Toshiba has put both high definition and large capacity into the hands of the everyday shooter with its venture into the HD camcorder world. The Gigashot line of A and K series models present a 100GB hard drive in the top-end A100F costing around £849. But with this much power, will expectations be on filming epics rather than the everyday?
The A100F adopts the familiar camcorder next-door form factor. The swivelling 76mm (3-inch) 16:9 LCD screen opens out to the left, with a 230,000-pixel screen resolution. Opening and closing the enormous screen puts the camcorder into standby mode.
The bulbous right hand-side has a satisfying rubberised grip with an adjustable padded strap. Your index finger controls the wonderfully responsive zoom rocker, and a dedicated stills shutter button. This allows you to capture still images to SD or SDHC cards while filming, which we like. The video record button is pressed with the right thumb, but the other controls on the back are placed for left-handed operation. They are set into a neat transparent plate.
Functions and settings are controlled by a mini-joystick set into the screen bezel, with a spry scroll wheel above it. The connection sockets, including USB, AV out, component terminal and HDMI, are protected by a rubber seals on the left of the camcorder -- handy for beach use.
The A100F brings a comfortable weightiness, with the heft of the camcorder steadlily balanced in the right hand. The two-tone silver and black styling is suavely understated, spoiled only by the protrusion of the battery at the rear -- par for the camcorder course, sadly. The A100F lacks an accessory hotshoe, but that shouldn't be an issue for the average consumer.
The feature set on this camcorder wasn't made with a budding filmmaker in mind. As mentioned, there's no accessory shoe, and it lacks a viewfinder too, so you don't have the option of adding external viewfinders, mics or lights to beef up the onboard offerings.
The A100F uses a 1/3-inch CMOS sensor and sports a 10x optical zoom, with a wide-angle 35mm lens, equivalent on a 35mm film camera. This isn't bad for a camcorder, and comparable to the width of compact cameras lenses.
The camera will record MPEG-4 and H.264 video at up to 60 frames per second. Footage is high definition 1920x1080i or 1400x1080i, although you don't get an HDMI cable for connecting to your HD television.
Barely a second after flipping out the LCD screen and the camcorder is ready to go. The A100F exhibits good colour fidelity, giving a vibrant image without over-saturating hues. Autoexposure is quick and flexible, coping well with sudden changes from light to dark environments. White balance is generally reliable, struggling occasionally with indoor lighting.
The 10x optical zoom might not seem much compared to the 30x or more zooms on the market, but the A100F has plenty of reach and stays pleasingly stable all the way. The zoom is quick to respond and nuanced enough to either tiptoe or crash in on a subject. The autofocus occasionally lags behind the zoom, meaning that in crowded frames it's best to point the camera at the subject and let it focus before zooming. Zooming on an area of a high-contrast, busy frame tends to outfox the autofocus so blurry areas fill the frame and take a while to adjust.
In low light, the A100F does reasonably well without standing out, with a little too much motion blur when panning. The lamp manages not to be too harsh, but then it isn't particularly strong either, illuminating subjects a few metres away but not much futher. Noise is an issue in shadow areas of the frame in darker situations, but isn't overpowering.
The A100F competes with the sublime Sony HDR-SR8 on memory size, although Sony has trumped the 100GB pair with the 120GB HDR-SR12, arriving shortly. The Sony SR8 also includes a viewfinder and hotshoe for advanced operation, but the Toshiba is simpler to use for everyday filming and substantially cheaper.
So while the basic features and lack of expandability mean filmmakers won't be shooting their next epics on this camera, it is a beautifully-styled, respectably performing excellent HD camcorder for the everyday shooter.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday