- Nice range of features
- Awful LCD, Poor quality recording, Feels cheaply made, No widescreen mode
A good range of features can’t make up for shoddy build quality and poor performance
Price$ 649.00 (AUD)
Digital video cameras are a great way to store precious memories for the future. The latest DVD cameras make recording incredibly simple with better quality than ever before. DVD cameras can cost a fair amount of money though, so a good budget option is Mini-DV, a tape based format, which typically cost half the price of a DVD camera. Mini-DV also offers far better picture quality for the price. Samsung's VP-D3521 is one such camera.
Our first impression of the VP-D3521 was that it looks and feels cheap. We are well aware that the camera is a budget option and hence actually is comparatively cheap, but cheap doesn't necessarily equate with bad styling and poor design. The VP-D3251 is also slightly larger than we would like for a Mini-DV camera. Sony's DCR-HC26E is another budget Mini-DV camera, yet retains smooth aesthetics and a much smaller size for approximately the same price. In fact when using many of the features on the Samsung model we were often reminded of how the Sony model did them better.
Of primary importance to a digital video camera is the ease of use recording, and the corresponding quality of the video. The Samsung was disappointing on both fronts. Firstly, the LCD on the side of the VP-D3251 is of a very poor quality. Images appear dark and washed out, making it sometimes difficult to appreciate the subject. Furthermore, when using the LCD outside in direct sunshine the screen is almost unusable; barely anything is visible. While this is a common flaw of LCD screens, other models we have tested showed no drop in visibility when being used outdoors. However, it is times like this when it is useful to use the viewfinder. We were very disappointed to see that Samsung have opted for a monochrome viewfinder screen, making it very hard to discern what you are looking at.
The disappointments don't end there. Almost uniquely amongst modern video cameras there is no widescreen mode on the VP-D3251. With almost every modern television produced in the widescreen format this is a glaring omission. We felt this fact alone was reason enough to not purchase the VP-D3251.
All these complaints could perhaps be countered if the VP-D3251 had outstanding recording quality. Unfortunately, it doesn't. While it isn't terrible, the quality is no better than average for a Mini-DV camera. The colour representation is far from special and we found the exposure levels disappointing.
You may be wondering if there was anything about the camera we did like. Despite our complaints, the VP-D3251 does have a decent range of features. Two low-light modes are included, one of which uses infrared transmitters for extra illumination. A macro mode is also a nice inclusion, as is a fully featured remote control. 900x digital zoom sounds like it should be a great feature, but unfortunately pictures are entirely unintelligible at this level. When you realise it is being scaled up from a 20x optical zoom, it is understandable why the picture looks so awful. Samsung have also included a plethora of cables as standard, which isn't always the case. In addition to the standard AV cables Samsung also throw in a USB cable and an S-Video cable. These are useful when connecting the camera to a TV or computer. Picture quality onscreen is improved with the S-Video cable and having all the necessary components to transfer footage to a PC is a bonus. We found the PC software fairly easy to use and the inclusion of Ulead Video Studio SE was also welcome.
However, these extras cannot make up for the VP-D3251's other flaws. Sony's competing camera, the DCR-HC26E, trounces the Samsung model on most points. It's smaller, more comfortable to use, better looking, has a widescreen mode, has a much better screen, better quality recording... the list could go on and on. Really the only thing that the Samsung model has which the Sony doesn't is the inclusion of a USB cable. In our minds, this isn't reason enough to get the VP-D3251. As such, if you are looking for a budget Mini-DV camera, we'd advise you to stick with the Sony model.
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