Full reviewPrices for DVD camcorders have been creeping down in recent years, and the 2006 entry-level model from Hitachi, the DZ-BX35E, can be had for less than £300. That's still more expensive than competing entry-level MiniDV models, but you're paying the extra dough for the convenience of having your movies burned directly to a DVD inside the camera, albeit a mini DVD that stores only 18 minutes of video at the highest quality.
Like most low-end camcorders, the Hitachi DZ-BX35E, which includes a 25x optical zoom lens and sub-megapixel CCD, isn't loaded with fancy features. That said, this is a pretty compact camcorder -- weighing in at 500g and measuring just 51mm thick, it's slim and light enough to take almost anywhere.
We also appreciate that it's fairly intuitive to use, and if you stick to auto mode, it's ergonomically sound. With the camcorder in hand, the power switch/mode dial and the record button rest just under your right thumb while the zoom rocker and still-image shutter release sit under your right index finger. For basic shooting, you'll have no problem operating the camera with one hand, and we like that the buttons are large and tactile.
However, if you like to fiddle with the settings while you shoot, you may run into some snags. Like Hitachi's other DVD camcorders, the DZ-BX35E carries over the design of last year's DZ-GX20E. The downside to that is the handful of touch-sensitive buttons hidden behind the 69mm (2.7-inch), wide-screen LCD. Since they're mounted flush on the camera's body, the buttons are hard to tell apart by touch alone and difficult to use while shooting. Most other controls are well placed, and the menus are intuitive and easy to navigate.
This camcorder uses a tiny 680,000-pixel CCD to capture images, and while it's pretty typical for budget DVD models, ideally you would want a larger CCD. The result is less-than-stellar video quality (compared to MiniDV) and still photos that aren't much better than what you'd get from a camera phone. The images are suitable for emailing but not necessarily for printing out.
The BX35E can record to 80mm DVD-R, DVD+/-RW and DVD-RAM media. You can set the camera to record in 16:9 wide-screen, but once you start recording on a disc, you can't change the aspect ratio. Its 25x optical zoom lens lets you capture shots from far away, but if you want shake-free images, you'll need to invest in a tripod. Alas, while the camcorder uses electronic image stabilisation, it does little to counter the effects of shaky hands at higher zoom levels.
As a budget DVD camcorder, the DZ-BX35E is light on extra features and connectivity. The camcorder's only means of communicating with the outside world is a set of S-Video and composite AV outputs. If you want any other jacks on your camera, you'll want to look at Hitachi's GZ series of DVD camcorders -- they have S-Video and composite inputs and outputs, microphone jacks, USB 2.0 support and even accessory shoes. The only advantage that the DZ-BX35E has over its brothers is a 25x optical zoom lens, compared to the GZ camcorders' 10x and 15x zooms.
As with other DVD camcorders, the Hitachi DZ-BX35E's performance was hindered by its DVD media. Initialising and writing to disc often took several seconds, and finalising a DVD after shooting takes several minutes. (The finalisation process is required so that the resulting DVD can play back in a standard DVD player.) Again, this is common for this type of camcorder, so we won't moan too much.
But the bigger gripe we had concerned the camcorder's autofocus: it's just not snappy, and we had some difficulty locking onto subjects at various distances. You can opt for manual focus, but to adjust it you have to use the clumsy touch-sensitive buttons behind the LCD display, which makes it awkward to change precisely.
For its price, the DZ-BX35E's video quality is quite acceptable, and while it measures up to budget-priced MiniDV camcorders (£200), it falls behind comparably priced DVD camcorders. Colours were muted but accurate, and images were reasonably sharp, though not as sharp as those of Hitachi's more expensive models. However, the camcorder's small CCD had trouble reproducing finer details, and we noticed some oversaturation in sunlight.
The Hitachi DZ-BX35E is a decent budget camcorder, but a little more money will go a long way. The next step up in Hitachi's camcorders, the DZ-GX3100E, uses a 1.3-megapixel sensor and includes lots of extra connectivity. Since the price difference between it and DZ-BX35E is less than £60, you might want to consider getting the DZ-GX3100E instead.
Edited by David Carnoy
Additional editing by Nick Hide