Samsung's first DuoCam, the SC-D5000, was an odd-looking, bulky affair with a pivoting dual-lens mechanism that would have fit perfectly in the old Transformers cartoon. The dark gray, plastic shell of the VP-D6040i on the other hand, resembles, at first glance, a typical midsize DV camcorder. Only the presence of the second lens at the front of the camera gives away that it isn't. Like Ray Milland and Rosie Greer in The Thing with Two Heads, the camera and camcorder share a body but are different in many ways. For example, while the still-camera lens features a convenient, built-in lens cover, the camcorder lens has a separate, tethered lens cap.
The camera has a solid, hefty feel, likely because Samsung has, essentially, added the components of a digital camera to a compact DV camcorder chassis. Though it has a sturdy feel, at 500g it's no heavier than typical midsize camcorders.
The still camera's controls are easy to use, but expect confused looks if you ask a stranger to take a picture for you and you hand them what looks like a camcorder. When examining the controls, the only hint of the VP-D6040i's dual functionality is a dedicated still camera-style mode dial for selecting the shooting mode when using the still-camera functions. The remaining photo settings, such as flash mode and automatic exposure lock, are doubled up on the camcorder buttons. The buttons are logically laid out, with the most common functions on the sides of the camera and playback controls behind the LCD screen's door. The zoom, start/stop, and still-photo buttons are all comfortably placed for one-handed operation.
Though the menus are easy to operate in both still-camera and camcorder modes, each set of menus has a completely different look and feel. The camcorder menus are text-based and utilitarian, while the colourful still-camera menus are icon-based. It's not a usability issue since both sets of menus are logically organised, but it gives the camera mode an incongruous, grafted-on feel.
Though the memory cards and battery can be swapped while the VP-D6040i is mounted on a tripod, you'll have to remove the camera from the tripod to swap tapes. It avoids the image-quality compromises normally found in combination devices by including dedicated imaging systems for DV and still-image functions. On the DV side, it incorporates a 680,000-pixel, 1/6-inch CCD with a 10X zoom; the still camera uses a 4-megapixel, 1/1.8-inch CCD with a 3X zoom lens and a 4-megapixel CCD.
The camcorder offers a wide range of shooting modes for both video and still photos, from the one-touch EasyQ button that puts all the camera's settings on autopilot to full manual control. In camcorder mode, you can set both shutter speed and exposure. When shooting stills, you can choose aperture or shutter priority, or full manual control, though the still aperture range of f/2.8 through f/4.9 is rather narrow. Manual focus is available in both modes as well.
The camcorder mode features five automatic exposure modes for sports, sand and snow, and so on, while there are a whopping ten different shooting modes for the still camera. The requisite cheesy special effects -- sepia, negative and the like -- are present in both modes as well.
There's a built-in flash for still mode but no video light. When shooting video, you can brighten low-light situations by slowing the shutter speed or by using an infrared mode -- Sony is the only other manufacturer that offers this -- which gives everything a night-vision goggles green tinge. There's no hotshoe, and the dual-lens setup precludes lens adapters, so accessory options are limited to an optional external microphone.
One feature that you'll appreciate if you own other devices that use memory cards is the multiformat card slot. The camera can store JPEG and TIFF images as well as MPEG-4 videos on SD/MMC, Memory Stick, or Memory Stick Pro cards.
Unfortunately, the VP-D6040i lacks some basic capabilities that you'd expect from a camcorder in its price range. There's no automatic end-of-tape search, for example. And you can't use it to transfer your old analogue tapes to digital formats; while it can output composite and S-Video signals, video input is limited to digital transfers over the FireWire port.
The camera mode, on the other hand, has more flexibility than you typically get from a camcorder's still mode. You'll find most of the functions that you would find in an inexpensive midrange still camera: exposure compensation, manual and automatic white balance, resolutions ranging from VGA to 4 megapixels, four compression settings, macro focusing, and autoexposure bracketing.