Hitachi's DZ-GX3300E won't blow you away with its middle-of-the-road image quality, but a quick start-up time and the ability to edit video in the camera might appeal to less particular amateur videographers. Similarly, the camera's 10x optical zoom, 3-megapixel CCD and fairly standard feature set will neither wow nor disappoint. If you want a decent DVD camcorder at an attractive price, the Hitachi DZ-GX3300E might be for you.
Sporting essentially the same design as last year's , Hitachi's DZ-GX3300E isn't large, but at 48 by 91 by 132mm, it doesn't really qualify as compact compared to the current competition. The dark grey and gunmetal-coloured plastic case feels solid and fits comfortably in the hand. The zoom rocker is positioned perfectly for your forefinger, just in front of the photo-capture button, while the mode dial and the record button rest exactly where your thumb should fall.
The rest of the controls find their home on the left side of the body. A handful, including a five-way rocker for menu navigation and playback controls and four other buttons for disc navigation and menu access as well as stop/exit and select are just above the cavity in which the LCD screen tucks away. Another five touch-sensitive buttons live behind the LCD and let you access commonly used functions such as manual focus and backlight mode without digging into the menus.
Unfortunately, even though three of the buttons are marked with small raised dots, it's not easy to use them during recording, something we complained about last year as well. On the plus side, the menus are easy to navigate using the rocker and can be abbreviated to a shorter quick menu if you find the normal menu too cumbersome during recording.
The Hitachi DZ-GX3300E accepts four varieties of 80mm DVDs: 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 what quality level you choose. The camcorder packs a 1/3-inch 3.3-megapixel CCD sensor. Though it uses 3 megapixels to capture stills, it uses only 2.1 megapixels for video in 4:3 mode and 1.6 megapixels for video in 16:9 mode.
Top among features is the 10x optical zoom lens, which is joined by automatic and manual white-balance and exposure options, as well as five preprogrammed autoexposure modes and three preset white-balance settings. Accessories can be mounted to the shoe atop the camera or to the threads in the lens barrel. Among the available accessories is a video light, as well as wide and telephoto lens adaptors.
Speaking of lights, when shooting in low-light mode, the LCD screen can be used as a low-power illuminating device. The screen can be set to display a blank white field, which helps only if you are very close to your subject.
All of the connections are on the front of the camera and include an AV input/output jack, as well as a microphone input and a mini-USB jack. Of course, one of the conveniences of a DVD camcorder is that you can transfer your video to your computer by placing the finalised DVD in your computer's DVD drive, though the USB connection comes in handy if your computer has a slot-loading DVD drive, or for transferring stills or video from a memory card in the camcorder's SD card slot.
Still images as large as 2,016x1,512 pixels can be saved either to DVD-RAM or SD/MMC cards. A small flash, which sits to the side of the lens, can help illuminate your stills, though there's no red-eye reduction. The aforementioned AV input and output accepts S-Video or composite-video connections and lets you convert analogue recordings to DVD. Hitachi includes DVD-MovieAlbumSE software -- a basic video editor -- to let you transfer any footage shot with the DZ-GX3300E to the DVD-standard VOB format.