Hitachi DZHS300A Hybrid Camcorder Review

Debuting back at CES 2007, the DZHS300A Hybrid Camcorder was the first of its kind for Hitachi and the world. The DZHS300A gives you the option of recording video either directly to an internal 8GB hard disk drive (the DZHS500A ups storage to 30GB) or to DVD-R, -RW or +RW discs or DVD-RAM discs. Also, some built-in editing tools and a one-touch dub button lets you clean up and send video from the HDD to a disc. There’s an SD card slot for capturing stills as well, either from frames of DVD video or when in a photo mode.

With its street price around $399, this is a budget camcorder and its video quality shows that. But, the Hitachi DZHS300A Hybrid Camcorder’s recording flexibility, easy use and fast startup time make it a good option for households with different user types: those that like to instantly and effortlessly record and share video and those that like to move it quickly to a computer for editing and creating more sophisticated projects.

Considering it has a hard drive and DVD recorder, it’s a fairly compact (3.5×2.4×5.3 inches) and reasonably lightweight (about 1 pound) device. It’s a little too big to stash in a coat pocket, but a shoulder strap is included.

Up front is a 25x optical zoom lens that fluidly moves in and out without much pressure. There is an electronic image stabilizer to help with camera shake and you can choose between auto or manual focus, white balance and exposure settings.

The controls and menu navigation are simple and straightforward and the 2.7-inch color LCD is just big enough. The “record” button is centered in a small dial located by your thumb. The dial lets you easily switch between positions for the SD card, Off, hard drive and the DVD recorder. A little too easily actually, perhaps causing you to slip from DVD to the HDD or from SD or HDD to Off with an errant thumb. It never happened to me, but it’s certainly possible.

One of the camcorders standout features is its startup time. It goes from off to ready to record to the HDD in about a second. There’s also a Standby setting that lets you wake and record even faster. If you’ve gotten addicted to capturing life’s more unusual moments to post online, the Hitachi DZHS300A’s startup time is ideal.

As for image results, honestly, it’s a budget camcorder and Hitachi is pitching it for its recording versatility, not its video performance. If you need/want a camcorder for more than casual videos, you should probably skip the DZHS300A. My image-quality expectations were low (after all, it has only one, 0.2-inch CCD sensor) and, for better or worse, it lived up to those expectations.

The camera performed well outdoors on sunny and slightly overcast days and indoors under bright light. Low-light situations, yeah, well, not so much. The LCD can be used as a light, but it’s really only of use if you’re right on top of your subject. Also, the digital still pictures it captures are at a resolution of 640×480 and are merely passable. The Hitachi spokesperson I talked with said the still-shot feature is meant as an extra, not to replace a standalone still camera. Bottom line: Don’t expect to get a great budget camcorder and snapshot camera in one.

Again, the DZHS300A’s greatest strengths are its hybrid recording, ease of use and lightning-quick startup time. I like that it fills the needs of both novices that just want to pop a disc in and go and those that want to do full-on editing and disc creation. Plus, with the handful of built-in editing tools and the one-touch dub from HDD to DVD you can give family and friends a quick disc, completely skipping the computer transfer—and without the need for a dock like other units.

Hitachi DZHS300A Hybrid Camcorder