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How to transfer files off of a Canon Legria HF S21

Wed 23rd May 2012

I just had to transfer a couple of video files off of a Canon Legria HF S21. It should be easy, right? Unfortunately, whichever poor engineer developed this interaction has clearly never been or interacted with a human. More worrying it is indicative of the interactions we have with consumer electronics, and their refusal to keep up with the expectations we have from desktop computers, web browsers and smartphones.

Anyway, to the crux of the issue: how to actually do this (as the Google search for “canon legria hfs21 transfer to pc” returned nothing but this forum post).

You will need:

  • The power cable (yes, I know!)
  • A USB mini-B cable (that’s the one that you use to charge your PlayStation 3 controllers)

In case you find it useful, here is the English manual for the Canon Legria HF S21.

Now, follow these steps:

  1. Plug the power cable in.
  2. Plug the USB cable into the camera.
  3. In record mode, switch to the type of media that you wish to extract. If you want to transfer a video off, switch to video mode. If you want to transfer photos off, switch to photo mode. This toggle is done by clicking the “appropriate” icon on the touchscreen.
  4. Now enter play mode. This is done by pressing the physical button on the side of the camera (exposed by flipping the screen out). The icon has a couple of arrows and a play and a record icon, indicating that it switches between play and record… apparently.
  5. Plug the USB cable into your PC.
  6. On the touchscreen of the camera, it will ask you whether you are plugging into a DVD burner or a PC. Click PC!
  7. Finally your operating system will tell you that a mass storage drive has been attached and let you navigate the directory structure within it.

Yes, it really is that convoluted to just transfer files off by USB. But hopefully this will help you!

What is wrong with this?

I started off with a rant, and I feel I should explain a bit of it, having told you what the process is. Here goes!

Having to plug power in

This is not obvious. Having transferred files off many devices by USB, very few ask to be powered. Hell, a MacBook will warn you that updating system software without being plugged into the mains is a risk, and will let you make your own mind up. It was only because I stumbled across a forum post pointing this out that I knew!

Being in play mode to transfer

I can half understand this, as presumably it doesn’t want to let you try to transfer off or delete a file that it is currently writing to. But that concern could be handled by locking the current file so it cannot be accessed.

Choosing between DVD burner and PC

Both of these are potential options for what you might want to do, but why can’t the camera detect what it is connected to. Isn’t there something in the USB handshake to tell what it is? My computer can tell what is connected to it! Why don’t DVD burners just access files like a PC would?

Being in the write media mode to access files

Now this is the doozy. This one had me and my colleagues flabbergasted! So much so that they wouldn’t believe me and I had to show them it happening. On the computer, you actually get a different list of files on the camera based on whether the camera is in video or photo mode.

This is utterly bizarre and an atrocious interface. There is no reason for it, and when you’re trawling  through the files on the computer, you are detached from what mode the camera is in. In fact it’s not even that blatant what mode you’re in on the camera: the main part of the screen is showing you a picture, which could be a photo or a video!

Why doesn’t the camera just provide two top level directories: one for video and one for photo?

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5 Comments
  1. steve permalink

    Thanks heaps – I’ve been struggling for hours to get any sensible connection between the camcorder and my PC

  2. Julia Lynch permalink

    I have gone through these steps, but my mac will not recognize the files on the directory. I have aiseesoft file converter software to convert the files to .mov, but even that software doesn’t recognize the files. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Julia, are you trying to watch the video, or edit it? I would suggest downloading VLC for playing the video. It is one of the most compatible video players available.

      I did some editing with a file of this type very recently, but I don’t remember having to convert it. I’m pretty sure I just imported it into iMovie 08, and started working on it there. If I did have to convert it, I likely did it with Handbrake.

  3. I had immense problems too. Turned out to be a broken USB cable. But yes, the user experience of this camera leaves a lot to be desired. It does deliver stunning images though.

  4. Mark Long permalink

    I spent 3 days trying to get the USB to work. Thank you so much. I was at my wit’s end.

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