The four models in Samsung's core line of high-definition camcorders are identical save for the amount of built-in solid-state storage that they offer. The £590 HMX-H106SP boasts 64GB of storage, the £460 HMX-H105BP sports 32GB, the £380 HMX-H104BP offers 16GB and the £340 HMX-H100P offers none. All the models offer an SDHC card slot. This series review is based on tests of the HMX-H106SP.
Attractive but flawed
The camcorder is attractive but its design has its flaws. Physically, it's quite similar to its progenitor, the VP-HMX10. Slightly more compact than non-flash-based competitors, it looks and feels pretty solid despite its all-plastic construction. All the operational controls -- the zoom switch and photo, power, mode and record buttons -- fall comfortably under your right thumb or forefinger. The top zoom switch is one of the skinny, wobbly types that we find unco-operative when trying to maintain a smooth, consistent zoom, however. In a hatch below, sit the mini-HDMI, USB, AV and power connectors.
The grip rotates about 150°, and, although you can leave it at any point in the rotation, it locks into only two positions. The first slight rotation drops it by about 5°, increasing the height for larger hands. This is a clever design that we've yet to see copied.
Inside the LCD recess are power, photo flash, display, full auto 'easy Q', and image stabilisation buttons. On the LCD bezel sit a secondary zoom switch, record button and 'quick menu' button. The battery and the SDHC slot sit on the bottom of the camcorder -- a poor location if you plan to shoot on a tripod, which will completely obstruct the hatch. The camcorder also has a built-in electronic lens cover, a good feature that has become typical in camcorders in this price range. The stereo microphones sit on either side of the lens, gaining more separation than we typically see in consumer camcorders.
Unfortunately, the touchscreen interface is relatively annoying. We generally find that touchscreens aren't very comfortable to work with on the 69mm (2.7-inch) displays common to this class, and the HMX-H106SP's proves no exception. We frequently found the system unresponsive, requiring multiple presses to recognise input.
That said, the menus are organised fairly well. But, even though the camcorder offers some manual adjustments, like shutter speed and aperture, they're inconveniently buried in the menu system. You can't even pull them up with the quick menu button -- that's reserved for switching storage media (SD card or solid-state drive), scene modes, video and photo resolution, white balance, exposure compensation, and focus (auto, manual or Touch Point, which lets you press the LCD display to select the area to focus on).
The camcorder records 1,920x1,080-pixel, 60i video, as well as 720p and 480p, using MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 encoding, similar to that used by AVCHD. Although Samsung hasn't announced the bit rates, QuickTime revealed that most of our test clips encoded at about 17Mbps, which is pretty typical for this class. Some camcorders can handle up to 24Mbps, but, if you're not planning on editing the video, you probably won't notice the difference. You can fit about 7.5 minutes of footage per gigabyte of storage at highest quality. Clips are limited to a maximum of 1.8GB.
Compared with many of its competitors, the HMX-H106SP's performance isn't great. The autofocus especially seems slow, and has more trouble than usual finding and locking on the correct subject. We ended up having to use the Touch Point focus more frequently than normal, and, thanks to the occasionally unresponsive touchscreen and slow focus (even after telling the camcorder where to look), we missed several shots. The optical stabiliser works pretty well out to the end of the 10x zoom range, though.
While the video quality isn't bad, it lacks the sharpness and colour saturation we expect from HD models. Edges are noticeably fuzzy, especially when viewed on a large-screen TV. Even in good light, there's some colour noise in the video, and low-light video looks perceptibly noisy and over-processed. In normal daylight, the white balance is overly cool and there's some clipping in the highlights. Still photos just look smeary and over-processed.
There's not much to recommend Samsung's HMX-H106SP, or the other camcorders in the current HMX series, over similarly priced competitors. They don't stand out in any particular aspect, and weak, although not terrible, performance and video quality, will put many people off. Also, the solid-state drives are ultimately something of a marketing gimmick -- the price differential between the no-memory HMX-H100P and the 16GB H104BP is about twice the cost of a 16GB SDHC card, and price gap between models rises significantly as capacity increases.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet