The Samsung SC-MX20 has virtually the same physical design as its predecessor, the SC-MX10. As with all the recent Samsung camcorders, the front is entirely consumed by the lens—more so than with most camcorders. This time around, Samsung borrowed from the design of their own high definition line, placing the Schneider-Kreuznach lens in a more distinctive cylindrical housing, rather than blending it in with the body of the camcorder, as they did on the SC-MX10. The result is a classier-looking camcorder. The SC-MX20's 34x optical lens has an aperture of f/1.6 - f/4.3 and a focal length of 2.3 - 78.2mm. This is all unchanged from last year's SC-MX10. Also unchanged from last year's model is the 30.5mm filter, a standard size for adding accessories like a telephoto or fisheye lens. On either side of the lens, you'll still find the built-in stereo microphone. This seems like a sensible place for the microphone, compared to the popular top-mounted microphones that are easily muffled by wandering pinkies.
Really, the only noteworthy new feature to this generation is the built-in lens cover that can be manually opened and closed. We prefer this to the separate lens cover of the MX10 or the automatic lens cover of the SC-HMX20. Lens caps can be lost and the delicate inner mechanics of an automatic enclosure can fail. The built-in manual lens cover is a positive new feature.
The SC-MX20's new Schneider-Kreuznach lens has
all the same specs as the Samsung lens on last year's MX10—only the branding has changed. Not much is new: The lens barrel is more distinctive and Samsung has added this switch to control the new built-in lens enclosure.
The Right Side (5.75)
The right side of the SC-MX20, as on most consumer camcorders, serves only as an otherwise barren handhold. There are no ports, switches, or other features. However, Samsung has given us reason to be interested again in the right side of a camcorder with their clever and unconventional swivel-grip. This is a repeat feature from last generation's SC-MX10 and SC-HMX10 (Review, Specs, Recent News, $244.95): a grip that allows you to rotate the body of the camcorder up to 180 degrees while keeping your hand in the same horizontal position. It's a very cool design, one that makes all sorts of angles possible—including flashlight-style shooting from the hip.
Samsung did manage to make two improvements over last year's model: the pivot axle on the swivel grip and the adjustable hand strap have both been beefed up. On the SC-MX10 and the HMX10, the swivel grip tended to bend outward away from the body of the camcorder. Thanks to the more robust axle of the MX20, you would have to pull very hard and very deliberately in order to replicate this flaw. The other change is a welcome sight... Samsung has widened the hand strap for more coverage and, therefore, more stability. We prefer this upgrade over the improvement made for the high definition model: the HMX20 has the same narrow strap, but in a soft gray suede.
Even with its widened hand strap, the right side of the SC-MX20 looks like most camcorders... ...until you discover the nifty swivel grip.
The Back (5.25)
The back of the SC-MX20 is nearly identical to its predecessor. Most of the real estate is taken up by a large port cover that opens to reveal outputs for standard AV and mini-USB, as well as a DC power input. The cover on these ports is attached with the same flimsy plastic strip that we see on a lot of camcorders; it looks like it could pull out or snap with too much wear and tear.
To the right of the port cover, you'll still see the charge light, power switch, and record button. If you had trouble finding the record button on your MX10, Samsung has graciously doubled the size of the button this time around. We thought the old one was just fine, but we have no problems with the enlarged button either. Notably, the two skinny buttons that were lodged next to the port cover last generation have found new homes. The EasyQ button is now nestled within the LCD cavity, while the Mode button has shifted up slightly and increased in size. It's now nestled conveniently above the port cover, beneath the mode lights, which will tell you when the MX20 is in video or playback mode.
The SC-MX20 has a cleaner design on the back end than last generation's MX10. The AV, mini-USB, and DC power ports are hidden away on this side too.
The Left Side (5.25)
On the left, we have the sleek, black gloss we've come to expect from Samsung's consumer line. This surface, as well as the black front of the camcorder and the handstrap, are the portions of the MX20 that change in color with the various models. If the black isn't vibrant enough for you, take a look at Samsung's red, blue, and white offerings.
The glossy black (or red or blue or white) surface is the back of the camcorder's LCD panel, which flips out to reveal a surprisingly bare interior cavity. Nestled within, you'll find the same small playback speaker and buttons for iCHECK (information display) and LCD Enhancer, which changes the way the image appears on the LCD, but not on the recorded footage. Immigrating over from the back of the camcorder is the Easy Q button, which puts the camcorder into a fully automated mode. This new placement is an improvement over the awkward, narrow Easy Q button on the back of last generation's SC-MX10.
The left side of the SC-MX20 is sleek and black—a lot like
last generation's model and Samsung's high def line. This is one of the more barren LCD cavities that we've seen on a camcorder.
The Top (4.25)
There's not much to see on the top of the SC-MX20. Many similar camcorders fill half of their top with the built-in microphone; on the MX20, the microphone is in the front, on either side of the lens. This is a great design, allowing the fingers of your right hand to wrap all the way around and rest on top, without fear of muffling the microphone with a stray pinky. There's even a comfortable, rubberized grip on the top of the camcorder, which we found helpful for increasing stability.
The most noteworthy feature of the top is the MX20's zoom toggle—at first glance, a fairly standard control. Unfortunately, it's the same toggle found on last generation's MX10; it's easy to grip, but offers a pitiful amount of control. This is something we'd like to see improved on all Samsung camcorders. If you want to zoom in or out at a slow, even crawl, the MX20 will frustrate you to no end. There is only a single, fast zoom speed, which can be achieved just as easily with the directional pad as with the slightly less responsive zoom toggle. This is a real disappointment.
From an aerial view, you can also see the switch for the manual lens cover on the front and the Record and Mode buttons, which wrap up from the back.
The relatively unadorned top of the SC-MX20 That rubberized grip is handy.
There isn't usually much to say about the bottom of a camcorder—it typically holds the tripod mount, a sticker or two, and not much else. On all the standard definition Samsungs, however, the bottom is also home to the battery compartment and SD card slot. The placement is a bit of an inconvenience to anyone using the SC-MX20 on a tripod, but this probably isn't a camcorder that finds itself mounted to a tripod all that often. The compartment itself is functional enough, though the hinge on the cover seems unusually fragile. This single cover serves as protection for both the battery and the SD card; the battery is released by a small switch and the SD card sits in a traditional spring-loaded slot. The biggest compaint we have about the battery compartment is that it is entirely enclosed, which means no upgrading to a larger size battery.
The bottom of the SC-MX20 is busier than most, including a battery compartment and SDHC card slot
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