DVD camcorders have a reputation for being sluggish starters - something Hitachi is tackling with its DZ-GX3300E and the promise of just a one-second start-up from sleep mode before recording.
Improvements like these are making these devices a more useful proposition - more camera, less toy. So let's consider what the DZ-GX3300E offers in the image stakes.
For starters there's the 3.3 megapixel CCD - that's a 1/3 inch interlaced chip with 2.1 megapixels available for moving images and 1.6 reserved for stills (stored on SD card or DVD-RAM, but we'll get to that in a moment).
There's a digital zoom, but for quality's sake it's the 10 x optical zoom that's of more interest. The camera also has a built-in flash and an electronic image stabiliser - alas advanced users tend to prefer the optical variety for preservation of image quality.
The ideal consumer camera is one that handles a broad range of recording situations without the operators seeking manual controls (although some will, anyway). This reviewer found the autofocus struggled more in low light than some cameras, which prompted a search for manual focus.
On the upside, the necessary buttons are more accessible that those with on-screen menus, but less comfortable and you must push for a few seconds as the camera is not immediately responsive for this sort of fine-tuning.
Few consumer camcorders ever relinquish control completely and, even with manual exposure on, this camera is still adjusting the light in the image, so if you move the camera from a light area to dark, you will see the exposure fade up or down on its own.
Back to the DVD, which is at the heart of this device. Firstly, this is not a camera suitable for bootlegging concerts or cinema. Maximum recording time per side is 30 minutes in standard quality or 18 minutes at a higher setting.
The list of compatible media includes DVD-RW, DVD-R, DVD +RW, but DVD-RAM is recommended as it works similarly to a hard disk drive, has a long life, is re-writable, provides instant access to footage, requires no rewinding or fast-forwarding and can store both video and stills on the same disc.
While the camera comes with software compatible with computers running Windows 2000, XP or Mac OSX (connecting via USB 2.0), it will be useful for prospective buyers to check the disk types chart in the manual when considering any DVD camera to ensure compatibility of all media types with all camera functions and their computer's operating system. The software provided for Mac users is, for example, not compatible with the +RW format. It's also important to check notes on finalisation before putting discs into other devices.
The size of a DVD camera is restricted by the DVD itself, but Hitachi has smartened the conventional shape with a high-polished dark metallic and black casing. The flip-out LCD is chunkier than most, but in keeping with the general look and feel. It fits snugly back with the LCD facing out for playback. This is where one realises the wise placement of the playback controls, which now seem perfect for personal entertainment. However, the screen closes on top of the speaker and there is no headphone jack for personal playback (nor sound quality checking while filming!)
Batteries are typically exhausted faster in these cameras. Using the LCD, standard quality recording continuously would be 105 minutes, but in real life operation where the camera is stopped and started, battery life would last only half that time at best. Hitachi gets brownie points for explaining this clearly in the manual.