Test Bench:Samsung SC-D5000 Mini DV Camcorder

$1,400

Samsung Consumer Electronics

105 Challenger Road

Ridgefield Park, NJ 07660

(201) 229-4000

www.samsung.com

Many of us are running around with far too much gear. While a number of camcorders shoot digital stills as a nice extra, the innovative Samsung SCD5000 does not treat still imaging as an afterthought. If you are in the market for both a new camcorder and a new digital still camera, this might be the two for you.

Form and Function

First impressions of the camera are that it is rather boxy. There are two lenses and two CCD arrays that pivot on the body. The conversion process is fast and easy, but there are a few buttons that swap positions when you rotate the lens, most notably the auto/manual focus button.

The SCD5000 (like the tiny SCD590 we reviewed in March) has a bizarre tripod mount. The adapter, which screws into the bottom of the camera, is a necessary kludge to allow the lens/CCD barrel to rotate while mounted on a tripod. Functionally we can see why this is necessary. As a bonus, it looks like the adapter plate will allow the bottom-loading tape mechanism to function while the camera is on a tripod. Samsung would get big points for solving that pernicious problem that plagues many consumer camcorders. We could easily get our finger in to slide the Tape Eject switch. The motors whirred, the gears turned and *pop* out came the tape mechanism. Alas, it is all just a tease: you can’t actually get the tape out of the mechanism. Samsung is within about a half an inch of an effective solution.

Samsung includes two batteries in the box, a compact one and a larger one with a longer duration. We liked the absolutely tiny remote control, which is a little smaller than a Mini DV tape with the same weight (about half an ounce).

While function definitely dictates the form of this camera, the SCD5000 is comfortable to use, with one hand or two. The relatively small LCD is quite bright and swivels into a wide range of useful positions, but the non-extendible viewfinder is a little too close to the camera body. For this reason, we found ourselves using the LCD all of the time, even though that caused us some anxiety about battery life. This anxiety turned out to be unfounded, as the LCD had little or no measurable impact on battery life in our tests.

Dual Dilemma

Camcorders with digital still capabilities are nothing new. The first ones recorded images to videotape and the images were no better than a frame grab from the video. Later models incorporated memory cards and saved pictures that had a little higher resolution. Even so, the 2 megapixel stills were not quite as good as what you’d get from a good dedicated still camera. So many of us had two cameras with us on vacation: a small $1,000 Mini DV camcorder and a $400 point-and-shoot digital still camera. At $1,400 (cheaper on the street), the Samsung SCD5000 hits the right price point. Size-wise, it is about the same as Samsung’s smallest Mini DV camcorder and, say, a Canon PowerShot, if you glued them together. The question then is, does the SCD5000 sacrifice any quality, still or video?

Stills

There is no question that the 4.13 megapixel images, at 2272×1704, far exceeded the quality of the stills on any other camcorder we’ve seen. We took the SCD5000 out with a Pentax Optio S (3.2M pixels, $400) in a head-to-head shootout. We first noticed that the shooting delay was a bit longer on the SCD5000 Memory Stick (the Pentax uses a CF card). The Pentax also had many more features and small conveniences as a specialized still camera, such as a very cool overlay mode to help you effortlessly line up panoramas. On the other hand, the SCD5000 lets you grab stills from a frame of video, which is something the Pentax obviously cannot do.

The still autofocus was slower to respond and less accurate than the video autofocus and could not focus inside of about a foot, even in Macro mode (you can almost touch the video lens to the subject when in video mode). Image-wise, the SCD5000 was a little less contrasty, tended to blow out a bit in bright sunlight and did not saturate colors as well as the Pentax. Still, and this bears repeating, the image quality exceeded that of any other video camera on the market.

Video

The quality of the video is quite good as well. The full-automatic mode was easy to toggle on and off and did a decent job. Even so, the best video we shot was in manual mode. The one-touch menu wheel gave us access to most of the manual functions without navigating any menus. In low light situations, the video could get grainy at times, but the Exposure control let us easily work with this common limitation. Samsung has a good IR LED night-vision mode that might save your bacon in some situations.

Conclusion

It is clear that this innovative camera succeeds on a functional level, with both good video and good still performance. It is not cheaper than if you bought both separately and it isn’t really any smaller either. The real advantage to the SCD5000 then is not price or size, but convenience: One less battery, one less charger, one less form-fitting bag and one less expensive piece of gear to forget or lose.

TECH SPECS

Format: Mini DV

Lens (video): fl=2.7mm to 27mm, F/1.4, 10:1 optical zoom, 30mm filter diameter

Image Sensor (video): 1/6-inch CCD, gross: 680,000 pixels, effective: 340,000 pixels

Lens (still): fl=7.7mm to 23.1mm, F/2.7, 3:1 optical zoom

Image Sensor (still): 1/1.8-inch 4.13M pixel CCD

Viewfinder: color (0.24-inch)

LCD Viewscreen: 2.0-inch color (211k pixels)

Focus: auto, manual

Image Stabilization: electronic

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/10,000

Iris Control: yes

Exposure: auto, presets, manual

White Balance: auto, presets, manual

Audio: 16-bit 48kHz (default to 12-bit)

Microphone Input: 1/8-inch stereo mini

Headphone Output: 1/8-inch stereo mini

Inputs: FireWire, S-video, composite

Outputs: FireWire, S-video, composite

Edit Interface: FireWire, LANC

Other Features: stills (2272 x 1704), MPEG-4 movies, 16MB Memory Stick, Power Nite Pix (w/ IR lamps), USB streaming

Dimensions: 3 3/4" (w) x 3 1/4" (h) x 5.5" (d)

Weight: 1.21 lb. (sans tape and battery)

Performance

Tested Horizontal Resolution: 425 lines

Field of View: 34-degrees

STRENGTHS

  • Great stills
  • Very usable manual mode
  • Nice features

    WEAKNESSES

  • Awkward tripod mount
  • Bottom-loading tape

    SUMMARY

    An innovative if somewhat boxy camcorder with outstanding still image quality.

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