Just how far do you go down the road of compromise in the name of bagging a bargain? That's the question you need to ask yourself when considering the Toshiba Camileo H30. At just £150, it's ludicrously inexpensive. At that price, you'd probably expect low resolutions and limited features, but the H30 can record HD video at up to 1080p, takes 10-megapixel photos, has a large (3-inch) LCD screen and comes with a wide selection of accessories. But there's a catch -- and it's quite a big one.
Bottom of the class
Though hardly ugly, we wouldn't exactly call the H30 a marvel of modern design. The glossy black plastic and metallic trim is presumably intended to look classy, but comes off looking a little cheap. Buttons feel flimsy and, while fairly small and light, the boxy body doesn't do the device any favours. Though generously sized, the 3-inch fold-out screen is actually the wrong shape for high-definition video. It's a squarer 4:3 ratio screen, which gives you black bars at the top and bottom while you're filming HD (which is always 16:9), so you never get the full benefit of the screen's size unless you're using photo mode.
Perhaps surprising for the price is the fact the Camileo H30 employs a touchscreen interface and, though somewhat basic, it's actually pretty effective. It's not capacitive or anything, so don't expect to be using iPhone-style swipes and gestures. Instead, you tap to scroll or select menus and settings, which is fairly intuitive. The settings themselves never get too complicated, either -- picture quality, manual white balance, scene and output modes are about the limit of the device's complexity.
Infuriatingly, the H30 has a habit of 'forgetting' certain settings when you switch the camcorder to standby. The electronic image stabiliser, for example, isn't particularly effective. Most people would probably assume that if you set this to 'on', it would stay on. This is not the case, however. The H30 reverts to many of its default settings when you close the LCD screen or power down the device, and that includes turning off the stabiliser.
You've been framed
Toshiba's budget HD cam uses a 10-megapixel CMOS sensor to record video at up to 1080p at a rate of 30 progressive frames per second (also known as 1080/30p). 720p is also available at 30fps. For higher frame rates, you'll need to drop the quality setting to standard-definition 480p/WVGA, which runs at 60fps. Images are processed as H.264 AVI files, which lack the benefits of the AVCHD codec that's used on most other more expensive camcorders. We also found a few compatibility issues with the file format -- our AVIs wouldn't play back on a PlayStation 3 console, for example.
There's no built-in storage to speak of (SD/SDHC cards of up to 32GB can be used), but the H30 does include a 5x optical zoom where many might have stuck with an inferior digital zoom. HDMI is among the output options and another welcome surprise is that there's an HDMI cable included in the box, as part of a reasonably substantial selection of supplied accessories. Standard AV and USB cables are supplied, as is a universal power adaptor, lens cap, remote control and a basic carry pouch. Battery life is also respectable. The claimed recording time is two hours 30 minutes and, in our tests, the H30's power charge certainly lasted longer than that of many higher-end camcorders we've seen recently.
In terms of performance, the Camileo H30 wavers somewhere between mediocre and plain awful. In even sunlight and with quality set to maximum, the camera delivers an acceptable video picture, though colours are barely recognisable from their real-life counterparts, looking too saturated and giving off an overly magenta cast. Definition isn't always as sharp as it should be, either, with fuzziness around the edges of objects.
The frame rate is too low to provide anything even approximating smooth motion, something that is made worse still by the fact the image stabiliser is, for some reason, not available when the device is set to 1080p. Indoors, unless you have access to plenty of sunlight from windows and skylights, picture quality is very poor indeed. It's true that most cheaper camcorders struggle in low light, adding grain to compensate. The H30 adds picture noise by the bucketload and still looks far too dark.
The 720p setting, meanwhile, offers little more than a slightly worse image in exchange for slightly more recording time per gigabyte of storage. Regardless of the picture settings, the H30's sound recording is universally weak. The top-mounted mic pics up all unwanted ambient sounds, including finger movements, zoom motors and the like.
On the photo side, the story is slightly better. High-resolution still shots taken outdoors look detailed and are usually good enough to print. Indoors, photos tend to look blurry. There's a flash available, but we found this gave us mixed results, often giving our photos an odd greenish hue that made them look like they were taken on a 1970s instamatic and left in the sun to fade.
We're wary of rolling out clichés like 'you get what you pay for', but rarely is that overused phase more apposite than with the Toshiba Camileo H30. Admittedly, there are a handful of surprisingly generous inclusions, such as an optical zoom and touchscreen controls. In terms of actual video recording, however, don't let the seemingly high-end specs fool you -- this is a below-average-quality camcorder with an appropriately low price tag. It's not a complete write-off, though. Its cost might make it a good purchase for a beginner or a student, for example. But anyone who wants to record decent quality images should look elsewhere.
Edited by Emma Bayly