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.
The BX35A can record to 3-inch DVD-R, DVD+/-RW, and DVD-RAM media. You can set the camera to record in 16:9 wide-screen, but once you start recording on a disc, you can't change the aspect ratio. Its 25X optical zoom lens lets you capture shots from far away, but if you want shake-free images, you'll need to invest in a tripod. Alas, while the camcorder uses electronic image stabilization, it does little to counter the effects of shaky hands at higher zoom levels.
As a budget DVD camcorder, the DZ-BX35A is light on extra features and connectivity. The camcorder's only means of communicating with the outside world is a set of S-Video and composite A/V outputs. If you want any other jacks on your camera, you'll want to look at Hitachi's GZ series of DVD camcorders; they have S-Video and Composite inputs and outputs, microphone jacks, USB 2.0 support, and even accessory shoes. The only advantage that the DZ-BX35A has over its brothers is a 25X optical zoom lens, compared to the GZ camcorders' 10X and 15X zooms.
As with other DVD camcorders, the Hitachi DZ-BX35A's performance was hindered by its DVD media. Initializing and writing to disc often took several seconds, and finalizing a DVD after shooting takes several minutes. (The finalization process is required so that the resulting DVD can play back in a standard DVD player.) Again, this is common for this type of camcorder, so we won't whine too much. But the bigger gripe we had concerned the camcorder's autofocus: it's just not all that snappy, and we had some difficulty locking onto subjects at various distances. You can opt for manual focus, but to dial it in, you have to use the clumsy touch-sensitive buttons behind the LCD display, which makes it awkward to adjust precisely.
For its price, the DZ-BX35A's video quality is quite acceptable, and while it measures up to budget-priced miniDV camcorders ($300), it falls a little behind comparably priced DVD camcorders. Colors were muted but accurate, and images were reasonably sharp, though not as sharp as those of Hitachi's step-up models. However, the camcorder's small CCD had trouble reproducing finer details, and we noticed some oversaturation in sunlight.
The Hitachi DZ-BX35A is a decent budget camcorder, but a little more money will go a long way. The next step up in Hitachi's camcorders, the DZ-GX3100A, uses a 1.3-megapixel sensor and includes lots of extra connectivity. Since the price difference between it and DZ-BX35A is less than $100, you might want to consider getting the DZ-GX3100A instead.