Just as I was comparing specs online and the 'feel' of camcorders in person at the few stores that carry the latest hardware, I received a link to on to the the Great HD Shoot Out which compares some of the latest and greatest prosumer HD camcorders, including the Canon HV20, Sony HDR-HC7, Panasonic HDC-SD1 and the JVC GZ-HD7. I had already selected the DV tape-based Canon HV20 and the new hard-disc Sony HDR-HC7, but added the (more expenisive) JVC GZ-HD7 to the mix.
Going into my evaluation, I had already decided on the Canon HV20 given the very reasonable price, HDV MPEG-2 video compression and 24P mode, with comprehensive manual controls. I have heard from other owners that as the camcorder supports HD as well as lower quality SD (standard definition), it's said that the SD quality is comparable to the Canon XL1.
And being an old audio nut, the Canon offers rich audio capabilities: choose from the mini microphone input or the hot Advanced Accessory Shoe (AAS) which I have paired with a Canon DM-50 stereo mic on my current Canon DV camcorder. This plus a headphone jack and manual audio level controls.
The reviewers selected the Canon as the preferred camcorder out of this bunch, with the Canon and Sony with comparable video quality over the JVC
"The crispness of the HV20’s image was most notable in close-up shots of our model, where we could literally count every hair on our model's face... The Canon also turned in a stellar low light score, thanks to a 24p mode that more than doubles the light gathering ability of its imager. In low light, it beat out the others in the same order as above. The 24p capability in and of itself is a great extra feature on the HV20, yet another reason to consider it."
There is a LANC connection on the Sony, but missing from the new Canon HV20: I use the LANC (aka Control-L) connector on my Optura, for tripod control of the zoom. But this is a small price to pay and a gap that the HV20's wireless remote would likely fill.
I may have to bend the budget and go for the Canon -- especially tempting as it's on sale this weekend -- and put my old tried and true Canon Optura100mc camcorder up on eBay. I agree with the review of the Optura 100MC: it's "a great camcorder... [and] produces a great picture and gives you tons of manual control. It's a great deal and a good camcorder for anyone who would like to learn how to maximize the performance of their camcorder and get the best results."
For more info on the Canon HV20, visit Canon's consumer page on the camcorder.