The main controls on the back of the camera are fairly simple. At the top is a slider for the zoom control, and on either side of it are two large buttons. On the left is the still image shutter button, on the right is the video recording button. I have to admit I found the operation of these controls to be a problem. The still capture button is fine, and works like a normal shutter button, but as soon as you hit the video recording button it starts filming without any further warning, so you tend to end up with a lot of short unwanted clips that you then have to erase.
Apart from that, the rest of the camera’s controls are straightforward enough. In the menu system it has all the features and options you’d expect from a good mid-range compact, including scene modes for sports, portrait, landscape, night view, fireworks and lamplight. It has multi-zone, CW and spot metering, five-point AF and a range of ISO settings from 50-400. It also has electronic image stabilisation, a very useful feature for a camera with a 10x zoom lens. It also has aperture priority, shutter priority and full manual exposure, however with an aperture range of only F3.5 to F8.0 and shutter speeds of ½ to 1/2000 of a second, the creative potential is somewhat limited.
I was a little sceptical about the handling, given the unconventional shape, and indeed it does take a little getting used to, but after half an hour or so I found it surprisingly comfortable and easy to use. The only thing I didn’t like was the thumb-operated shutter release. I would have preferred a design where the shutter is pressed with the forefinger, leaving the thumb free to do what it evolved for; providing a secure grip.
Of course the main feature that sets the HD1 apart from other digital cameras is its video mode. It is one of the very few video cameras that shoots in 1,280 x 720 Widescreen HD (High Definition) mode at 30 frames a second with stereo sound, but it can also shoot at 640 x 480 VGA mode at an astonishing 60fps. There isn’t another still or hybrid camera on the market that can match either of those benchmarks.
Video is recorded in the high-quality MPEG-4 format, and a 1GB SD card provides enough space for over 14 minutes of recording, or 399 still images at maximum resolution. The video quality is simply stunning, especially in the 60fps mode. The higher frame rate makes even the quickest actions looks smooth and lifelike, making it ideal for recording sporting events.