You can capture 5-megapixel stills, with a central focus point that locks in place with a half-press of the dedicated camera shutter button, similar to a digital camera. The video light also works as a strobing flash for stills. You can't capture stills while shooting video, but that's par for the course anyway.
Movies and images are pleasingly crisp. Motion is smooth, and colour balanced and neutral. The device would definitely benefit from image stabilisation, but then you can always invest some of the cash saved on the Z500's bargain price in a tripod if shake-free video is essential. Low-light is less successful, with the lamp proving useful but not outstanding, and footage suffering from a fair bit of digital noise.
The biggest let-down is the sound, with wind noise and occasional audible zoom noise. There's no microphone input, so if you do want clear sound you'll need to sync with an external recording device, which is a world of effort that the buyer of this kind of camcorder probably won't want to enter.
We had some issues with the supplied software, too. It's basic, and does the job, but anyone looking to edit in better programs might have a problem. The .mov H.264/Quicktime format files struggled with Windows Movie Maker, for example.
The Aiptek AHD Z500 Plus is a simple camcorder at a decent price. The problem is, it's HD picture with YouTube sound. We're in two minds over whether or not this is a false economy, and whether anyone with a glorious sound setup on their HDTV should bite the financial bullet with an HD JVC Everio or Sony Handycam. Footage looks good in decent lighting, so it's worth thinking hard about what conditions you actually want to use it in, and if night shooting or crystal-clear sound aren't high on your agenda, this is a budget camcorder to consider.
Edited by Marian Smith