As 'high definition' is the buzzword of 2007 and 2008, more camcorder manufacturers have entered the market with HD models. While Canon and Sony occupy the high end, manufacturers like Samsung are looking to bring HD shooting to the masses with the affordable HMX10.
There are three versions of the HMX10; this VP-prefixed model lacks onboard memory, while there are other versions that come either with 4GB or 8GB onboard. The VP-HMX10 is available online now for around £350.
The HMX10 is a good-looking shooter with a sleek black design. The white stitching on the hand stripe adds to the classy feel. The battery and SD card are concealed by a sliding flap in the top of the camera. This does away with the ugliness of exposed batteries that afflicts many camcorders, but does preclude the use of a longer-life battery. There's no viewfinder as a result of the camcorder's compact size.
Design details include a built-in lens cover, mic socket, a full-sized HDMI cable socket and an LED video light. The light is weak, but no worse than most consumer camcorders. Our main concern with the lamp was that it didn't have a dedicated button. The lens cover, which has to be opened by hand, gets annoying very quickly too.
The HMX10 is controlled with a touchscreen. The 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD folds out and twists around for easier viewing at different angles.
One unusual feature is the swivel handle. The section of the camera under the handstrap, where the palm usually rests with fingers curled over the top, rotates downwards so that it can be gripped with fingers curl down. It's not quite a pistol grip, but does allow the camera to be held at waist level, or pointing up at the user. If you do use it, it means that you are unable to access the controls with the same hand, but Samsung has dealt with this by including two zoom rockers: a slower, incremental pad on the screen door, and a faster, smother rocker on the back of the body.
The HMX10 shoots 1,280x720-pixel high-definition video. Footage is recorded in H.264 format, and 720x576-pixel standard definition is also available to save memory, or if it isn't essential to film in HD.
The 10x optical zoom takes care of filming over longer distances. Image stabilisation is electronic, which isn't as good as optical image stabilisation. The HMX10 also crops a bleed area of pixels around the image, so you lose pixels.
The handy quick menu button gives access to focus, exposure, shutter and white balance adjustment with the touchscreen. Menus and settings are quick and easy to navigate, but we don't like adjusting slider controls -- like the one that controls manual exposure -- by tapping at either end to move incrementally. This isn't an ideal method of adjusting focus either, with no focus check function to zoom in on a part of the frame for precise checking. Also, there are no white balance presets in the quick menu.
If even these manual controls are too complex, the Easy Q button locks the camera into full automatic mode.
The curse of HD camcorders is the size of files involved. This is less of an issue with models boasting large hard disc drives, but is a pressing concern on removable media camcorders like this one. The HMX10 records to SDHC and MMC+ memory card. We used a Kingston 16GB SDHC card in our tests, which stored 180 minutes of HD footage. A 4GB card will store less than 45 minutes.
With this in mind, compression of files is something of a necessary evil. Unfortunately, this leads to compression artefacts. Nasty blocky marks appear especially in areas of shadow. This is most marked in high contrast shots, such as backlit subjects against a bright sky. Still, it's not the worst video by any means.
Noise and loss of detail is also a problem in low light. There isn't enough manual control to adjust the camera to cope with darker conditions. Fortunately, the strongest aspect of the HMX10's image quality is colour. Video is bright with just the right balance of colour saturation.
While we have highlighted a fair few issues with the Samsung VP-HMX10, it's an excellent camcorder if considered for what it is: an accessible, reasonably-priced shooter with the emphasis on usability and style. Image quality cannot compete with more expensive models, but this certainly gives other consumer HD models like the Panasonic HDC-SD5 a run for the money. It's definitely superior to models like the Aiptek AHD200, but then the Aiptek is significantly cheaper.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday