Aside from design, what separates pocket camcorders such as those from Flip Video from camcorders like the Samsung SMX-F34 isn't video quality, but optical zoom and storage capacity. The SMX-F34 features 16GB of internal memory, as well as an SDHC card slot for storage expansion. It also has a 34x zoom lens and a feature set that includes manual shooting controls, which you definitely won't find on ultra-compact YouTube camcorders. Unfortunately, the video quality really isn't any different. The SMX-F34, available for around £170, delivers pretty average, standard-definition video.
The Coke-can shape of the SMX-F34 is very comfortable, and, since the hand strap is mounted across the middle, there's little body roll should you release your grip. Plus, it has Samsung's swivel-grip feature, allowing you to quickly change from underhand to overhand shooting without removing your hand from the strap. The body, which is available in black, silver, blue and red, is almost entirely plastic, but doesn't feel cheap.
Controls on top include an ultra-sensitive zoom rocker, followed behind by a shutter release for capturing stills (although not while movies are being recorded) and a mode button. 'Movies', 'photos' and 'playback' are the mode options. Following the curve down the body's back is a door concealing a 3.5mm AV jack, a mini-USB port and a DC input for power. To the right of the jack cover is a large 'record' button and, below it, a spring-loaded power button. The camcorder's battery compartment and SDHC card slot are behind a sliding door on the bottom.
Flipping open the LCD reveals three more buttons in the screen cavity: 'iCheck', 'LCD enhancer' and 'easy Q'. With the power off, the iCheck button gives you an on-screen read-out of remaining battery life and storage; with the power on it toggles on and off information on the display. The LCD enhancer improves the contrast and brightness of the display for better visibility. Pressing the easy Q button puts you into a fully automatic, you'll-get-no-settings-and-like-it mode. Holding it for about 3 seconds, however, brings up a list of scene modes.
The LCD itself is fairly low-resolution, but it's fine for the capabilities of the SMX-F34. To the left of the screen is a menu button, a four-way directional pad, a select button and a record button. Since the zoom can be controlled with the pad, it and the record button give you a second set of controls. The pad is small and flat, so those with bigger fingers may have trouble accurately pressing different directions.
Good feature set
The menu system is straightforward enough, so learning to control everything takes no time at all. Options appear, for the most part, in a horizontal scroll bar, which lets you easily turn features on and off. Only the system settings menu has an extended vertical set of options.
Video can be recorded at three different quality levels, at a resolution of 720x480 pixels: 'TV normal', 'TV fine' and 'TV super fine'. There's a 640x480-pixel 'Web' and 'mobile' setting, too. In truth, though, you probably won't want to stray from TV super fine.
Although the SMX-F34 certainly seems like a camcorder for point-and-shoot movies, Samsung includes manual control of focus, shutter speed, exposure and white balance. It also has a 'c.nite' feature for slowing the shutter down to 1/30 or 1/15 for better low-light visibility, but it also slows motion down. Basically, the manual controls are there if you need them, but this camcorder is more for automatic users. You get eight scene modes to choose from and interval shooting, too, should you want to capture something like a flower opening. There are also a handful of digital effects to play with. All in all, it's a good collection of features for a budget camcorder.