Few things work better than convenience for getting consumers to adopt a new technology, and in the case of camcorders, convenience means supporting your preferred format. By that definition, Hitachi's DZ-BD10HA Blu-ray camcorder is certainly convenient. It records full HD video (1,920x1,080) to 3-inch BD-R/RE discs, to a built-in 30GB hard drive, or to SD/SDHC cards. You can record to 3-inch DVD-R/RW discs, too. The camcorder's recording flexibility may seem like a novelty, but it allows users with a lust for everything HD who also want to share video with people still living in a standard-definition world to bypass the PC. Then again, maybe it's just overkill.
Thanks to the assemblage of physical drives it requires, the DZ-BD10HA looks remarkably dated. As with most DVD-based camcorders, the Blu-ray drive is inelegantly stuck to the side of the main body. Hitachi does get points for fitting everything in a relatively compact package, though, weighing a little more than a pound and measuring 3.1 inches wide by 3.4 inches high by 5.5 inches deep. The drive is a handful nonetheless, and smaller hands may have trouble controlling the camcorder comfortably. (It fit well in my larger hands.)
A majority of the controls are on the back of the optical drive, falling under your right thumb. Up top is the zoom rocker for the 10x zoom lens and a shutter release for taking 6-megapixel still photos. Slipping over the back edge is a switch for going between shooting video and stills, a series of three activity lights (one for each storage mode), the on/off/mode toggle, and an eject switch for the BD/DVD drive (which can only be used in BD/DVD mode).
A dub button on the body initiates file transfers from the hard drive to an SD card or a BD/DVD disc, or from a card to a BD/DVD disc. On top you'll find buttons for playback and activating face detection, as well as the SD card slot. The camcorder lacks an accessory shoe, video light, and jacks for an external mic or headphones, though it does have a photo flash. Output can be done through its USB, miniHDMI, component, or composite AV jacks.
Opening the 2.7-inch LCD reveals five membrane buttons: Guide (an onscreen user guide to basic features that seems like something that could've been a menu option instead of a full button); Full Auto for going, um, fully automatic; backlight compensation; LCD information display; and an LCD brightness control. On the screen's bezel sit a five-way joystick, a Menu button, and a couple of playback buttons.
Operating the DZ-BD10HA is very simple. This could have more to do with a lack of features than actual ease of use, but either way it's a camcorder that just about anyone can use successfully. Menus are low on options, but you will find four scene modes, three white balance presets, and activation for the optical image stabilization and wind filter. There are manual controls for focus, exposure, and white balance, too. You can record AVCHD files at three quality levels: a 1,920x1,080 HX mode, and two 1,440x1,080 modes (one fine, one standard).
As mentioned earlier, one of the finer features of the DZ-BD10HA is being able to transfer the HD video between the hard drive, BD/DVD drive, and SD-card slot. Doing this is straightforward, requiring little more than selecting what you want transferred to where. When dubbing from either the hard drive or the card slot, the camcorder will report the number of discs it will take to dub all the scenes that have been selected. Each 3-inch BD disc can hold 7.5GB, or 1 hour of best-quality HD video, which means it would take four to five discs to transfer a full hard disk. (At roughly $20 for a BD-R and $30 for a rewritable BD-RE, it's not something you'll probably want to do regularly.) The dubbing speed is rated at 4x, so a full hour of HD video will take 15 minutes to transfer to a BD-R disc. Finalizing the disc for playback takes a minute, too. There's also the option to transcode HD to standard def for use on DVDs.