Easy cam, easy go: camcorders on test
'This is incredible. A portable television studio...'
Samsung Miniket VP-X220L
An unashamed 'sports' product (shudder), the VP-X220L is part of Samsung's Miniket range, and hides a whole lot more than just camcorder functionality under that sleek and absolutely tiny frame.
Not just a camcorder then, the X220L also offers still-image shooting, voice recording and MP3 playback, all content stored on the 2GB of internal memory. Designed primarily for activities that tend to feature the word 'extreme', it features a tough rubberised weatherproof housing and external lens, so the likes of snowboarding and general outdoor pursuits pose it no problem.
Alongside these sporty credentials comes the Samsung's killer application: a wired external camera that you can mount remotely from the body using the supplied 1.5m cable, though the lack of a wireless hook up is a real opportunity missed. It comes with its own power/record button, and a head and armband too, so you can mount it where you see fit to shoot the most radical action. Dude.
The trouble comes, however, with the quality of footage - and we're not talking your dubious skills as opposed to the distinctly second-rate specifications. The X220L shoots MPEG 4 video at 720 x 480 pixels using a paltry 0.8 megapixel sensor, and when you're throwing fast-paced action at it, the resulting footage is mostly blurred and uninspiring, despite the efforts of the electronic image stabiliser. The 0.3 megapixel still images are laughable too - worse, in fact, than pretty much every modern mobile phone - particularly when displayed on the 2in LCD monitor. The MP3 player is decent though, and coupled with the not-bad-at-all supplied earphones, it certainly increases the overall appeal of the X220L as an all round action man' mate on the mountain. A good try, Samsung, but no cigar.
For pure convenience on the move, you can't beat the simplicity of a hard disk-equipped camcorder. Sony's DCR-SR72E sits smack in the middle of its HDD line up, and offers superb features and functionality at a surprisingly acceptable price point.
Employing a hard drive means Sony can keep the dimensions to a minimum and the styling to a maximum, which has resulted in what is probably the best looking camcorder in this test. The SR72E features a 60GB hard disk drive - enough for 41 hours and 50 minutes of footage or 9,999 still images. Plenty then. Coupled with an eight-hour battery, the DCR-SR72E is a superb long-use camera where recharging options aren't at a premium.
The Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar lens houses a 25x optical zoom, relaying images to the 16:9, 2.7in hybrid LCD screen with touch panel, a tidy system that lets you navigate the simple and unmistakably Sony menu system with little difficulty.
The hard drive - fitted with a drop-detection system to reduce the effect of sudden falls - allows for pretty simple viewing, searching and downloading of your footage to a PC, but the now bundled HandyCam Station makes things even simpler. Leave it hooked up to your TV or PC and when you're done just drop the SR72E into the cradle and download or view away, while the Handycam recharges.
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The HV20 is Canon’s all-new flagship model, a High-Definition HDV1080i camcorder with 2.96Megapixel, 1920x1080, True HD CMOS sensor designed to kick out pictures so clean you could eat your dinner off them. And that’s exactly what it does (though we obviously haven’t eaten our dinner off them, that would be stupid).
Where Canon is really looking to steal the march over its competitors is with the HV20’s 25p Progressive Scan shooting, a unique camera system which combines the True HD CMOS sensor with specialist Canon optics and an HD-optimised DIGIC DV II processor to create as good an HD image as is possible to get from any camcorder – ‘cinema like progressive recording’ in fact. Throw in a Super Range Optical Image Stabiliser (OIS), Instant AF system and the a direct HDMI connection for optimal HD image and audio quality and you have a machine that takes it image recording duties very seriously.
The HV20 is barrel like in design and looks every bit the traditional camcorder. Canon has opted for the tape-based HDV recording format, which means a bulkier body then the SD card and hard disk recorders elsewhere in the test, but it claims this is still the most reliable format for transfer and editing on a home computer. Hmm.
The specially engineered for HD 10x optical zoom lens is a cracker, especially in conjunction with the Super Range OIS and works brilliantly with both moving footage and the 2Mp still image recording direct to MiniSD memory card. If you’re looking for the very best in image quality above all else, the HV20 is the answer.