At first glance, the Samsung HMX-H200 doesn't seem massively dissimilar to many other camcorders on the market. Much like the vast majority of models we've seen of late, the HMX-H200 is a small, chunky barrel shape with a fold-out LCD screen, offering 1080p-resolution, high-definition video, mid-range (4.7-megapixel) photo quality and a number of useful functions, including a 20x optical zoom, HDMI output and an image stabiliser.
There is one major difference, though. The HMX-H200 can be purchased for less than £300.
Far from looking cheap and nasty, the HMX-H200's build quality gives the impression of a much more expensive product. The matte black metallic body and compact style is both attractive and practical. When you start using the device, however, you'll begin to see where Samsung has cut a few corners.
For example, there's a built-in lens cover, but it needs to be opened and shut manually, rather than automatically retracting whenever the unit is switched on. Also, the HMX-H200's microphone placement isn't ideal. It's located on the top of the device and, during testing, we found our fingers frequently rubbed or partially covered the mic housing, resulting in unwanted noise in our recordings.
Similarly, some of the buttons on the HMX-H200 are a teeny bit too sensitive for a device this small. It's all too easy to accidentally brush the 'mode' button on the rear of the camcorder while filming, for example, and the slightest touch will halt recording altogether.
Worse are the buttons on the fold-out LCD. They're positioned along the outside edge of the screen at just the point where your thumb rests. This means that any adjustment you make to the angle of the screen while filming could potentially activate the zoom or terminate the recording. It sounds daft, but we were caught out by this several times in our tests.
Apart from that, controlling the device is straightforward. Point-and-shoot operation will be instantly familiar to anyone who's used a camcorder before. The HMX-H200 uses a touchscreen interface for many of its settings, and this is quite easy to get the hang of thanks to simple navigation and a sharp 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD display. It's also very useful to have dedicated buttons for the image stabiliser, quick menu, 'smart auto' mode and so on.
You won't find any internal memory included with the HMX-H200. Like many low-budget camcorders, you're expected to supply your own storage via an SD card. Breaking with tradition somewhat, Samsung's entry-level HD camcorder doesn't use the AVCHD recording standard currently favoured by many of its competitors. Instead, it uses an H.264/MPEG-4 variant. In technical terms, this means very little, but in practice we definitely noticed a certain softness to the HMX-H200's image that we haven't seen from other camcorders in its price bracket.
Apart from that, we found picture quality quite acceptable in our outdoor tests. Colours felt a tad muted and there was a little more grain than we would hope for but, otherwise, detail was pretty good and the camcorder handled motion relatively well. Automatic functions aren't particularly quick at adapting to your shooting conditions, however. In our test shots, auto white balance was way off the mark most of the time and the camcorder had a tendency to slip in and out of focus randomly, even when we were pointing the device at a well-lit, non-moving subject.
Indoors, you'll find the HMX-H200 quickly compensates for any shortness of natural light by automatically cranking up gain and exposure settings, to the point where your picture can quickly become a grainy, stuttering mess.
On the photo side of things, the HMX-H200 offers a level of quality that's roughly on par with other video devices of its type and cost. Its still-photo skills are unlikely to amaze and astound, but they're not going to offend anyone, either. Detail isn't bad for 4.7-megapixel images.
With 1080p video, touchscreen controls and a 20x optical zoom, the HMX-H200 is an uncomplicated, well-equipped camcorder that represents fairly good value. When you consider that shelling out less than £50 more will bag you a much better entry-level model, such as the brilliant Panasonic HDC-SD60, it starts to feel a little more like a compromise. If you have a strict budget, you could do a lot worse. As an alternative, you could consider opting for a pocket camcorder, such as the Kodak PlaySport, which doesn't have an optical zoom and offers fewer features at a fraction of the price.
Edited by Emma Bayly