Compact design

Overall, the series uses a comfortable-to-grip design and feels well built.
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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

LED video light

Unusual for the price class, these models include an LED video light for shooting in dim environments. Though it's a nice touch, don't shine it at people--it's quite blinding.
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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Physical mode switch

It's much nicer to have a physical switch for choosing among playback, video, and still-shooting modes than to have to go through the touch screen. And since the LCD is quite small, keeping physical controls on the bezel is also important for usability.
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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Manual controls

The camcorders provide manual shutter speed and iris controls similar to their higher-end counterparts--uncommon, but not unique at their price points. Like most camcorders this year, they also include a second image stabilization option, in this case Power OIS, optimized for shooting while walking. I found standard and Power OIS reasonably but not exceptionally effective at the camcorder's maximum optical zoom of 25x, but that's typical.
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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Connectors

The Mini-HDMI, USB, and proprietary analog out connectors, as well as the power switch and SDXC-compatible card slot, sit in the LCD recess.
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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Top controls

All these camcorders lack an accessory shoe, so the top of the camcorder simply has a zoom switch and shutter button for still photos. The zoom switch has a nice feel.
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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET / Caption by:

Interface

As with their higher-end siblings, I find the user interface relatively straightforward. At the top is the most stripped-down view; the second and third screens show how cluttered the small display can get. It does have nice iris controls for its class, switching the display to decibels from f-stops when you cross the line where the optics are wide open, as well as providing an optional luminance-level readout.
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Photo by: Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

Video quality

You can clearly see the difference in the amount of compression artifacts between the default 13Mbps video quality (top)--more blockiness and softer edges--and the highest 17Mbps quality (bottom).
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

Low-light video

The camcorders use just one of the small trio of sensors used by their higher-end siblings, and it shows. The low-light video is very noisy, desaturated, and soft. Dropping down to slow-shutter mode helps; it lowers the shutter speed to 1/30 sec. With the video light (bottom) it's much better, but there are limits to situations where you can use the light.
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:

Photos

The 640x480-pixel still photos actually look better than any of the other resolutions--the interpolated 5-megapixel photos are especially mushy--and look quite bright and sharp.
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Photo by: Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:
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