Don't believe the hype. At least not yet. Hard-disk based camcorders are the toast of gadget addicts everywhere at the moment, but we've still yet to come across one that beats MiniDV camcorders like this GZ-D240 for picture quality. MiniDV may be based on the apparently archaic concept of tape on spools, but it still records an excellent digital video signal. The more established technology, which MiniDV camcorders employ, has hugely reduced the cost of what is still a very capable format.
You're unlikely to be a stickler for image quality at this entry-level of the camcorder market, but nevertheless we were impressed with the D240's daylight picture quality. We were less enamoured of the low-light performance, though. Still, the D240 has a rugged chassis that makes it suitable for lugging around on holidays and day trips.
Bulbous is the first word that comes to mind when you hold the D240. It looks oddly similar to the hovering aliens in the 1980s movie Batteries Not Included and it sits comfortably in the palm. It's also extremely light. Thanks to this, the D240's Velcro grip didn't dig into the back of our hands and it's adjustable depending on how many Big Macs you've eaten.
As is standard for entry-level camcorders, the D240 is a silver-grey colour. You can almost tell how expensive a camcorder is these days by looking at its colour. Manufacturers have entered into an unspoken pact whereby the highest end of their ranges wear enigmatic black, while the more affordable offerings sport a restrained silver. The D240's silver paint is hard to scratch, but you'll still want a padded case to protect the D240 when you're travelling.
Controls on the D240 are accessed from the side panel. A single button brings up an on-screen menu which is navigable using fixed controls, rather than being touch-screen like many Sony models. It's easy to navigate the menu options using the buttons on the side of the camcorder.
The D240 is proud of its 25x optical zoom and advertises this on its chassis, along with its 800x digital zoom. Night, backlight and focus buttons are prominently labelled above the transport controls, which use the standard play, rewind and fast-forward symbols. Zoom controls are positioned on the top of the camcorder and toggle left to right rather than using the more intuitive forward and backwards motion.
The D240 loads MiniDV tapes through its base. As with all MiniDV camcorders, this mechanism looks extremely breakable when open. Batteries are clipped onto the rear of the camcorder using a standard JVC mount and you can use a variety of capacities, some of which will run the D240 for several hours.
The viewfinder is relatively comfortable, but on a camcorder this size you're more likely to use the retractable LCD screen. The 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD is clear and visible in everything but the most extreme sunlight. It suffers from some wash-out when shooting away from strong sunlight, but it's better than many LCDs on entry-level camcorders. As with most camcorders, when you rotate the D240's LCD completely through 180 degrees, the picture automatically inverts itself to let you record yourself and simultaneously view the shot.