Hitachi's DZ-GX20E offers speedy start-up, solid video quality in a variety of lighting conditions, and the ability to edit video right in the camera. With a 10x optical zoom, a 2-megapixel CCD, a fairly basic set of features, and decent overall performance, it's not a standout. But it's worth considering if you want the convenience of DVD recording at a reasonable price.
Similar in size to smaller DV camcorders, the Hitachi DZ-GX20E is extremely compact and weighs a modest 480g. Its dark-grey and silver-plastic case is nondescript, but it has a solid, sturdy feel. The DZ-GX20E does away with the caddy required by earlier generations of Hitachi DVD-RAM camcorders. If you use a DVD-R disc, you just snap the 3-inch disc on the spindle to record and finalise, then you can pop it out and place it directly in your DVD player.
The camcorder rests comfortably in your right hand, providing easy access to the zoom rocker and the power/mode switch. Buttons above and behind the LCD screen activate the most common functions without necessitating a dive into the menus. The primary controls work well, but the flush-mounted touch-sensitive buttons for changing exposure and manual focus can be difficult to use in the field. In addition, you adjust manual focus and exposure controls with touch-sensitive plus (+) and minus (-) buttons, which we find far less convenient than a dial or a ring. The DVD hatch sits on the right side of the camcorder, so a tripod won't interfere with disc swapping.
Menus are easy to navigate using the left-mounted directional pad, which doubles as a playback control. A Quick Menu button offers an abbreviated list of functions, but the standard menus are so sparse to begin with that the simplified Quick Menu is rarely useful.
The Hitachi DZ-GX20E supports two formats of 3-inch DVD discs: write-once DVD-R and rewriteable DVD-RAM. The camcorder records using MPEG-2 compression and can hold 18 to 60 minutes per side, depending upon the quality level you select. It supports both 4:3 and 16:9 wide-screen formats. The DZ-GX20E stores video in DVD-VR format, which many PC video-editing programs now support, though not as ubiquitously as MiniDV format.
The camcorder's feature set is fairly basic. It has a 10x optical zoom and a 2-megapixel CCD (1.2 megapixels used for video). Automatic and manual white balance and exposure adjustments are available, as are five programmed autoexposure modes. The camcorder features an accessory shoe, and among the optional accessories Hitachi offers are wide and telephoto lenses and a video light.
The LCD can act as a basic video light when shooting in Low Light mode. The display blanks to white to light your subject. This is helpful only when shooting very close to the subject, however.
You can use the bundled DVD-MovieAlbumSE software -- a simple video editor -- to transfer footage and convert it to VOB, the standard format for DVDs. Though the fastest method of transfer is simply to drop your disc into a PC's DVD drive, the DZ-GX20E also provides a USB 2.0 connection for transferring still images and video. The USB connection mounts the drive as a volume on your system, which allows you to drag and drop files using Windows Explorer. You won't find a FireWire port, nor will you find software or drivers for the Mac.
The DZ-GX20E records 1,600x1,200-pixel still photos to either DVD-RAM or SD/MMC media. There's also a flash, though it lacks red-eye reduction. The camcorder provides S-video and composite inputs and outputs, allowing you to use the DZ-GX20E to convert your old analogue videos to DVD format.