Imagine being able to playback, rewind or transfer footage instantly, instead of waiting on your camera to roll tape. Now, how about being able to play your handiwork in a DVD player immediately? This is the kind of convenience offered by cameras with direct DVD recording.
In the latest series of three DVD camcorders released by Hitachi, the DZGX20E is the most feature-packed model - offering a 2.1 megapixel compact camera with a 16x9 widescreen aspect ratio, on-board editing and built-in support lighting for night-time shooting.
Giving up the tapes, whether for DVDs or for hard disk recording, takes some getting used to. The advantage of DVD is that you can pop a disc into a player without any of the rigmarole of connecting the camera to your computer, capturing footage and burning (yawn).
On the downside, DVD camcorders may not be for everyone. For example, users are more likely to skip editing or dabble only with a camera's on-board editing features, rather than computer editing programs.
Hitachi has, however, addressed some important issues. For example, the DZGX20E offers faster operation than previous models, promising to get started within 7.5 seconds.
It's important to note that some challenges remain beyond the camera. The DZGX20E requires 8cm DVD-R discs or DVD-RAM, neither of which proved easy to obtain during the review period. This reviewer went to six mid-to-large consumer electronics, computers and even an office supplies store in Sydney and found mini DVD-Rs were rare and DVD-RAM discs were not in stock at all.
Fortunately, the DXGX20E comes with a DVD-RAM in the box to get started and this is the best option to get used to the camera, as it is can be used repeatedly and it can also store still images. The DZGX20E also accepts an SD storage card for still images, which is necessary if using DVD-R, which can only record movies. In addition, with DVD-R, users must initialise the disc (and this must be done in the camera, not in a computer) and finalise the disc.
The camera itself offers a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio and the pixels to ensure that sufficient image data is obtained. It is important to work out whether you want widescreen or standard 4x3 at the outset, especially when recording to DVD-R as you can't swap mid disc.
The '2.1 megapixel' figure is the combined value of video and stills features - 1.23 million pixels are used for movies and 1.92 million pixels are reserved for still images.
Users may notice a vibration of the recording mechanism, but fortunately this does not seem to be picked up on the resulting footage. However, the manual does warn that block-like noise can appear in the image and that this is more likely on the 'Fine' quality setting, when the camera or subject is moving quickly.
This camera has the usual swag of automatic settings and its easy operation is ideal for recording good times with family and friends.
The AE setting offers a good selection of presets, such as sports, portrait, sand & snow, for different situations and users will need to explore this to obtain best results before shooting. In the low light setting, Hitachi has cleverly found a way to make the LCD more useful. If you turn it around to face the subject, the screen goes white to offer a little support light. It's a lot gentler than the built-in flash. The powerful flash on this camera can be a surprise for the unwary since, besides low-light situations, it will also come on when a subject is back-lit.
Manual focus would be used rarely or best left for posing stills. Control freaks may not appreciate its functionality. You must press the Focus button on the touchpad inside the LCD nook, then use the + and - pads which would otherwise control the volume, to finetune the focus.
Instant playback is one of the benefits of opting for DVD recording. So it should be no surprise that in-camera playback in the DZGX20E is superb. It's not all about the LCD, but also the playback controls, which are located on the outer housing (whereas many cameras bury these controls).
Every time you stop and start recording a new 'chapter' is created, so when playing back, this appears as an icon. It's easy to recognise and review the footage just captured and - one aspect of video-making that's finally 'foolproof' - it's impossible to accidentally record over scenes.