As the little sibling of Hitachi's DZ-GX3300E, the DZ-GX3200E serves up an almost identical feature set and similarly pleasing performance, including better than average low-light performance. The main difference between the two is CCD sensors -- the DZ-3300E has a 3-megapixel sensor, while the DZ-3200E captures images with a 2-megapixel sensor.
This difference in sensors ends up affecting still images more noticeably than it does video. Since it can capture only 2-megapixel stills, prints from the Hitachi DZ-3200E won't be as sharp as those from the DZ-3300E, even at standard 100x150mm snapshot size. Video, while only slightly less sharp, is still very pleasing.
Like the DZ-GX3300E, the DZ-GX3200E carries over the design of last year's Hitachi 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.
The DZ-GX3200E accepts four varieties of 80mm (small format) DVD discs: write-once DVD-R and rewriteable DVD-RW, DVD+RW and DVD-RAM. It records video in MPEG-2 compression to allow 18 to 60 minutes of footage per side, depending on the quality level you choose. The camcorder packs a 1/3.6-inch, 2.1-megapixel CCD sensor. Though it uses 2 megapixels to capture stills, it uses only 1.2 megapixels for video.
Other features include a 10x optical zoom lens, automatic and manual white balance and exposure options, as well as five preprogrammed autoexposure modes and three preset white-balance settings. Connectivity includes an AV input/output jack, a microphone input and a mini-USB jack. There's no Firewire output, but most users will probably just drop the mini-DVD disc in their computer's DVD drive to transfer their footage. However, if you have a slot-loading DVD drive, the USB connection will definitely come in handy.
Performance was almost identical to the DZ-GX3300E's, with a speedy start-up, comfortable zoom control and adequately responsive autofocus. The electronic image stabilisation was effective to about 75 per cent of the camera's zoom range. Manual focus was difficult on the LCD screen.
The one area in which the Hitachi DZ-GX3200E exceeds the DZ-GX3300E is battery life. Hitachi rates the DZ-GX3200E's battery life at as much as 125 minutes when using the best recording quality, though you can expect about half that with typical start/stop recording and occasional replay of scenes you've shot.
The DZ-GX3200E's video quality is about what you'd expect from a mid-price MiniDV camcorder. At low compression, video was sharp with some motion artefacts and edge crawl, along with some blooming. At higher compression levels, banding showed up more often in areas with significant gradations in brightness.
Low-light footage exhibited more grain than well-lit scenes did, though the DZ-GX3200E yielded pleasing low-light video that was brighter and more colourful than one might expect at this price. The low-light mode helped to brighten dim scenes, though it does noticeably lower the frame rate, so moving objects and pans look choppy.
Still images were impressive for a camcorder, though the auto white balance produced extremely warm results with our lab's tungsten lights. The tungsten white-balance mode worked better, but we had to set white balance manually to get truly neutral results.
If you're looking for a relatively inexpensive DVD camcorder and don't need the DZ-GX3300E's 3-megapixel stills, the Hitachi DZ-GX3200E might be for you. Of course, if you don't care much about stills and can sacrifice a little sharpness in your video, then you may want to take a look at this camcorder's less-expensive sibling, the Hitachi DZ-GX3100E.
Edited by Lori Grunin
Additional editing by Nick Hide