Toshiba Camileo S20 camcorder

The Toshiba Camileo S20 is one of the more compact HD camcorders on the market, lying squarely with models like the Flip Ultra HD and Kodak Zi8, rather than larger "fully-fledged" camcorders. As such, it comes in with a price of £119. But what do you get for your money?

The S20 measures 106 x 59 x 17mm, so slips easily into a pocket, although it also comes with a cover with a belt loop, if you like to belt-mount your gadgets. The S20 features a fold-out 3-inch LCD display so you hold it like a conventional pistol grip camcorder, with the lens on the leading edge, rather than having the lens mounted in the centre of the back like many of its pocket rivals.

Controls range down the back spine of the S20, with a top record start/stop button sitting above a clickable zoom controller. Below this are three other buttons which let you switch the capture resolution, turn the LED illuminator on and play your video.

On the right-hand side of the S20 is a button to switch between video and still capture, whilst the left-hand side offers up a pre-record button, which will capture the 3 seconds before the record button is pressed, basically by buffering a 3 second loop. The same button lets you dive straight into YouTube uploading once you are connected to your PC, assuming you opt to use the included software.

On-board storage is negligible at 128MB, offering 35 seconds in Full HD, so you'll be needing an SD or SDHC card to slide into the slot on the top. The flap is a little fiddly to open, but assuming you use the USB connection on the back to extract your files, once in place you may never have to remove the SD card again.

Under a flap on the back you'll find the aforementioned Mini-USB connection, a mini HDMI and 3.5mm Composite video out, so you have plenty of options to connect to your HD or older TV. All the cables are supplied too, including the HDMI, so you are good to go out of the box. You also get a cleaning cloth and a flexible mini-tripod.

Build quality isn't fantastic, due to the S20's light weight. Given the fact that the screen swivels out, it doesn’t feel as robust as the likes of the Flip Ultra HD, but there is no denying it packs a fair number of features into its light frame.

The menus throw up some surprising treats. You get recording options which offer FHD (1920 x 1080) or HD (1280 x 720) at 30fps, WVGA (848 x 480) at 60fps or VGA (640 x 480). Something for everyone, WVGA is better for fast moving subjects, although the quality at HD is more impressive.

You get the offer of image stabilization, but it is digital and not available for Full HD or WVGA shooting. Slow motion (at 320 x 240 res), time lapse and motion detection give you a few extra options if you want to get creative, although nothing to really get hugely excited about. You can manually set the white balance and change scene modes and so on, but you have to dig to find these settings and the chances are that most people will leave them on "auto".

Flip out the screen and the S20 powers up and you hit the first problem - there is a noticeable delay in registering the SD card. We used a 4GB SDHC card (class 6) and found an 8 second delay before the S20 would register the card and let us start recording. The same applies to playback - it will take you 8 seconds for the S20 to let you play back your video. Try before this and you'll get a "memory full" or "no file" warning, which is hugely frustrating.

Once everything is ready, a press of the record button will set you running. Videos are captured as AVI, although they are slightly irregular, throwing up a few compatibility issues, so they wouldn't play on the Mac (without using VLC) or the PS3, but you'll have no problems moving them out to YouTube for sharing online. Toshiba bundle ArcSoft MediaConverter 3 in the box, so you'll be able to convert files to an alternative format for your portable devices.

The Camileo S20 is a fixed focus camcorder with a switch to move from macro to normal scenes. The switch lies on the top and physically changes the focal point. Macro is good for shots with a subject about 20-30cm from the lens. In the normal range anything within 100cm or so will be out of focus. The lens isn't particularly wide angle either, so you'll need to be further away than you might think to get the scene you are looking for.

In good light the headline Full HD resolution captures a fair amount of detail and respectable colour, but things rapidly drop off as the light dims. Indoors in daylight gives very noisy results and for low level shots you get very little to look at. This applies across the range or resolutions, so if you want to capture your mates doing stupid things in the pub, this won't serve you well.

Plug the S20 into an HDTV and the limitations show themselves, with the 1080p video lacking the sharpness you might expect from the headline resolution, with blockiness where you wouldn't expect it. If you want to capture good quality footage to then share online, then the S20 competes with other pocket camcorders. If you are looking to play your videos on your TV at home, you might be disappointed in the results.

The exposed mic suffers as all these things do by environmental noise. Taken outdoors it will be blighted by gusty wind and in a crowded place the background noise will overshadow all over audio. However, this is true of almost all pocket camcorders.

 

Verdict

The Toshiba Camileo packs in more features than many other pocket camcorders and comes at a reasonably friendly price point. However, given the more sophisticated flip-out screen, it is more prone to damage than rivals from Flip, Creative and Kodak. That screen does make it more versatile, so for those chasing video from obscure angles, it will help you line things up.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment, though, is the overall quality. Full HD footage isn’t as sharp as you'd want it for viewing on your HD TV and the low light performance really lets the side down.

With Full HD creeping into compact and DSLR cameras, pocket camcorders are facing a much tougher time of things and the offering made by the Toshiba Camileo S20 doesn't really make it stand out from the crowd.

 



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