The DZ-HS500 is the latest hybrid camcorder from the company that pioneered the technology. This means that it records to two different formats, and can switch between them.
The HS500 has a 30GB hard drive, and also records to 8cm DVDs. At £290 it is extremely affordable for a camcorder, let alone one combines the advantages of two recording formats.
As camcorders shrink to cola-can proportions, the size of DVD shooters is set by the size of the disks. At 505g the HS500 feels weighty enough to be steady in the hand without feeling heavy.
The shiny silver barrel is the only design flourish in this matt grey and black camcorder, with the chrome plating seemingly a magnet for fingerprints. It's the standard camcorder form factor, with viewfinder, hand grip and flip-out 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD screen.
The screen flips all the way over so you can film yourself, and the image will invert at the same time so it stays the right way up when you look at it from the front. Closing the screen activates the electronic viewfinder.
The record button, zoom rocker and sleep/restart are within reach of the right hand holding the camera. The sleep button puts the camera on standby and allows for one-second startup, but in normal use startup -- and switching between recording formats -- can be as much as a torturous seven seconds.
The selecter for different recording formats has a locking button to avoid accidental switching that makes it very hard to turn. A better safety feature would have been to put the selecter away from where hands grip.
The hybrid recording features are the main events of the HS500. The 30GB hard drive can store seven hours of top quality video, 11 hours of fine and 23 hours of standard. This footage can then be treated to some basic in-camera editing, then transferred to DVD at 2x speed via a one-touch dubbing button.
DVDs can then be burnt, although you will need the power cable for that. This frees up the hard drive and allows DVDs to be switched over for long-term storage, accessing on a computer or watching with a standard DVD player.
Still pictures can also be stored on SD card, which means you cannot take a still picture while filming. Video cannot be written to SD.
Menus are clear and logical. A full auto button sets the camera up for instant shooting, while a quick menu button accesses a slimmed-down menu. Other features include the handy sleep mode and an impressive 30x zoom.
The HS500 is quite slow in several areas: in startup and format switching, in the slight lag when navigating menus and in the zoom control. The slower zoom makes a refreshing change from zooms that whip in and out, leaving you hunting for the right zoom length, but it still could be more responsive. At least the continuous autofocus wasn't slow, managing to keep focus locked onto all but the most extreme movement.
Dolby digital ensures that audio sounds good. Stereo microphones in the front manage not to overwhelm sound near the camera, such as a person speaking, with ambient noise.
Image quality is reasonable, but noticeably soft. This is probably down to the 25mm, 800,000-pixel CCD. Extra and fine quality footage is acceptable, while only standard quality video is unwatchable.
At standard setting, moving subjects are jerky while stationary subjects are blocky and fine detail smeared, but at higher settings the only problems are occasional jaggies in lines on screen. As on most consumer camcorders and cameras, low light caused problems, with video becoming disconcertingly grainy and causing some discrepancy in colour vibrancy.
The Hitachi DZ-HS500 is a capable and user-friendly camcorder that cuts through the confusion of different memory formats for the inexperienced consumer, and sidesteps the problems of picking one storage method over another.
If only the imaging side of things matched the storage, the HS500 would be an excellent camcorder. Still, at this £290 price point, many will be prepared to overlook uninspired perfomance for a slice of hybrid action.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Addition editing by Shannon Doubleday