Hitachi Australia DZ-HS303
- Unique hybrid technology, good video quality
- Poor still images, few manual options, slightly large
A useful combination of HDD and DVD technology, complemented by good video quality, makes this camcorder a winner.
Price$ 1,649.00 (AUD)
What do you do if you can't decide between the convenience of a DVD camcorder and the capacity of a hard disk model? If you're Hitachi you stick them together to create the world's first hybrid DVD/HDD camcorder. Hitachi's hybrid technology is a great idea, circumventing one of our main gripes with DVD camcorders, and producing a far more practical system as a result. Video quality is generally good, and it's just the lack of manual options and a slightly awkward chassis that dent the otherwise impressive credentials.
The best thing about DVD camcorders is that once you've recorded (and finalised) your movies, you can take the disc out of the camcorder and put it straight in your DVD player. With only twenty minutes recording per disk at the highest quality though, there is a severe limitation on the length of recordings. Enter hard disk camcorders, offering exponentially longer recording times. The trouble with these is that your footage has to be copied to a computer if you want to make a backup. Hitachi has solved the problem by including a DVD drive in a hard disk camcorder. Simply use the 8GB hard disk to film the videos, and then copy the bits you want to keep to a mini DVD.
Video quality is the most crucial aspect of any camcorder, so we were pleased to see that the amalgamation of the two competing technologies hasn't resulted in a degraded image. Colour representation was good, with rich hues and bold primary shades. We could also only detect minor traces of compression, which is impressive for this kind of camcorder. The picture was crisp and clear, with no graininess unless we moved to low light situations. The colour balance also dropped off in low light, although this is usually the case with consumer camcorders. One problem we did have was when panning rapidly. The ghosting effect that is typical of MPEG compression was fairly apparent, as was a slightly annoying jittering motion that produced a stuttered look.
Although the 8GB hard disk is a little small, it allows for about 110 minutes of video at the highest quality. Dropping back to "fine" mode gives 180 minutes. Video is still of good quality at this setting, and most users won't notice a huge difference. However we wouldn't advise dropping back to the lowest quality settings, which gives 360 minutes, as the video quality sacrifice is too great.
Still images aren't one of the DZ-HS303's strong points. Although the model ships with a respectable 3 megapixel sensor, the camcorder struggled to get a good image in anything less than perfect light. Our indoor shots looked too dark, even using the built-in flash. Things were a bit better outdoors, though a large number of photos looked a little blurry. A second problem is the camcorder's insistence that images be saved to an SD-card, rather than the DVD or hard disk. This seems an unnecessary nuisance, and it's the first time we've seen a HDD camcorder that's incapable of saving images to the disk.
When it comes to features Hitachi hasn't gone overboard, but has included a few options that we don't always see. Foremost of these is the inclusion of a microphone jack. The 10x optical zoom is adequate, though we weren't very impressed by the digital image stabilisation, which struggled at the far end of the telephoto range. The 2.7in widescreen LCD performed well, even in bright light. There isn't much in the range of manual options, with only exposure and focus present. We always like to see shutter speed at the very least, and aperture and gain make useful inclusions.
One benefit of omitting complicated features is the ability to implement a simpler interface. Using the DZ-HS303 is easy, and we liked the inclusion of dedicated shortcut buttons for features like exposure and focus. The only control that could have been improved is the five-way toggle, which is awkwardly positioned on the side, and doubles up to control playback. The chassis of the camcorder itself is a little on the large size, which isn't surprising given that it hides both a hard disk and a DVD drive. This fact, combined with a battery that protrudes a fair way, makes the camcorder a little ungainly to wield.
There are a multitude of options for playback. Easiest of all is to use the included composite cable, which lets the user connect directly to a television. It's also possible to connect to a PC using a USB cable. The DZ-HS303 shows up as an external DVD drive, regardless of whether footage is stored on hard disk or DVD. Videos are saved in DVD video format, meaning you'll need to open them with DVD software. This choice of encoding makes it easy to copy video from the hard disk to the DVD drive. This is simply a matter of pressing "dubbing" on the camera and waiting a few minutes.
Hitachi has included some basic editing options on-board to make it easier to select the bits of video you want. We did notice that the camcorder took a comparative age to finalise DVDs after we had transferred video. Even DVDs with only a few minutes of video took well over ten minutes to complete.
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