You might think that pocket video cameras are doomed because of smartphones and the iPhone, but there are some things those devices just can't do. The Samsung HMX-W200, for example, can survive a 6.5-foot drop, or a swim down to 10 feet for up to 30 minutes, and it's dustproof. It joins competitors from Kodak and Panasonic, among others, that are rugged, not just waterproof.
The W200 is essentially the same as the company's P100 pocket video camera, but rugged. It has a backside-illuminated 5-megapixel CMOS sensor for better low-light recording; records in full HD (1,920x1,080/30p) 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.
That all sounds pretty great, but that's the W200 on paper. In use, its value isn't as clear. Don't get me wrong, it's a nice minicamcorder for the money, but there are some things about it that may turn you off.
|Key specs||Samsung HMX-W200|
|Dimensions (HWD)||4.5 inches by 2.4 inches by 0.8 inch|
|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 touch-screen LCD, 230K dots|
|Lens||Fixed focal length, f2.2 33mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (video, audio)||H.264 video, AAC audio (.MP4)|
|Resolution (highest)||1,920x1,080 at 30fps (17Mbps; progressive)|
|Image stabilization type||Electronic|
|Battery type, rated life||Built-in lithium ion rechargeable, approx. 60 minutes|
|Software||Intelli-Studio Light (Windows)|
For example, the rugged design isn't as rugged as one might like. There are two doors: one for the flip-out USB arm, the other covering the Mini-HDMI port and microSD card slot. They lock with simple sliders that seem a little flimsy, as do the seals on the insides of the doors. They'll probably be fine with proper care, and really all rugged devices have limitations. Just be sure to read the instruction manual (included in the box on a disc and available for download on Samsung's site) before you take this to the beach, because that's where you'll learn that you probably shouldn't take this to the beach. Yes, despite being dustproof, the W200 should not be used near sand as it can get into the mic and speaker holes as well as in the small space surrounding the control pad on front.
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.
On the right side is a power button and it takes the W200 from off to shooting video in just a few seconds. That's assuming you've pressed the record button firmly enough. The button seems to have two stops, requiring you to push it all the way down to start and stop recordings. However, that's about the most difficult part of using the W200.
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 rolling shutter wobble, judder when panning, and motion blur with fast-moving subjects are much more noticeable. However, they're not so bad that they'll totally ruin your video. 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.
With the combination of an f2.2 lens and a BSI CMOS sensor, I expected better than average low-light video and it is, but it's still not great. That's mostly because I found Samsung's noise processing distracting, with tiny black dots constantly popping throughout scenes.
Audio quality from the mono mic is merely OK. What I did notice is that it picks up a low-level hum that is audible in quieter scenes. Also, when the W200 comes out of the water, audio can sound muffled until it dries out.
Lastly, as with most pocket video cameras, still photos are not great. They're on par with camera phone photos, so they're suitable for the Web, but not as good as photos from a good point-and-shoot. I will say, in this case, the lens and sensor did perform better than other minicamcorders in low-light conditions. Though if you're shooting inside and not under natural lighting, you'll probably want to do some color correction later on.
|Filter effects||Vignetting, Fish-eye, Retro, Classic, Negative|
|Lens cover (auto or manual)||None|
The W200 has a good assortment of shooting features for its class, but there are a couple of disappointments mixed in. 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 480p and 15fps, resulting in artifact-filled, jerky video. 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. It has autofocus, but can only focus up to about 6 inches from a subject. On the other hand, the W200 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 W200 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 W200 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.
Conclusions: The Samsung W200 rugged minicamcorder is a very good choice if you just need something that's more durable than a non-rugged pocket video camera. It seems a little silly that something dustproof can't be used near sand, and the seals and door locks look weak, especially in comparison with those on the Panasonic HM-TA20. It has some similar shooting options to the Kodak Playsport Zx5, but the Kodak is easier to use and has better, more usable features. The W200 does have a handy pause button, though, and it's not exactly difficult to use, and its video quality and embedded software are very good.
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