Compared to Panasonic's sleek HDC-SD1, the Canon HV20 HD camcorder looks a bit ungainly, mostly because it has a large MiniDV tape mechanism grafted on to one side.

The Canon HV20 records 1,920x1,080-pixel HDV-formatted high-definition footage or standard-definition footage to MiniDV tapes, whereas the Panasonic HDC-SD1 (review here) records in AVCHD format to SDHC Cards.

However, the Canon and the Panasonic weigh almost the same. The Canon HV20 weighs 0.51kg, the HDC-SD1, 0.48kg. (Canon will release its first AVCHD camcorder, the HR10, in August 2007.)

The Canon HV20 has some tiny buttons - an avoidable design decision given the size of its body; the start/stop button and the zoom button are particularly small, although the latter has a variable-speed setting, which helps smooth zooming.

The Canon HV20's lens cover is integrated into the body - and it's motorised, so it slides open when you power up and slides shut when you power down. That way, you don't have to worry about a lens cap intruding into your shot or getting yanked by a curious toddler.

The Canon HV20 came out on top of our August 2007 issue's chart mainly because it has more features and costs quite a bit less than the Panasonic HDC-SD1. The Canon HV20 offers a 24p mode to simulate the look of film recording; this setting adds a certain lushness to video, as long as you don't use it to capture fast-action or low-light clips. This camcorder doesn't have a full-manual mode, but it does have aperture- and shutter-priority modes.

However, unlike past Canon models, the Canon HV20 lacks a mode dial on its body, so you must scroll through a menu and use a tiny joystick to select different capture modes. Having to use this method slowed us down. A dedicated button on the camera body is supposed to enable the camcorder to compensate for a backlit subject, but it didn't even out the exposure as much as we would have liked (in fact, it lightened both dark areas and bright areas).