sold, the deck was already stacked against the Samsung SMX-C20, where the eye has already started to grow accustomed to seeing high-definition (HD) images.
Aside from the lack of HD recording capability, the picture quality still is on the lower-end for SD. The image quality is very similar to what the camcorder video would produce in a high-end PDA or Smartphone. However, I was happy that the camcorder at least did provide a 16:9 (widescreen) option and a 16:9 LCD viewfinder.
Low-Light Video Quality
The backlight feature is adequate in dimly lit situations, although some of the darker images will still disappear into the blacks. There is a “darkness” scene selection that will provide significantly brighter images in poorly lit situations, however, when zooming in and out while this feature is on, you might experience blooming or halo effects around some of the images. Overall, in very poorly lit situations, aside from the blooming and halo effects, the darkness scene filming is impressive.
Ease of Use
When unboxing the Samsung SMX-C20, it actually took me three or four minutes to find the place to plug in the power cable and insert the memory card. Once I moved into better lighting, I discovered a sliding panel surrounding the rear-recording button. I was concerned that the sliding panel could easily break off of its hinges while using the camera with a power supply, but in terms of safety from dirt and the elements, the sliding panel works well.
In addition, because I was in a dimly lit room, it also took me three or four minutes to find the controls to access the menus on the camcorder. The menu is actually controlled by buttons located to left-hand side of the LCD screen.
The main lever to control the menu was a little difficult to operate, but the menus themselves were logical, easy to understand, and easy to locate any specific feature.
The Samsung SMX-C20 did have some interesting features that may be of use for the average user. Given that the camera is using the H.264 codec to compress SD instead of HD, much longer recording times are possible. A 16GB memory card will allow you to record up to 360 minutes in Super Fine mode and up to 620 minutes in Normal mode.
For the extremely basic user, the Samsung SMX-C20 features a one-touch sharing button that will actually help you upload your video clips from the camcorder directly to YouTube.
To take the one-touch concept even further, the Samsung SMX-C20 has a one-touch smart auto button that will put the camcorder into fully functioning auto mode, including automatic scene selections that will automatically select the best settings based upon whatever is happening in the camcorders viewfinder.
Arguably, the most ambivalent feature of the camcorder is the advanced ergonomic design. The lens is tilted on angle so that you may position your wrist in the most comfortable position possible to shoot with the camcorder. This is indeed comfortable for extended periods of handheld shooting, but disastrous for anyone shooting with a tripod attempting to get an appropriate eye line. I like the idea of ergonomic handling, but the lens needs to be leveled.
The 1200x’s digital zoom is an impressive if you can't zoom in on your footage in the editing bay. However, with most digital zooms, there is significant degradation in image quality the further out you zoom. It might be a nice feature for a junior paparazzi shot, but for the most part, I would recommend only using the optical zoom.
A great feature that the Samsung SMX-C20 shares with more modern day cameras is automatic face detection for auto focusing. Unfortunately, neither the face detection, nor the auto focus, performed very well. However, the manual focus on the SMX-C20 was difficult to fine tune and the face detection actually worked better than the general auto focus feature on the camcorder.
Premium sound would not be best served in describing the audio, but in terms of functionality, the Samsung SMX-C20 gets two thumbs up for sound. I recorded a very loud live band, and was concerned about the audio levels, since there are no manual controls for audio levels on the camcorder. For safety, I activated the wind cut filter to dampen the sound. Much to my surprise, the automatic level control was able to record leveled audio with no distortion. It wasn’t the sweetest sound, but it wasn’t a distorted sound, either. Furthermore, even with a live band playing in the background, I was still able to record an intelligible sounding interview at close range.
I was very happy with the image capture with the Samsung SMX-C20. With a MAC, I was able to plug the camcorder directly into my computer, via a USB port, and drag and drop H.264 .MP4 files directly onto my hard drive. It should be noted though, that if you are going to edit your footage, H.264 is primarily a delivery codec, and you should convert your files to whatever format works best natively with your computer and editing software.
If you have an HD television and a newer computer, the entry-level standard definition Samsung SMX-C20 camcorder might not be the best selection for you. However, if you still have a tube television and are on a budget, the Samsung SMX-C20 provides less robust versions of more modern day options, for the frugal low-tech buyer.
Christopher C. Odom is an award-winning writer, director, producer and author who earned his Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting from the University of California, Los Angeles. His work has been nationally televised and screened in cities worldwide, including Tel Aviv, Berlin and Cannes.