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A couple of years ago, the idea of a high definition camcorder for around £100 would have provoked not just scepticism, but probably incredulity. Now, however, there are umpteen models to choose from between £100 and £200, not least the bevy of pocket Internet-oriented models that have sprung up recently. Despite undercutting even these budget camcorders in price, the Genius G-Shot HD550T still offers a keen set of features, potentially making it a more flexible video shooting tool.
The specification gets off to a promising start with a 1/2.5in CMOS sensor sporting a native 5-megapixels. Genius bumps this up aggressively during stills shooting to 12-megapixels. But for video the maximum resolution is 1,280 x 720 pixels, which is recorded at 30 frames per second. It’s also possible to record WVGA (848 x 480 pixels) at 60 frames per second, and QVGA (320 x 240 pixels) at 30 frames per second.
Video is stored in H.264-encoded QuickTime MOV format, at a data rate of 5.2Mbits/sec when shooting 720p. Twin SD Card slots are integrated, each offering support for SDHC media up to 32GB in capacity. So, with both slots fully stocked, over 28 hours of video could be captured. Even a 4GB card would give you 3.5 hours, rather questioning the need for two memory card slots.
Another surprising addition at this price is the touchscreen LCD. It's not the most responsive in its class, and it's hard to see in bright sunlight, but works okay if presses are very deliberate. The manual controls are somewhat strange, however. It's now almost universal when holding a camcorder HandyCam style that you use your thumb to toggle record. But Genius has placed this button on the top of the unit, forcing you to use your index finger instead.
Bizarrely, the HD550T does have a lens ring of sorts. However, this merely toggles between regular and macro modes, with the latter enabling shooting as close as 20cm. Other than this, the lens is fixed focus, with a minimum focal distance of 120cm. There’s bad news when it comes to the zoom capabilities of the lens, too – and here the Genius really starts to show where money has been saved in its construction. There’s no optical zoom at all, just a 3x digital one. This is operated via the touchscreen or the jog dial on the rear.
The HD550T isn't exactly packed with manual features, either, although it does exceed pocket Internet camcorders quite considerably in this respect. The menu can be operated via the touchscreen or jog dial. There are four white balance presets alongside the fully automated mode, but no manual option. Monochrome and sepia special effects can be applied. You can select spot or centre metering, plus a touchscreen-operated mode where you press the point in the frame you wish to use as reference. This works fairly slowly and is no match for the systems now provided by the likes of Panasonic and Sony. There's also no one-touch focus option, since the lens is fixed focus. Backlight compensation can be found buried in the menu and whilst it's good to see this important option, we'd rather it had its own control button.