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When I was pregnant I decided we needed to get a camcorder to record the precious growing up moments of my little girl. We didn't have a big budget but wanted one that would record in HD.
We ended up deciding on the Hitachi Mini Camcorder from Argos.
~ Where to buy ~
As I mentioned I bought this from Argos in the sale at the beginning of this year. It was around £80, however, I had saved up £50 worth of Nectar points so only actually spent £30 on it!! It is a bargain when you look at it that way.
I can see the current list price is £99.95 in Argos.
~ Features ~
The first thing you notice is that the camcorder is very compact, 11cm * 8cm * 3cms. The camera is a good size to hold in your hands and is very light (according to the write up it is only 136g!). I remember the camcorder my Dad had when I was a child which was huge and really heavy to hold and film for any length of time. This camcorder is around the same weight as a normal photo camera, so no problems there. Its compact size means that it easily fits into a normal handbag & no need to have a special bag for it (like my Dad did with the old one!).
This camera is held in a vertical position with the fold out screen, as opposed to the usual horizontal held. I suppose this is depending on your preference but I find it easier to hold the camera this way, if feels more natural in your hand when filming using the fold out digital screen.
To start, this camera records onto a SD memory card, it does have a minimal internal memory but I have only managed to record around 2mins of 1080 filming on it. You can purchase SD cards relatively cheaply now, and they are available everywhere! However, this is an additional cost when looking at the price.
The camera records in HD up to the full 1080, however, this amount of pixels can take up a large amount memory, I have a 4GB SD card and have managed to record just over an hour of 1080 HD footage, however there is the option to reduce the resolution to save on memory space.
You have the option to take either motion pictures or still pictures, so you don't have to take both a video and normal camera out with you.
This camcorder has 5* optical zoom, which is enough for filming close up and a short distance i.e. children playing on a park. It may not be enough if you want to film things like sport events etc.
There are a number of "scene" options - Auto, Skin, Night, Backlight, black & white, classic, negative. It gives a much better picture quality if you pick the correct setting i.e. night option. I am one of those people who normally picks Auto and doesn't play, but my other half told me off on my picture quality & I have found that if you choose the correct setting the pictures are much better.
There is also an option to chose the type of lighting you are filming under - Auto, Daylight, Flourescent, Tungsten, which also helps a lot with the picture quality.
There is an option to change the ISO level from auto to 800 or 1600. The ISO denotes the image sensitivity (back in the day of physical films in your camera), this is the digital equivalent. The higher the ISO level the less light required, i.e. in bright daylight you only need a low ISO. However higher ISO can lead to a more grainy picture (which is not always a bad thing if you want to take pictures with a grainy effect!).
The image stabilization option is good if you have a shaky hand or filming outside in windy atmosphere, however, this option does not work at 1080p, you have to be in 720p or lower.
This camera has a motion detector, I think the idea is to use it as a security camera, where it automatically starts filming when it detects movement. I have only used this facility when playing around with the camera, and not actually for its real use, however, it appears to work well, but not sure the distance to motion detection, therefore cannot really comment on this facility.
This camera has a light, which I have never had on previous camcorders. It can be on all the time or auto detect. It is only really useful for close up indoor shots as it is not that bright, but my main use for this camera is to film my baby daughter, so is ideal for evening filming in my living room.
There is a screw hole at the bottom to attach the camera to a standard tripod to get a more stable shot.
~ Easy of use ~
This camera is probably the easiest camera I have ever used! The menus are very simple.
To turn the camera on you open and twist the view screen, it makes a little noise, flashes the "Hitachi" symbol then is instantly ready to use (a few second, no long wait to warm up!). The view screen is a touch screen.
There are two buttons and the zoom slide at the top, where your thumb sits when holding the camera, left to take still photo, right to take video pictures and the slide up/down to use the zoom. Each button has a symbol picture on it to say what its for (camera for stills & video camera for motion). One button press to take either. To stop filming you just press the same button again.
There is a very little joystick just under the zoom and camera/video buttons,
- Up toggle screen info i.e. time remaining, battery left etc.
- Down to delete, if you in the recording screen it takes you to the last thing that you shot and gives you the option to delete all, one or no on the touch screen.
- Left turns on the timer, which I have never used so cannot really comment on
- Right is to toggle through the LED light settings i.e. off, auto and on
- If you click the joystick down it will take you to the settings menu, which is also accessible by pressing the menu symbol at the bottom left of the viewing screen. You can either use the joystick to navigate through the menu or the touch screen, depending on your preference. The menu screen is very self explanatory and gives you the option to change the settings i.e. resolution, scene (as mentioned in the features above).
- The joystick is quite small and some people may find it very fiddly, but both myself and my other half find it very easy to use.
Below the joystick is the usual "play" button you find on most digital cameras today, which when pressed takes you to the screen to view previously recorded videos / pictures. It initially takes you to a screen to choose movie or photo, using the joystick or touch screen to select the option and you can scroll through the recorded videos.
The "play" button as also used as a back up button on the menus.
The use is very easy and natural, there are no excessive options and menu screens to get lost, and is very easy to find the feature/option you want and to quickly carry on filming.
~ Picture quality ~
With the 1080 this picture quality is excellent in daylight, however, does suffer slightly is darker filming. However, this can be improved if you change the settings and put the LED light on. It is not brilliant for night outside shots, and if you change the ISO you can improve the picture but it does create a more grainy picture.
If you are looking to make professional films, this camera may not be the best option, however, for family films, I could not recommend the camera enough.
Just remember if you are filming in 1080, you need to have a HD laptop/TV to be able to watch the HD! If you record films on a DVD the picture quality may be degraded. I normally either save & view the films on my HD laptop, or store the films on SD cards (when one is full, I buy a new one, I really don't want to lose any of my films!) and use the camera attached to the TV through a regular HDMI cable.
~ Sound quality ~
This is probably the worst part of this camera. The sound quality is not very good & there is no way to attach a better microphone. I find it ok for the usual family filming, watching my little girl play and giggle. However, I recorded one of my other half's gig (rather loud rock music) at a medium sized venue - Bedford corn exchange, and the sound unfortunately was terrible! We have recorded gigs at smaller venues pubs/local clubs with a smaller PA and the quality is ok for Youtube but nothing more. But for very loud sound it gets very distorted.
Depending on what you want to use this camcorder for will depend on whether this will be a problem.
~ Battery life ~
Depending on which features you use i.e. 1080, LED light etc will depend on how long the battery life. I tend to use a lot of the features and always record in 1080, and can get about 1-2 hours of use before charging. Which is not brilliant, and as it is an internal chargeable battery you cant just stick another set of disposable batteries in there. So if you are taking this on holiday you definitely need to take the charger with you.
However the charger is like a small telephone charger therefore is not a huge thing to carry around.
When you open the viewing screen the camcorder automatically turns itself on, however, if you don't use it for a minute or so, it turns itself off, so saves the battery life. If this happens, to turn it back on all you have to do is close/open the screen again.
~ Would I recommend ~
YES! Well depending on what you want to use this for. For families and simple videos this is great. But if you are looking for a camera which will take professional films you may need to invest in a more expensive camera