If you’re in the market for an upgrade, Samsung’s new offering may just whet your digital appetite for the holiday season. The Samsung HMX-H304BN camcorder, priced at $500 and offering 1920 x 1080 video, makes a decent splash in the mid-tier HD market.
It should be known right from the get-go that this camcorder is very nimble and easy on the hands. At 0.5 pounds and measuring 4.7-by-2.2-by-1.9 inches (WxHxD), it isn’t much larger, or heavier than a typical smartphone. Yet it handles extremely well and was very comfortable to use during our field tests.
There are just eight buttons on the camcorder – three on top, five on the sides. Most of the major features, such as quality modes and playback, are accessed via the 3-inch LCD touchscreen. Just tap the screen to play shot footage, switch to 720p, apply image filters, etc.
Simplicity by Design
Viewing footage is also easy. Connect the camcorder to a computer or television via the supplied USB cable or analog cables and you can start watching. Playback was very quick, with about 20 short HD clips downloaded to our test computer in less than five minutes. Editing was also brisk and efficient with the Samsung’s software suite.
One issue with the HMX-H304 is the lack of an HDMI cable and if you’re not watching high definition footage on a quality LCD monitor, playback on an HDTV is not going to look very good with composite cables. It’s like buying an expensive surround sound system and then watching an action movie through the TV speakers; you’re simply not getting the full experience.
Ultimately, the most important question to ask about this camcorder is “Does it shoot good video?” Well, the answer is yes – and no. In three separate outdoor tests of 1080i, 720p and 480p (standard definition), we found the unit shot consistently great video during daylight hours. Close-up shots were especially impressive in color, raw detail, flesh tones and sharpness. Detail at medium-to-long range was also clear and mostly free of noise. Nighttime shooting was respectable. Objects in low light were reasonably well-defined, and the level of noise was tolerable. With a low light sensitivity rating of 3 LUX, you can expect to pick up detail around twilight under a clear night sky.
Shooting at range is another strength of the HMX-H304. It enables the user to zoom to 30x magnification, which is a good deal better than other HD camcorders offering 10-20x zoom. Using this feature requires a steady hand or tripod, but is reliable and a real treat to employ.
Indoor shooting, however, is where the HMX-H304 starts to falter. Well-lit office environments tend to shoot well, but in locations like dim houses and moderately-lit apartments, the quality staggers quite a bit. Softness becomes evident in all but extreme close-up shots, and while the camera boasts a 5-megapixel sensor, still photos suffer the same fate.
Filming people at range indoors has the unfortunate tendency to create a kind of poor-quality depth of field effect, wherein the subject is in focus but the background is littered with noise. Occasionally, the opposite is true, making indoor filming erratic at best and frustrating at worst.
Playing it by Ear
This little camcorder supplies the basics when it comes to audio. Pickup is solid at most distances, and the device’s built-in mic and wind-cut feature help mitigate most challenges. What you hear is what you get, though. There’s no variety of options for enhancing the audio capabilities.
Overall, the HMX-H304 hits its intended target well. It provides a higher-end alternative to the low-end HMX-Q10, and is relatively cheap for what it offers.
Recording Media: 16GB built-in SSD, SD/SDHC
Video Format: H.264
Video Resolution: 1080/60i, 720/60p, 480/60p
Audio Format: AAC
Image Sensor: 1/4″ BSI CMOS
Optical Zoom: 30x
Digital Zoom: 300x
Focus: Auto/manual (menu)
Image Stabilization: Optical DUO/digital
Shutter Speed Control: Manual/automatic
White Balance: Auto/manual
LCD: 3″ (230,000 pixels) Touchscreen
Headphone Jack: No
Output: HDMI (C Type), mini USB (B Type), Composite
Battery Type: Lithium ion
Quality Options: Super fine/fine/normal
Low Light Sensitivity: 3 LUX
Interchangeable Lenses: No
Wireless Remote: No
- Great outdoor video quality
- Impressive optical zoom
- Nice handling
- Uneven overall video quality
- Low storage capacity
- Lack of HD cable accessories
Delivers about what you’d expect from a medium-end HD camcorder. It’s affordable and reliable. Video quality is uneven.
Samsung Electronics America
100 Challenger Road
Ridgefield Park, NJ 07660
Evan Burt is a journalist and published author in Northern California.