Hitachi DZ-BD70E review
If you’re not keen on fiddling with A/V cabling or video editing, most camcorder formats can be annoying. You either need to plug the camcorder directly into your TV to watch what you’ve shot, or transfer footage to a PC.
For this reason, the DVD camcorder has been quite a success with mainstream consumers – you can simply pop the discs into your set-top DVD player to watch. Now Hitachi has taken the concept and brought it bang up-to-date with a range of camcorders which record to 8cm Blu-ray discs rather than DVD. The DZ-BD70E is the first to hit UK shores.
Although camcorders have been launched which record high definition video to DVD, these lack the features which made their standard definition brethren so popular. Since they record HD, usually in AVCHD format, a regular DVD player won’t recognise them, and only a handful of Blu-ray and HD-DVD players will too.
A DVD disc is also only good enough for up to 20 minutes of footage, and even that’s thanks to more aggressive compression than used by Flash or hard disk-based HD camcorders. But where an 8cm DVD stores just 1.4GB, an 8cm Blu-ray disc will hold a much more capacious 7.5GB. In the Hitachi’s case this means it can fit over an hour of video on a single disc, even in its top quality mode.
Thanks to its Blu-ray disc mechanism, the BD70E is quite a chunky beast in these days of pocket-friendly Flash-based models. But at least the extra size has been put to some use. The Hitachi is based around a large 1/2.8in CMOS with 5.3 megapixels, although the high pixel count is primarily focused on digital still photos: these can be shot at 2,400 x 1,800, without the need for interpolation.
However, video only uses 2.07 megapixels, so the Hitachi can record Full HD at 1,920 x 1,080 with its top HX quality mode. This offers a decent 15Mb/sec data rate, with the video recorded to an interlaced format, not progressive.
The other two modes available operate at a resolution of 1,440 x 1,080 with 11Mb/sec or 7.5Mb/second data rates. Standard definition recording at 9Mb/sec or 6Mb/sec is also offered.
The BD70E is not without video enthusiast features, either: pop off a flap on the top and a standard-sized accessory shoe is revealed. Hitachi has hidden other useful ports elsewhere on the camcorder as well, with a microphone mini-jack under the built-in flash on the lens body. The USB and HDMI connections are even more stealthily placed under a flap beneath the LCD.
Unfortunately, the microphone jack isn’t complemented by a headphone jack or manual audio controls, so you won’t be able to monitor or adjust sound levels. There aren’t many video settings to play with, either. A button toggles manual focusing, which operates via the joystick on the LCD panel, while the Exposure button works in a similar way, but combines shutter, iris and gain into one, so doesn’t offer much control. Other than that, there’s a back-light compensation button, and four program auto-exposure modes in the full menu to choose from – Portrait, Spotlight, Sand & Snow and Low Light.
This wouldn’t be much of a limitation for the target audience if image quality took care of itself. However, this is only partly true for the BD70E. In bright daylight, it produces vibrant colours and plenty of detail, although automatic exposure has a tendency to blow out bright colours, forcing the use of the Exposure control to compensate. Under less clement artificial lighting it’s a worse story. Reasonable colour accuracy is maintained in low light, but the level of grain is intolerably high.
|Camcorder HD standard||1080p|
|Camcorder maximum video resolution||2400 x 1800|
|Camera megapixel rating||5.3MP|
|Camcorder recording format||AVCHD|
|Camera optical zoom range||10.0x|
|Camera optical image stabilisation||no|
|Electronic image stabilisation?||yes|
|Number of sensors||1|
|Internal mic type||Stereo|
|External mic socket?||yes|
|Quoted battery life||90mins|
|Dimensions||77 x 166 x 87mm (WDH)|
|Camcorder internal storage type||N/A|
|Memory card support||SD / 8cm Blu-ray disc / 8cm DVD|
|Composite video output?||yes|
|Component video output?||no|