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As a professional photographer I've never really had much of an interest in video - until last year I still owned a Sony Hi8 camcorder that used to be my mum's and hadn't been put to use for about 4 years. If ever the urge took me to video anything I'd do it on my little compact camera or more recently my Nikon D7000 SLR, however I don't find cameras sit comfortably in my hand for using when panning and zooming on video.
When I was due to visit family in Cornwall I decided it was finally time to bite the bullet and buy a camcorder - my mum lives in Australia so she likes to see little clips of my life and (without being to morbid) my Grandad is 97 and I don't want him to be gone from my life with nothing to help me remember his voice (I came to this sad realisation when I realised that 7 years since my nan's death I can't recall the sound of her voice, even though I know I'd recognise her if I heard it now).
Working in a camera shop has many benefits, especially as we deal in second hand - I wasn't overly fussed about having the latest technology and didn't want to spend a fortune as it would neither be used a lot or for professional work. At the time we had two models in - this one and I think the other was an SD10. They had virtually the same specifications, but a major difference is this one was physcially slightly bigger - to be entirely honest I bought this one because the larger size and shaping to the side meant it sat much more comfortably in my hand, it was nothing to do with the word Leica on the lens!
Unlike camcorders of old, this one has no viewfinder so you rely on the LCD for recording (located on the side and with a rotate/flip mechanism). It's touch screen which is not essential for all controls, but is for some, such as selecting which clip you want to play back. You are provided with an odd looking pointer to use with the screen, but I found it too irritating so just use my finger and put up with the fingerprints. The screen has really good clarity and is a reasonable size to see what you're doing, so in this respect I'm very impressed.
The zoom is a 16x optical with additional digital (which decreases quality) - while 16x is not huge, it's more than big enough for most people and you'll probably struggle to hold it steady at that sort of zoom anyway! Certainly even with the stabilisation I can't avoid significant shake at 16x, but neither did I expect to. If you move the zoom toggle lightly enough you can get a good slow zoom action which is smooth and enables the retention of autofocus, however it is quite easy to push just that little bit too hard and zoom much faster than intended.
Your images are stored on an SD card (not provided) which sits in a little slot that is revealed when the screen is opened. I currently have a 16gb class 10 (the speed at which the card can read/write) card in mine, which according the the camcorder, has enough space for just over 2 hours of video.
Batteries are of the lithium ion rechargeable variety and it comes with a fairly small capacity one - bigger (both physically and in terms of recording time) batteries are available separately and luckily mine also came with a much bigger battery - the VW-VBG260 which can record for almost 4 hours or playback for 7 hours before it needs charging. I started off on my holiday using the small battery and it lasted for most of the week with me taking numerous clips from a few seconds to a couple of minutes in length, but it was nice to know I had the bigger battery to hand when the time came.
While I did get a software disc with my purchase I have been unable to use it as it's not compatible with Windows 7. I assume it will be ok with XP and Vista as I believe the model was released in 2009. I wasn't particularly upset by this as I very rarely use manufacturer provided software, but as this was my first proper venture into video I thought I'd give it a go. As that hasn't been possible, I have instead been using Windows live movie maker (which I think is causing more problems than it solves - it frequently crashes and video playback is a bit juddery, I know this isn't a problem with the card used as the speed is more than fast enough and I don't think it's a problem with the camcorder either due to the high resolution and the smooth playback in the camcorder itself) and soon hope to invest in Adobe Premiere elements which I hope will solve all my problems.
There is a small light located on the front of the camcorder, underneath the lens - this is designed to be used in low light to enable you to carry on recording when you may otherwise have to stop. In reality it's not that great - range is very short, it gives harsh and unattractive colouration and light distribution is not even.
This model has 5.1 channel surround sound built in - now if you ask me it's very hard to get surround sound when all the mics are located in such a confined area (there's no way to attach an additional mic) so I wasn't expecting anything amazing and you shouldn't either - this is never going to have the sound quality of a film or TV programme. None the less it is superior to my slightly more modern compact and is as clear as you need so I'm perfectly satisfied.
It probably won't come as a surprise that you can also take photographs with this. Like every other camcorder I've ever seen the photos are nothing special - they're fine as little record shots and snap shots where quality isn't overly important, but really that's as far as it goes. Generally speaking the images are a bit on the soft side and the camcorder is overly fond of deploying its 'light' feature.
I think coming from a photographic background has helped me when it comes to using other similar gadgetry - I probably pick it up quicker than most, however I so think this is fairly user friendly. Buttons are well marked and it's generally pretty obvious what you need to do to activate what feature. For the most part I'm not a fan of touch screens, but I have to say it does work fairly well here, although a would have welcomed the addition of a joystick control option so you wouldn't have to use the touch screen if you didn't want to - this would lessen wear and tear.
Quality of results:
This depends on a variety of factors - you need to make sure your memory card is fast enough to keep up with the speeds at which this records, if so you should have nice smooth results, but if your editing software is not up to scratch then you can find the quality ends up being degraded. When playing back through the camcorder itself, the quality is very pleasing and stacks up the the current models on the market. There is a useful back light feature, but personally I found this swings the exposure a little too far the other way and my foreground subjects were a little over exposed.
I managed to pick mine up for the absolute bargain price of £85, but at the moment I'd expect you to pick one of these up more in the range of £140-200 depending on condition and supplied accessories. When new these sold for around the £500 mark, which is not a price I would consider paying for an item like this. I do think £200 or under represents good value for money.
I would recommend this camcorder - it sits nicely in your hand, is easy to use and produces good quality results. What more could you want? If you like to keep your cameras and camcorders separate then this could provide the solution your looking for - while it's not high end, it's more than adequate at recording your holidays and all those little memories you'll treasure looking back on in the years to come.