Toshiba Camileo P30
Not quite Full HD, but close
Review The pocket-sized Flip kickstarted a trend towards a new type of ultra-compact camcorder when it was launched last year. Since then, a number of other companies have got in on the act as well, and in some cases they’ve beaten the Flip at its own game.
Toshiba's Camileo P30: hard to beat on price and performance
Toshiba’s Camileo Pro HD was a good example. Launched last June, it offered higher resolution than the Flip Ultra – 720p HD, compared to the Flip’s 640 x 480 – and a wider range of features. The Flip range has been updated since then, with the recently-released Flip Mino HD bringing 720p resolution to the range for the first time. However, Toshiba has just updated the Camileo as well and looks like it intends to stay one step ahead of the Flip.
The new Camileo P30 costs £150 – compared to £170 for the Flip Mino HD – and now offers what Toshiba refers to as 1080p resolution, although this is actually 1440 x 1080 rather than the Full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080. Even so, that still outguns the 720p resolution of the Flip Mino HD, as does its 5x optical zoom and additional 2x digital zoom, which can be increased to 4x at resolutions below 1080p.
However, the P30 only has 128MB of built-in memory, capable of storing about 90 seconds of 1080p video, so you’ll need to budget for your own SD memory card to get any real use out of the P30. In contrast, the Flip Mino HD has 4GB of memory that can capture a full hour of 720p video – but no memory card slot, so you can’t ever store more than that single hour.
We supplied our own 8GB memory card, which should only cost about £10-15 if you need to buy one. The P30’s on-screen display told us that this would allow us to store about two hours and fifteen minutes of 1080p video, or four and a half hours of footage if we dropped to 720p. That should do the trick for most people, especially as the rechargeable lithium-ion battery only lasts for about two hours anyway.
On the cards: supports SD storage capacities up to 32GB
The P30 has a mini-USB port hidden behind a flap on the handle, so you can easily transfer files onto a Mac or PC over USB. It also has HDMI and AV connectors that will allow you to play your video clips on a TV, and we were pleased to see that all the relevant cables were sitting there in the box ready for use.
Video is encoded in H.264 format and saved as QuickTime .MOV files, so Mac users can import files straight into iMovie. However, PC users will need to install the bundled ArcSoft MediaImpression software in order to play .MOV files - or download QuickTime directly from the Apple website. The ArcSoft program is basic: it allows you to upload clips to YouTube, but it’s no replacement for a proper editing program.
Trigger happy: the stylised controls play on the pistol effect
The P30 has the same upright ‘pistol grip’ design as the original Camileo, although you can also get a model called the H20, which has a similar specification but uses a more traditional ‘barrel’ design. A 2.5in LCD viewfinder screen folds out of the handle section, and the P30 automatically turns itself on or off when you open or close the screen so you don’t even have to pause to press the power button when you’re ready to start shooting - although there is a Power button on the handle if you want to use it.
However, the screen did raise some qualms about the P30’s build quality. The camcorder’s lightweight plastic casing doesn’t feel terribly robust, and the thin hinge that connects the screen to the body of the camcorder is a potential weakness.
It’s probably fine to carry the camcorder around in your pocket or backpack, but we’d worry about over-eager youngsters – or drunken adults – mistreating the screen section. The nature of a camcorder like this means that it’s likely to get dropped or knocked about occasionally, and we’d be happier if the P30 were more solidly built.
The P30 doesn’t have the sheer simplicity of the Flip either. The Flip has just a single button for recording video clips and two additional buttons for playing and deleting clips. In contrast, the P30 has a much more complicated set of controls, and using them involved reading the PDF manual closely in order to figure out what they all do and the meaning of the various symbols displayed on the LCD screen.
Breaking point: the display's hinge appears somewhat fragile
To be fair, the more complicated controls are partly a reflection of the fact that the P30 has a wider range of features than the Flip – such as video image stabilisation, macro mode and a still-photo shooting mode. However, its controls could still be a bit better organised and more intuitive to use. For instance, there’s a button that can be used to change the video resolution, but this button only allows you to switch between 1080p and 848 x 480 (WVGA).
If you want to select a different resolution, such as 720p, you have to press a different button to activate the on-screen menu system and then navigate through to the appropriate sub-menu. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to cycle through the available resolutions using a single button, as is the case with Kodak’s Zi6 camcorder, for instance.
But while the P30 could be a bit more intuitive to use, we were generally quite impressed by the quality of the video clips we recorded. It may not be true Full HD, but the P30’s 1440 x 1080 resolution is definitely sharper than the 720p of models such as the Flip Mino HD and Kodak Zi6. It has a slight tendency to over-saturate large areas of bright colour – such as the flowerbeds in our local park – but we were still pleased with the overall image quality.
The optical zoom is clear and sharp, and the macro mode works well too – though it did reveal some rather disturbing facts about the state of our iMac’s keyboard. When left on its ‘auto’ setting, the P30 generally does a good job of adjusting focus and exposure to get good results, but you also have the option of selecting specific settings from the on-screen menu if you want to.
You can manually adjust the exposure and white balance - it would be a good idea if Toshiba’s manual explained the meaning of settings such as ‘+ 0.3 EV’ for less experienced users - or select settings for different lighting conditions. There’s a little light on the front of the unit that can be turned on if you’re running around in the dark shooting your own version of The Blair Witch Project. Alternatively, for less mobile shooting, the P30 has a tripod socket on the base of its handle, and Toshiba even includes a mini-tripod in the box.
We do have a few small complaints, though. We were disappointed to see that the image stabilisation option only works at 720p or lower resolutions, and even then we didn’t feel that it made a noticeable difference to the smoothness of the video. The little microphone that is situated on the back of the viewfinder screen is also a little underpowered. It picks up a reasonable amount of audio detail, but the audio playback sounds a bit thin.
Compact yet versatile, with a decent range of manual controls
If all you want is an easy-to-use camcorder for shooting quick YouTube video clips then the ‘point and shoot’ simplicity and slightly more solid construction of the Flip is still hard to beat. However, if you’re a little more ambitious than that, and you want a lightweight camcorder that can shoot longer clips for editing into a proper movie project, then you’ll definitely prefer the superior quality and versatility of the Camileo P30. ®
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