Its other features also perform well. The zoom is smooth and easy to control, whether you're zooming in fast or at a leisurely pace. Autofocus is responsive and quick, as is the camera's ability to adjust to changing lighting conditions. Image stabilization was effective throughout the first 75 percent or so of the zoom range. At 10X zoom, it dampens but doesn't eliminate hand shakes. Sound quality is very good, and the microphone, though sensitive, doesn't pick up any drive-motor noises.
Precise manual focus can be difficult to achieve. Though the 2.5-inch LCD is sharp and viewable under a variety of lighting conditions, it's too small for the user to easily discern enough detail for precise manual focusing. The color viewfinder offers even less detail, so it's not much help here.
Battery life is so disappointing that you may want to budget for the optional extended battery. Though the battery is rated at up to 60 minutes at the best recording quality, you can figure on a bit less than half of that with typical start/stop recording and occasional replay of the scenes you've shot. We got low-battery warnings after only 15 minutes of usage, and in our tests, the battery was discharged in less than 25 minutes.
During our test shooting, a DVD-R disc developed a write error. The camera offered to attempt to repair the disc, but the repair failed. After that, the camera would not display any of the 10 minutes or so of footage we'd already shot, nor could we access it on a computer. Had a similar problem occurred with a MiniDV tape, we could have forwarded past the bad spot. This might be something to consider when shooting critical events.
The Hitachi DZMV780A's video quality is decent but noticeably less sharp than that of the higher-end DZGX20A. We saw MPEG-2 compression artifacts even when shooting at the best available quality, and a shimmering effect was noticeable around straight edges. In bright light, color hues were accurate, though slightly oversaturated at times. In dim lighting conditions, video started to take on a grainy appearance. Though the automatic white balance worked well outdoors, in dim room lighting, footage took on a reddish cast until we manually set the white balance.
In extremely dim conditions, you can use the Low Light program autoexposure mode to brighten the scene somewhat, but this lowers the frame rate, making for blurry, jerky motion from pans and moving objects. The gimmicky option to turn the LCD screen into a light does little to help here.
The DZMV780A's still-image quality is abysmal. Indoor shots were laced with random color noise throughout, even under normal room lighting. Outdoor shots lacked the color noise but were still extremely grainy and lacking in detail. We've seen camera phones that can handily beat the DZMV780A's still quality. It isn't a good substitute for a still camera, even in a pinch.