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Christmas Gift Guide
Camcorders

Budget HD: Hands-on with the Aiptek AHD Z500 Plus

The Aiptek AHD Z500 Plus puts high-definition shooting within reach of the cash-strapped consumer. It's light on features, but feel the value

It's easy to be sceptical about budget camcorders. But the lines are blurring between compact cameras, camera phones and mini-camcorders, and sites such as YouTube and Vimeo and fast computers have made video editing and sharing quicker and easier than ever before. Yes sir, it's all about video right now, and everyone loves a bargain, so there's definitely a market for the budget high-definition stylings of the Aiptek AHD Z500 Plus.

We Craved the announcement of the Z500 Plus last week, and now -- because Crave is the gadget blog in the know -- we've got one in to play with. The Z500 shoots high-definition video in AVCHD format. That's a resolution of 1,440x1,080 pixels (not the 16:9 ratio of 1,920x1,080 video), and a frame rate of 30 frames per second. You also get 30 or 60fps 720p video, or 60fps DVD quality footage. The difference in frame rate can give you a different feel to your video, with 30fps being closer to cinema footage and 60fps giving the smoother effect you see on television.

It's a pistol-grip camcorder, with a flip-out screen. It's very light indeed, but our first impression is that it's not as comfy to hold as we'd like: it's just a little too long, even for our elegantly tapering pianists' fingers. The record button is slightly too low, so you have to hold it with your first two fingers rather than nestling it in your palm. But then the menu buttons and mini-joystick are too far away, so you have to shift your grip to change functions. The screen's a bit poky, too. Maybe we'll get used to it: check back for an in-depth review soon.

You can capture 5-megapixel stills, with a central focus point that can be locked in place with a half-press of the dedicated camera shutter button. This echoes the way digital cameras operate. No stills while shooting video, though.

Features are, predictably, fairly limited: there's a five-stop exposure compensation adjustment, black and white or sepia effects, and four white-balance presets. Still, compared to the Flip Video Ultra, it's a feature bonanza. The video light also works as a strobing flash for stills, and night mode is designed to improve low-light performance.

And the best part is the price. High-definition video shooting is only £249 away. Full HD or false economy? Let us know what you think in the comments. -Rich Trenholm