Prices for DVD camcorders have been creeping down in recent years, and the 2006 entry-level model from Hitachi, the DZ-BX35A, can be had for less than $400. That's still more expensive than competing entry-level MiniDV models, but you're paying the extra dough for the convenience of having your movies burned directly to a DVD inside the camera, albeit a mini DVD that stores only 18 minutes of video at the highest quality.
Like most low-end camcorders, the Hitachi DZ-BX35A, which includes a 25X optical zoom lens and sub-megapixel CCD, isn't loaded with fancy features. That said, this is a pretty compact camcorder; weighing in at 1.1 pounds and measuring less than two inches thick, it's slim and light enough to take almost anywhere. We also like that it's fairly intuitive to use, and if you stick to auto mode, it's ergonomically sound. With the camcorder in hand, the power switch/mode dial and the record button rest just under your right thumb while the zoom rocker and still-image shutter release sit under your right index finger. For basic shooting, you'll have no problem operating the camera with one hand, and we like that the buttons are large and tactile.
However, if you like to fiddle with the settings while you shoot, you may run into some snags. Like Hitachi's other DVD camcorders, the DZ-BX35A carries over the design of last year's DZ-GX20A. The downside to that is the handful of touch-sensitive buttons hidden behind the 2.7-inch, wide-screen LCD. Since they're mounted flush on the camera's body, the buttons are hard to tell apart by touch alone and difficult to use while shooting. Most other controls are well placed, and the menus are intuitive and easy to navigate.
This camcorder uses a tiny 680,000-pixel CCD to capture images, and while it's pretty typical for budget DVD models, ideally you would want a larger CCD. The result is less-than-stellar video quality (compared to MiniDV) and still photos that aren't much better than what you'd get from a camera phone. The images are suitable for e-mailing but not necessarily for printing out.