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Compact design

LED video light

Physical mode switch

Manual controls

Connectors

Top controls

Interface

Video quality

Low-light video

Photos

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