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Olympus LS-20M Portable Video Recorder

February 15, 2012
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Although Flip cameras and iPhones have been used to create much of the video content on YouTube and other user-content sites, the audio quality from these devices isn’t up to the standards required by musicians. The Olympus LS-20M addresses this issue by combining the company’s consumer video technology with features from its respected LS-series portable digital recorders, all for $100 more than the audio-only LS-7.

The LS-20M has a 5.32 megapixel sensor and can shoot 1080p, 720p, and 480p video at 30 frames per second in Webfriendly MOV files (H.264/MPG-4 AVC format). You can transfer the files to your computer quickly using the USB 2.0 Hi-Speed port. Because the unit follows the Olympus audio-recorder form factor, the camera lens is placed on the end, between the microphones. Consequently, you position the device horizontally like an audio-only recorder, rather than vertically like you would an iPhone or the Zoom Q3HD. As a result, the LS-20M’s flat profile allows you to shoot video without obstructing the view of audience members. In fact, because it looks like a standard audio recorder, most people won’t even realize you’re shooting video with it, especially if you turn off the LCD.

The trade-off is that you need to look down on the recorder to check the image on the screen, which can be challenging if you position the recorder above eye level on a tripod. However, the LS-20M has a Reverse Angle mode that allows you to hold the recorder upside down and still capture a video image that is right-side up—perfect when you’re standing in a crowd and you want to hold the camera up over people’s heads.

The LS-20M has two LCDs—a 2" QGA color panel for video and a smaller, amber display for the audio functions. The amber display shows the recorder status, audio levels, battery level, file info, elapsed time, and remaining recording time. Some of the info is small, but the most important items—audio level and elapsed time—are easy to read.

Among the handy video features are 4x digital zooming, an image stabilizer for use in low-light situations, six white-balance modes (including automatic), and an HDMI micro connector so you can plug the device directly into a television. The unit also offers four Magic Movie filters (Rock, Pop, Sketch, Pinhole), which can add fun effects to your footage.

Olympus also designed the camera for real-time video streaming to sites such as Ustream. This requires you to plug the camera into your computer via USB and use intermediary software, such as Windows Live Messenger (Mac/Win).

You can use the LS-20M in audio-only mode or movie mode and independently set the recording resolution you want in each. For example, you can record at 24-bit, 96kHz in audio mode, but set it to 320kbps MP3 when shooting 640x480 video. If your audio file exceeds 2GB while recording, the device will automatically start a new one.

In movie mode, the 1080p and 720p settings capture WAV files from 16-bit, 44.1kHz to 24-bit, 96kHz. The 480p setting captures only MP3-format audio files at 256 or 320 kbps. The LS-20M can also be used as a music playback device by loading files onto it from your computer.

The recorder supports SD and SDHC cards up to 32GB in size. A 2GB card, which can hold up to an hour of 480p video with 320 kbps MP3 audio, is included.

 
Few will know you’re shooting video when you use the LS-20M, because the camera lens sits between the mics.
The LS-20M offers two mic sensitivity settings, a low-cut filter (100Hz and 300Hz), a limiter, playback EQ, and automatic and manual level setting capabilities. It can accept an external stereo mic with a 3.5mm plug, and offers plug-in power when required. The mic input can also be used to record line-level signals. The mono speaker, next to the tripod mount on the underside of the recorder, is great for checking that you’ve captured audio.

The LS-20M is susceptible to handling noise, so you’ll have to adjust the zoom or audio input levels carefully with the data wheel when using the internal mics. However, you can use the Olympus RS-30 wireless remote (sold separately) to start, stop, and pause the unit while recording.

The LS-20M sounds remarkably good for a digital recorder in this price category, let alone one with HD video capabilities. The directionality of the condenser mics is decent, and they capture a respectable stereo image. The video quality is also very good, and the unit is easy to use, regardless of the unpredictability of a venue’s lighting, which is what you want when capturing rehearsals and shows. I particularly liked that its horizontal profile makes it less conspicuous than the competing low-cost video recorders.

At 5.5" long and less than 5 ounces, it fits easily into a coat pocket. The unit is powered by a lithium-ion battery, which can be recharged from the USB port of your computer or by using the included AC adapter.

Because the LS-20M does such a great job of capturing sound and picture, I can’t imagine why someone would buy an audio only recorder if they were shopping for something under $250. It’s a no-brainer.

Specifications

Contact Olympus, olympusamerica.com

LS-20M

Price $299 retail/$218 street
Inputs Onboard mics (2), stereo mic/line input
Outputs Stereo headphone, HDMI, USB 2.0
Kudos Shoots 1080p video. Records 24-bit, 96kHz. Lightweight.
Concerns Manual doesn’t clearly explain the procedure for webcam operation.

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