The minicamcorder market is all but dead save for a few niche models such as the Samsung HMX-W300. On the surface it's nothing more than a point-and-shoot HD pocket video camera, but its body is sealed up tight making it waterproof to 16.4 feet for up to an hour and it's shockproof to 6.5 feet and dustproof.
Aside from its rugged build, it features a backside-illuminated 5-megapixel CMOS sensor for better low-light recording; records in full HD (1,920x1,080/30p resolution) in MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 to a microSDHC card; and has a fixed-focal-length f2.2 lens and a 2.3-inch LCD. You also get what I consider essentials for this category: a flip-out USB connector and embedded sharing and editing software. It has some other nice extras including the capability to stop and start shooting without creating a bunch of little clips. Not bad considering its suggested retail price is $159.
The thing is, its video and photos aren't any better than a higher-end smartphone, so you probably don't need this if you only capture the occasional movie clip for YouTube viewing. Buy this because you don't want to have to worry about getting it wet or dropping it, killing your phone's battery, or handing it off to your kids or others.
|Key specs||Samsung HMX-W300|
|Dimensions (HWD)||4.4 x 2.4 x 0.7 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||4.9 ounces|
|Storage type||microSD/microSDHC cards|
|Resolution, sensor size, type||5 megapixels, 1/3.2-inch backside-illuminated CMOS|
|LCD size, resolution||2.3-inch LCD, 230K dots|
|Lens||Fixed focal length, f2.2 30mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (video, audio)||H.264 video, AAC audio (.MP4)|
|Resolution (highest)||1,920x1,080 pixels at 30fps (16Mbps; progressive)|
|Image stabilization type||Electronic|
|Battery type, rated life||Built-in lithium ion rechargeable, approx. 120 minutes|
Samsung improved the design from the W300's predecessor, the W200. That model's control pad and mic and speaker holes too easily trapped sand. For the W300, the space around the pad has been removed, and the mic and speaker holes are now smaller and irregularly shaped so grains of sand don't easily fit. Still, you'll want to avoid sand and dirt when possible and make sure the doors covering the flip-out USB arm and microSD card slot and Micro-HDMI port are securely locked. All rugged devices have limitations, so just be sure to read the instruction manual for proper care.
As for using the device, it's fairly straightforward. Below the LCD are a button for switching between shooting video and still photos; a directional pad for navigating menus and controlling the digital zoom; a record/select button; buttons for playback, menu, and delete; and a pause button, which is almost never found on minicamcorders, but very handy.
The playback button can be used to capture photos while shooting video, and the pause button can be used to tag things in playback for uploading to a sharing site or sending by e-mail when you connect to a computer. There is also a My Clip button that's used to tag a favorite scene in a clip, so you can quickly and easily watch it again and again without fast-forwarding or rewinding.
On the right side is a power button and it takes the W300 from off to shooting video in just a few seconds. Video quality is very good for its class, but no competition for a full-fledged camcorder. At 1080p and 720p resolutions, the movies are enjoyable to watch at small sizes on a computer screen, with the former being sharper than the latter. At larger sizes, such as on a big HDTV, things like edge enhancement artifacts, rolling shutter wobble, judder when panning, and motion blur with fast-moving subjects are much more noticeable. The electronic image stabilization seems to help with hand shake some, but don't expect it to be rock-steady if there's a lot of movement.
Low-light video, while noisy, is pretty good and much better than the results from the W200, which were distractingly bad. Also, Samsung includes a feature for backlit subjects that definitely helps keep what you're shooting from being too dark to see.
Still photos are never great from minicamcorders, but the W300 does all right here, too. You can shoot up to 5.5-megapixel photos in camera mode or capture up to 2-megapixel stills while shooting video, and you'll get results that are fine for Web use. It's slow to focus and capture in camera mode, though, which is typical for pocket video cameras.
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Tungsten|
|Filter effects||Vignetting, Fish-eye, Retro, Classic, Negative, Dazzle, Noir, Western|
|Lens cover (auto or manual)||None|
The W300 has a good assortment of shooting features for its class. It records 30 frames per second at both 1080p and 720p, but that's it. There are no lower resolutions for easier uploading or playback on less powerful computers and devices, and no 720p-at-60fps setting for smoother video of fast-moving subjects. You can record video using a handful of creative filters, but the resolution is fixed at 720p and the results don't look good at larger screen sizes. It has electronic image stabilization, face detection, back-light correction, and an underwater mode; these all work well, so no problems with those features. However, all but the last are turned on and off in the menu system; the underwater mode -- the one you're probably least likely to use regularly unless you specifically buy this for diving -- is too easily triggered by pressing right on the control pad.
The minicamcorder has a 3x digital zoom that, like every digital zoom on these devices, degrades image quality and eats up battery life. On the upside, it doesn't completely suck, though you'll still want to use it sparingly. It has autofocus, but can only focus up to about 6 inches from a subject. Lastly, the W300 has a feature rarely seen on minicamcorders (and a big reason to buy it): a pause button. On other pocket video cameras, you can only start and stop recordings, which results in a bunch of clips. The pause button on the W300 allows you to quickly start and stop recording, but the result is just one clip.
Should you want to do any editing, the embedded software on the W300 should be enough for most users. It's not overly simple, especially for those who've never edited video before, but it's not difficult to figure out either, and it has a very good set of editing tools. You can also use it for quick uploading to sharing sites including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, of course. Photos and videos can be tagged for uploading while in playback on the device, and the software will automatically ask permission to send them when you connect to a PC. What's also nice is that you don't even need to install the software on a computer; it can run directly from the device. To edit, you do need to transfer clips to a computer first, though.
There are still some very good reasons to pick up a minicamcorder like the Samsung HMX-W300. Even if the video and photo quality isn't significantly better than a higher-end smartphone, not everyone has one of those (yet). With its rugged construction, you don't have to worry about getting it wet or handing it off to someone else to use -- something you probably don't want to do with your phone. True, you can't instantly upload to the Web, but the embedded software and in-camera tagging let you do it quickly once you connect its built-in USB arm to a computer.