This difference in sensors ends up affecting still images more noticeably than video. Since it can capture only 1-megapixel stills, prints from the 3100A won't be as sharp as those from the DZ-3200A or the DZ-3300A, even at standard 4x6-inch snapshot size. In fact, you shouldn't really plan on making prints from the DZ-GX3100A, though they may be acceptable for e-mail. Video is only slightly less sharp than that produced by the 3200A and is noticeably softer than footage from the 3300A, though still very pleasing.
Like the others in this line, the DZ-3100A 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.
The Hitachi DZ-GX3200A accepts four varieties of 3-inch DVD discs: write-once DVD-R and rewriteable DVD-RW, DVD+RW, and DVD-RAM. It records video in MPEG-2 compression to allow 18 to 60 minutes of footage per side, depending on what quality level you choose. The camcorder packs a 1/5-inch 1.3-megapixel CCD sensor. Though it uses 1.1 megapixels to capture stills, it uses only 690,000 pixels for video.
Other features include a 15X optical zoom lens, automatic and manual white balance and exposure options, five preprogrammed autoexposure modes, and three preset white-balance settings. Connectivity includes an A/V input/output jack, a microphone input, and a mini USB jack. There's no FireWire output, but most users will probably just drop the mini DVD in their computer's DVD drive to transfer their footage. However, if you have a slot loading DVD drive, the USB connection will definitely come in handy.
Performance was almost identical to that of the DZ-GX3200A and the DZ-GX3300A, with a speedy start-up, comfortable zoom control, and pleasingly responsive autofocus. The electronic image stabilization was effective to about 75 percent of the camera's zoom range, and manual focus was difficult on the LCD screen.
Hitachi rates the DZ-GX3100A's battery life at as much as 145 minutes when using the best recording quality, though you can expect about half that with typical start/stop recording and occasional replay of scenes you've shot.
The DZ-GX3100A's video quality is about what you'd expect from a midprice MiniDV camcorder with an equivalent sensor. At low compression, video was sharp with some motion artifacts and edge crawl, along with a bit of blooming. At higher compression levels, banding showed up more often in areas with significant gradations in brightness.
Low-light footage exhibited more grain than did well-lit scenes, though the DZ-GX3100A yielded pleasing low-light video that was brighter and more colorful than you'd expect at this price. The low-light mode helps to brighten dim scenes, though it does noticeably lower the frame rate, so moving objects and pans look choppy.
Stills weren't very impressive, though that's to be expected from a 1-megapixel camcorder. The auto white balance produced slightly warm results with our lab's tungsten lights but fared better than the tungsten white-balance mode, which had a magenta tinge. Manual white balance turned in the most neutral results.
If you're looking for a relatively inexpensive DVD camcorder and you don't need the DZ-GX3300A's 3-megapixel stills, the Hitachi DZ-GX3100A might be for you. Of course, if you want a little more sharpness in your video, then you may want to take a look at this camcorder's slightly more expensive sibling, the Hitachi DZ-GX3200A.