The DZMV270A is the flagship of Hitachi's line of three DVD camcorders that record MPEG-2 video onto 8cm DVD-RAMs and DVD-Rs. With a list price of $1,399, the DZMV270A comes in about $600 cheaper than its predecessor and offers better compatibility with existing DVD-playback options. But if you're underwhelmed by DVD for camcorders--and so far, we are--this model looks a bit pricey for a competent but otherwise run-of-the-mill video camera with a 12X zoom lens and a 1.1-megapixel CCD. Most camcorders are essentially ugly bricks, and the DZMV270A's fancy, two-tone, black-and-silver styling does not save it from that fate. The camera appears to be built with the same basic body used for Hitachi's lower-priced DVD models, as well as for the Panasonic VDR-M20.The mostly plastic casing isn't exceptionally heavy or huge, but it's noticeably larger than that of other MiniDV camcorders. With the battery and the media loaded, the camera weighs in at about 1 pound, 13 ounces. It also doesn't feel quite as sturdily constructed as many of the MiniDV models in its price range.
|You'll find many controls behind and alongside the foldout LCD.||Mode, zoom, and recording controls are located on the right rear of the camera.|
On the other hand, this Hitachi's ergonomics are good, with a comfortable grip and easily accessible buttons. Its menu system is clear and logical, too. This camcorder's standout feature is obviously its DVD-recording media. Hitachi says that DVDs last longer than MiniDV tapes--more than 30 years--and are less prone to jamming and damage. But the DVD feature that really impressed us is direct, in-camera access to each video segment recorded, which obviates the need for rewinding or fast-forwarding.
Having direct access to specific clips is also nice when you want to pop a recorded DVD into your computer and transfer your footage to a video-editing program that supports this Hitachi's MPEG-2 files. That process works only with DVD-RAMs, however, so you'll need to budget several hundred dollars for a DVD-RAM drive to obtain this benefit.
The DZMV270A can also record to DVD-Rs, but they work like regular DVD movie discs and are compatible with most DVD players. However, you can't import individual video clips from the disc into your video-editing software. As convenient as using any DVD player might be, showing movies made up of just your raw, unedited clips is one of the quicker ways to lose friends.
|Record your footage onto a DVD-R or a DVD-RAM instead of a cassette.|
Using a feature called variable-bit-rate (VBR) video recording, the DZMV270A can squeeze up to two hours of high-quality footage onto a single DVD-RAM disc, according to Hitachi. But VBR's effectiveness varies according to your subject, and we expect that obtaining 40 to 60 minutes of footage will be a lot more common for most folks. The more widely compatible DVD-Rs, which don't support VBR, can hold about 30 minutes of high-quality footage per side.
As with many other camcorder optics, the DZMV270A's 12X zoom lens is biased toward the telephoto end (roughly 45mm to 540mm in 35mm film terms), which can make it hard to get good interior and group shots. A 12-step exposure-compensation function complements six programmed exposure modes. There's also a microphone jack and a standard accessory shoe for video lights or a dedicated flash (model DZ-FLH3).
The camcorder's 1.1-megapixel CCD captures JPEG still photos at 1,280x960 pixel resolution--but only if you're using a DVD-RAM disc. A large, 3.5-inch LCD and a color viewfinder help separate the DZMV270A from Hitachi's lower-end DVD models. The LCD is sharp, colorful, and a pleasure to use for playback, though it's just average for viewing in bright light. The viewfinder, too, offers comparatively sharp and colorful images.
|We averaged a paltry 30 to 40 minutes of use with the DZMV270A's included DZBP14CR battery.|
In our tests, the camcorder's autofocus system was reasonably fast and decisive, even in relatively low light. We're somewhat disappointed that Hitachi equipped its top-tier DVD camcorder with a manual focus system controlled by buttons instead of a ring on the lens, but the large LCD makes judging focus unusually easy.
You control the 12X zoom via a switch on the camcorder's side; we found that switch to be a bit loose and touchy, although not so much that we couldn't use it effectively after a little practice. The DZMV270A's electronic image-stabilization system works well and has little effect on video quality.
We were also pleased with this model's sound quality in all but the windiest conditions, and we found the omnidirectional microphone to be clear and sensitive. The DZMV270A's footage is sharp, with rich and vivid colors--comparable to video from MiniDV cameras with similar CCDs. Our exposures were also good, and various forms of artifacting, though definitely noticeable, fell in the average range for a single-chip consumer camcorder.
Our low-light test footage was less impressive but not terrible. All camcorders capture noisy, relatively colorless video in dark rooms, but we've seen several that do a modestly better job than this one.