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.
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.
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.
Photo by: Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET / Caption by:
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).
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.