The Samsung HMX-R10 is a compact, 1080p-capable camcorder, available for around £260 online. It has plenty of shooting features and, in an attempt to make it more comfortable to use and reduce strain on your wrist, Samsung has angled the R10's lens at 25 degrees. But Samsung has made some other design choices that miss the mark. In the end, the R10 is at its best as a point-and-shoot camcorder. It's a step-up from pocket camcorders, like the Sony Bloggie CM5, but it's not as capable as prosumer models.
Gives your wrist a hand
The R10 definitely has an eye-catching design. Its capsule-shaped body -- available in silver and black versions -- is slim enough to slip into a large pocket or small bag.
Angled upwards at 25 degrees, the lens is noticeably unusual. The lens is like this because the camcorder is meant to be used with your wrist straight instead of cocked back. It makes for a more natural position when shooting video and photos but, if you're accustomed to traditional camcorders, it takes some time to get used to it.
The right side is curved in, so your palm fits into the body. There's no traditional hand strap on the R10, only a wrist strap. This is perhaps because of the angled lens but, regardless, it makes for a less-than-secure grip on the camcorder, which is made worse by the fairly slippery body material. You'll certainly want to use the wrist strap and shoot with two hands -- with your left hand on the left edge of the display -- as much as possible.
As for the R10's controls, they're both good and bad. On top is a shutter release for photos and that's all. Moving to its back, there's a mode button for switching between capturing still images or video, a vertical zoom rocker for the modest 5x optical zoom, and a record button. Below these controls is a covered panel with a mini-HDMI port, DC in, and proprietary USB/AV jacks. While larger hands should have no problem using these controls, smaller ones will probably struggle to reach them and keep a secure, steady grip when recording. That's especially true when using the zoom rocker, which should be moved to the top.
Flip open the 69mm (2.7-inch) touchscreen display and you'll get a second set of record and zoom controls, as well as a 'Q.menu' button that lets you program up to four of your most regularly used shooting features (focus, white balance, resolution, exposure and so on) for fast changes. In the LCD cavity are three more buttons: power, 'easy Q', and 'display/iCheck'. When the camcorder's on, the display/iCheck button toggles the on-screen information on or off. When the R10's off, the button gives you gauges for remaining battery life and storage capacity. Easy Q is Samsung's simplified automatic mode, offering little access to adjustments.
The touchscreen is used for changing settings -- including manual adjustments to focus, shutter speed and aperture -- should you choose to do so. Unfortunately, the screen isn't the most responsive we've used, so making these changes can be trying. Also, there's no option to calibrate the touchscreen. On the upside, you get a touch-focus option that lets you focus the camcorder on the correct person or object with a simple prod.
On the bottom of the camcorder is the battery and memory-card compartment. The R10 doesn't have internal storage, so you'll need to supply an SD/SDHC card. Also, because the compartment is covered, there's no opportunity to use a larger battery with longer life. Fortunately, the R10's battery life is very good for its class, but you may still want to invest in a back-up pack.
There's a built-in flash on the front of the camcorder, but it can't be used as a video light. There's no accessory shoe, nor are there jacks for adding an external mic or headphones. This isn't so much a surprise as just something to be aware of if you're in need of those things. What is a surprise is the complete lack of lens protection. The R10 comes with a protective case, but you'll have to be very careful not to scratch the lens if you decide to just toss the camcorder into a bag.
Consider your options
Despite being a mid-level, 1080p camcorder, Samsung has given the R10 some very good shooting options. For example, you can choose from four different high-definition modes: 1080/60i at super-fine quality, 1080/60i at normal quality, 1080/30p and 720/60p. These options aren't uncommon, but, nonetheless, they're pleasing to find on this model.
If you're into interval shooting, you can record clips every 1, 3, 5, 10, 15 and 30 seconds over a period of 24, 48 or 72 hours, or until you fill your memory card. You can also capture high-speed video at 300 or 600 frames per second with resolutions of 416x240 and 192x108 pixels respectively. Those modes only capture up to 10 seconds at a time, but since the footage plays back in slow motion, the clips are actually 50 seconds long at 300fps and 100 seconds long at 600fps. Between its easy-Q mode, several scene shooting options and auto mode, this camcorder seems geared towards general point-and-record use -- despite having manual focus and aperture- and shutter-speed-priority modes, they're of limited use and feel more like afterthought features.
The R10's video quality is generally very good for its class. It performed best at 1080/60i (super-fine quality) and 720/60p resolutions, with the latter ultimately proving the most consistent. Movies shot at a 1080/30p resolution were very jittery and choppy, to the point of being unwatchable whenever there was any movement in the scene -- from the subject or shooter. As is to be expected, the 1080/60i mode was smoother, but trailing and artefacts were noticeable. The 720/60p mode turned out the smoothest results, with less trailing, but artefacts were still visible.
While video was generally noisy at all light levels, there was plenty of colour noise in low-light and indoor scenes, to the point of distraction. You can turn on Samsung's 3D-NR noise reduction, though, which helps to smooth out the picture somewhat. If you're sensitive to noise, you'll probably want to skip the R10. On the other hand, its video is quite sharp. The R10's image stabilisation is electronic only. In our tests, it didn't appear to work well.
While not outstanding, the R10's colour performance was good, and on a par with that of other camcorders in its class. The biggest problem with the R10's colours is that they seem rather faded, and there's no colour-control options should you want to make them more vivid. The auto white balance is reasonably consistent, but there are presets, as well as a manual option, if you want to take advantage of them.
The R10's photo quality is better than that of most camcorders in its price range, but it's still not up to replacing a dedicated digital camera. Photos taken in bright lighting conditions using lower ISOs exhibit good sharpness and colour, making them suitable for Web sharing and small prints. The R10's colours are actually somewhat better in photos. You also get use of many of the same features available in video mode, including the manual and semi-manual controls, and the touch-based focus.
According to Samsung, the R10 has a 12-megapixel resolution for still images, but that's an interpolated number -- the native resolution is 9 megapixels. Finally, although you can capture stills while recording video, they'll be taken at the video's resolution and not what you have the photo resolution set to.
If you're looking at pocket camcorders but are underwhelmed with the features they offer and want something slightly more flexible, the Samsung HMX-R10 is worth considering. The lure of 1080p video is there, but it's the 720/60p option that delivers the best results. The design won't suit everyone, though, so we recommend trying it out before you buy.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet