So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Samsung VP-HMX10 (XSA)
- Affordable HD, decent video performance, external microphone jack, swivelling hand grip
- Cheap plastic build quality, 'only' 720p, occasional noise issues
It's been a long time coming, but Samsung's first high-definition camcorder has arguably been worth the wait. If you're after an affordable high-def camera to use with your shiny new LCD TV, the VC-HMX10 represents good value for money.
Price$ 1,199.00 (AUD)
After a frankly ridiculous amount of procrastination, Samsung is finally set to release its first ever high-definition camcorder, the VP-HMX10. As implicated by its low price tag, the HMX10 is very much a budget-orientated high-def model aimed squarely at entry level users. As such, it will fail to satisfy discerning videophiles who demand the unparalleled image resolution and clarity of 'full' HD. Nevertheless, it remains a worthy option for people looking for a cheap way to upgrade their SD camera.
The VC-HMX10 records video to SD/SDHC memory cards in the MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 video format, which offers superior rates of compression. SDHC media (and its assorted equivalents) are considered the Next Big Thing in the camcorder industry due to their high storage capacity and user-friendly convenience. At present, up to 32 gigabytes can be stored onto one SDHC card, which is the same amount of memory found on many hard disk-based camcorders.
The VC-HMX10 offers five different settings for video quality, comprising of Super Fine (HD), Fine (HD), Normal (HD), Standard (SD), and Economy (SD). This should be enough to keep everyone covered, regardless of their hardware or memory restraints. However, with a single 1.5Mp CMOS sensor measuring 1/4.5 inches, it isn't the most capable high-def camcorder on the market. Sporting a maximum resolution of 720p, it is outclassed by most HD camcorder on the market, which typically offer a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. On paper, this makes the VP-HMX10 an inferior product, though its target audience of casual users are unlikely to notice the difference.
During testing, our shots were occasionally marred by blotchy artefacts popping up on screen. While this was admittedly quite rare, it will nevertheless infuriate perfectionists and Tropfest hopefuls who require every frame to be glitch-free. We were also disappointed by the amount of noise apparent in low-light conditions, which made for some grainy and unattractive footage. This is a common flaw found in nearly all consumer-level camcorders, yet the lack of a dedicated night mode made it a lot more noticeable. Otherwise, the video quality was quite impressive overall, with accurate lifelike tones and a distinct lack of ghosting or motion blur, even when shooting fast moving images.
In terms of design, the VP-HMX10 shares much in common with its two flash-memory based HD rivals; the Sony HDR-CX7K and Panasonic HDC-SD9. From their miniaturised 'barrel' shape to their glossy black finish, all three cameras are nearly identical. However, the VP-HMX10 looks a lot cheaper on closer inspection, with ugly looking buttons, a stiff, uncomfortable hand strap and a much flimsier feel. The top-mounted battery compartment (which also houses the SD card slot) is of particularly low quality; requiring you to manually pull out the spring-loaded lid. Of course, this is the price you pay – or rather, don't pay – for a lower-cost model.
On the plus side, this is one of the smallest HD camcorders we have ever reviewed, making it a handy choice for frequent shooters. Indeed, the included carry bag could almost double as a sunglasses case; giving you an idea of its tiny dimensions. Of course, this can sometimes be a double-edged sword, particularly for people who have trouble shooting steady footage – a problem which is further exacerbated by the lack of an optical image stabiliser (instead the HMX10 offers an inferior EIS stabiliser).
Despite its somewhat tacky build quality, the VP-HMX10 benefits from several professional trimmings that are not found on either of its competitors. First and foremost amongst these is a 3.5mm microphone jack for external mics. This is a huge selling point for serious filmmakers on a limited budget who require crystal clear audio to go along with their high-def video. Unfortunately, because of the unit's tiny size, no accessory shoe is included on the camera, meaning you'll have to hold the microphone yourself (or get someone to do it for you). Nevertheless, this remains a highly impressive feature for an entry-level high-def camera; we take our hats off to Samsung for putting in the extra cost and effort.
Another neat feature unique to the HMX10 is its swivelling hand grip. This provides the camcorder's body with 135 degrees of rotation, allowing you to easily capture shots at unusual angles. For example, shooting directly upwards can be quite tricky when using a traditional hand strap, but the HMX10's versatile grip makes this a complete breeze. Again, this will benefit users in the short filmmaking camp who regularly capture creative or avant-garde shots.
When it comes to functionality, the VP-HMX10 is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, we found the touch-screen menu to be well laid out and attractively presented, yet on the other, certain small icons proved to be stubbornly unresponsive. The camcorder also takes several seconds to switch between video, photo and playback modes, which is sure to grate over time (it also won't let you capture still images while in video mode; even when you're not actually recording video). Manual options are quite ample; including exposure, focus, white balance, shutter speed, tele macro and a selection of scene modes.
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