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479 of 486 people found the following review helpful
Actually, It's Pretty Fun and Not That Bad
on October 20, 2007
For the price, it's a great deal. This camera is pretty much the cheapest HD video camera you can buy. Just bear in mind that it's nowhere near as feature rich or as well built as any Sanyo Xacti that costs $200 more. It's made almost entirely of paint coated plastic, although it should survive in your knapsack or purse if you're careful. It's not going to amaze you with a terrific zoom lens or the sharpest 720p HD video you've ever seen, but it's got some nice features. First, it uses the H.264 movie format that is compatible with the iPod Touch, iPhone, iPod 5G, and the 3G iPod Nano (just be sure to use the camera's web format to ensure you have no further conversion to do for those players - only Apple TV will play the DV1 files without conversion; also, iMovie HD will still need to convert the H.264 files to the iMovie HD format). Any Mac with OS X 10.3 or higher recognizes the camera as a USB device instantly. Second, it can record 480p or 720p input from an external device through it's video input mini-port*. It can upsample 480i content to 720p (although that won't improve the original quality of what you're taping), or you can record to DV1 (480p). It comes with two outputs: a regular AV in/out and an HD out (YPP). *The input recording is like DV-R, but without a timer or programming. For television or old VHS that you want on your computer, the quality is as good as most DV-R.
What you need to know:
The video is best in daylight and bright light, otherwise you'll see noise. It tends to overexpose whites, but there's a +/- exposure adjustment setting, and setting it to -1 permanently is a good idea. Othewise, it has okay contrast and saturation. The auto white balance is actually very good, too. But when you record in 720p, there's compression that can be noticeable on a good HD display. The compression is far less noticible in 480p and in CIF (web format), but there's less resolution. Also, the digital zoom creates jaggies from poor anti-aliasing, which are more evident in HD than in 480p. There's also no shake reduction, but there is a standard tripod mount. There is a "Night" setting that does indoors. low-light, but it increases the video noise considerably. The lens is soft, which is where you can tell you've only spent $1xx dollars, but that doesn't effect TV input, which is plenty sharp (so then you know it's a mediocre lens and not the CMOS chip). And, yes, there can be some "wave" distortion when you pan around too fast (it's not visible on the LCD screen, only on large televisions), because the refresh rates for the sensor are a little bit slow. Is the performance so bad it ruins the camera? No. It's about what you'd expect from a sub-$300 camera in 2007. Which is to say, better than a $200 camera 3 years ago.
For me, the battery life of the Li-Ion battery has been about 60mins of video recording with the LCD on, and 75min-90mins of recording with the LCD off. The manual recommends you charge the camera's battery for about 4 to 8 hrs before its first use, which I did. You can get extra replacement batteries from Aiptek, but it's the same model as for a number of other cameras from Pentax and Fuji, so they only cost between $10 and $20. I like that it charges by USB, so that when it's not connected to the computer in drive mode it can charge. It also comes with a tiny AC to USB power adapter for travelling. It takes about 3hrs for a charge.
The 4x zoom is digital, it works in both photo and video mode, and it's not going to let you either zoom in very far or zoom out very far. I'd say it's a 35mm to 60mm equivalent in 35mm camera focal range. The macro mode is only for 20">12", which isn't too close.
The LCD display pivots out and can rotate around to the front of the camera. It's 4:3 aspect ratio, but when you record in HD, the screen is letterboxed. You can also close the LCD and keep recording to save battery life. This is useful when you're recording TV input.
The inputs (USB and AV) are hidden by a pull-out rubber protective strip that deserves to be treated delicately. It's attached to the camera, and rotates out of the way, but if you think you'll be rough with it enough to snap it at its weakest spot, just pull it out permenantly.
The camera operation is really easy. The menu layout is simple-minded and navigated with a 4 direction joystick. The graphics and icons are pleasing well designed. There's a main menu for the 4 modes: Settings, Camera, My Works (your recordings), and Voice Recorder. Each mode activates that aspect of the camera, and then there's a sub menu for that mode, too. In My Works, you select video shots, photos, or voice notes. The photo sub menu allows for even a photo slideshow. Everything can be operated with your thumb and index finger while holding the camera.
The 5MP camera portion is a lot like a cellphone camera (the LED on the front of the unit is just for flash strobe with photos, not video), and although it can upsample to 8MP, it doesn't improve the quality. For sharpness, its 3MP option is the sweet spot. I wouldn't say this is the cameras strongest talent, but it beats any old MiniDV camera that included a 2MP "photo" option.
There's a top mounted microphone for recording sound, but there's no microphone input if you want to do otherwise. The AV input doesn't allow just audio input from an external microphone. If you want to record an audio overdub, you'll have to do it on your computer. However, the "voice recording" mode for recording audio in WAV format works much like a digital tape recorder. And you can plug in headphones so that the internal speaker doesn't emit your playback to those around you.
It doesn't come with an SD card (you get that seperately) but it does have enough RAM for a few photos and seconds of video. I'd guess about 32MB. It doesn't make much sense to use this with an SD card of less than 2GB. It's about 2GB per 1hr of HD recording. However, it accepts SDHC cards up to 32GB (I suppose they'll be available in the future) and USB 2.0 transfers from the camera to your computer are as fast as they should be.
Overall, it was better than I expected for under $150. The camera is a bit fragile and it really deserves to have well-lit subjects, but it's a good companion device for your daily go-bag or purse beause of its size. It would make a good gift for a tween.