Hitachi has a new concept that puts two robust recording formats into one camcorder. The hybrid series has a hard drive disk (HDD) and a DVD recording drive, which gives consumer shooters much more flexibility. The DZHS300A comes with 8GB HDD that can record up to 110 minutes of video at the highest quality. Let's jump right into Videomaker’s first ever hybrid DVD camcorder review.
Yin and Yang
You would expect when designing a camcorder with two different recording formats (SD Memory card excluded) that you’d find it nearly twice as big. But Hitachi has managed to keep the DZHS300A extremely thin and lightweight. In fact, by just looking at this camcorder, you wouldn’t guess there’s anything more than the DVD section.
We found this hybrid dvd camcorder to be very comfortable, even in large hands. There’s easy access to buttons and controls and the 2.7″ wide screen format LCD was just the right size for this camcorder.
Controlling this camcorder was almost too simple. We half expected that there might be some exciting challenges one would face with the hybrid, but there really isn’t. Choosing your recording medium destination happens with the power switch. The brief time it took the DVD section of the camcorder to start up from the off position was impressive. And even more impressive was the HDD section. That could save you a few precious moments. All of Hitachi’s new DVD camcorder models also feature 1-Second Quick Start. This feature improves the recording start time from standby mode. In our tests, this worked flawlessly in the HDD mode and nearly flawlessly (it once took a fraction of second longer than 1-second) in DVD mode. Overall, we were very pleased with its operation, including the manual focus and manual exposure.
Reach for the Stars
Although the manual controls are somewhat limiting (there’s no manual shutter speed), the DZHS300A has a long-reaching 25x optical zoom. This year we’ve certainly seen longer lens lengths on consumer camcorders, but we think 25x is ample for most shooting situations. At this length, you’ll definitely need to consider a tripod, as the electronic image stabilizer will help smooth out jitter, but it won’t eliminate sea-sickening camera movement.
In the area of image quality, the standout performance comes from its color reproduction. For a single chip camcorder, we’re pleased to see such vibrant colors that appear natural in well-lit scenes. In low-light conditions the image quality suffers from increased noise in dark areas of the image, and the auto focus tends to drift a bit more, but not more than what we expect from a consumer camcorder at this price point. Additionally, the compression artifacts in both DVD and HDD recording modes performed as expected.
Listening in on the on-board microphone, we noticed rich, full sound, but the mic tends to pick up sound omni-directionally. Its range is also limited beyond 25 feet, and without a mic input or headphone jack, you won’t be able to make the most of any sound recordings. Overall, the mic sounds good but is limited. The good news is that this feature is just about the only limiting quality of this camcorder.
Flex Your Muscle
The real advantage of the hybrid camcorder is its flexibility, or its ability to dub from HDD to DVD. Scenes recorded to the HDD can be edited (i.e., divide, delete, combine), sorted into playlists and dumped to DVD, all right in the camcorder. This means that you can do a lot of in-camera editing, using the HDD footage as your source and dubbing a “program” to DVD. In the real world, this means making DVD copies for friends and family doesn’t require a computer or nearly as much post-production time.
In our hybrid DVD comcorder review, this feature was incredibly easy to use and very intuitive. The one catch to this feature is that you must plug in the power adapter to engage the dubbing mode. You can’t dub simply on battery power. Hitachi wants you to keep your DVD camcorder in the best working condition, and, if your power should fail (e.g., a low battery), you would corrupt your video and possibly ruin the hard drive itself. So, if you plan on using this feature, keep in mind you must have access to a power outlet.
When all is said and done, this very flexible hybrid DVD camcorder and easy-to-use hybrid camcorder is a great new approach to a ho-hum world of consumer video. The DZHS300A is not only a useful tool for acquiring video; it’s a great tool for sharing what you’ve captured – which, in our experience, is the most rewarding part.
Format: 3″ (8 cm) DVD (-R/RW/+RW/RAM); 8 GB HDD
Image Sensor: 1x 1/6″ interlaced CCD
Video Effective Pixels: 340,000
Interchangeable Lenses: No
Lens f-stop: 1.8-3.2
Optical Zoom: 25x
Focal Length: 2.2-55mm
Filter Diameter: 34mm
Focus: Auto/Manual (button driven)
Iris/Gain Control: Auto
Shutter Speed: Auto/AE mode selectable
Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/4000
Minimum Shutter Speed: 1/4
Image Stabilization: Electronic
Internal ND Filter: No
Program Exposure Modes: 5
Manual White Balance: Yes
Zebra Stripes: No
Viewfinder: Color 200K pixels (16:9)
LCD Monitor: 2.7″ 120K pixels (16:9)
Progressive Scan: No
Video In: No
Video Out: AV cord (S-Video, Composite, Stereo RCA), USB port
Color Bar Generator: No
Audio Modes: Stereo
Microphone In: No
VU Meter: No
Manual Audio Level Controls: No
Headphone Jack: No
Wireless Remote: No
External Battery Charger Provided: Yes
Battery Type: Lithium Ion
Form Factor: Standard, horizontal
Disc Loading Config.: Side
On-board Video Light: No
Accessory Shoe: No
- Good color reproduction
- Ease of use
- Hybrid flexibility
- No mic input
- A few low-light strains
The DZHS300A is a refreshing take on consumer video, offering the best in ease of use, plus the flexibility of a hybrid camcorder.
Mark Montgomery is Videomaker‘s technical editor.
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