Samsung has banished the image it used to have of making camcorders that were budget in every respect. But, fortunately, the company hasn't lost its ability to provide great value. At around £250, the HMX-QF30 is well within the affordable category. Yet it packs in features that are above what you normally expect at this price. But is it among the best camcorders on the market?
The basics get the Samsung HMX-QF30 off to a good start. The CMOS sensor is 1/4in size, which used to be the realm of the mid-range models. It has a healthy 5.1Mpixels, too, and incorporates back-side illumination technology, which improves performance in low light. However, Samsung only quotes that 1.75Mpixels are used when shooting video, which isn't quite enough for the Full HD recording format employed by the Samsung HMX-QF30.
It takes 5.3Mpixels still photos, with a resolution of 3,072 x 1,728. Video and photos are stored on SD-cards in the single SDXC-compatible slot. Movies are recorded in MP4 format at up to 16Mbits/sec, with a Full HD resolution of 1,920 x 1,080, which will allow decent quality, although the signal is recorded as interlaced rather than progressively scanned. There is a progressive option, but it records 720p at 50 frames per second.
There is also a Web/HD option that is rather misleadingly named, as it records at 432 x 240.
The HMX-QF30 has a healthy 20x optical zoom, which you can boost to 40x via digital means. This is a regular digital zoom, however, and not an advanced or intelligent variety that takes advantage of spare sensor pixels. This means it's best avoided unless absolutely necessary, as footage will become blocky and unpleasant.
On the plus side, Samsung offers optical image stabilisation, which is quite surprising at this price. You can also add digital image stabilisation on the top, which Samsung calls OIS Duo, for an even stronger anti-shake effect. It isn't quite up with Panasonic's latest image stabilisation, but it's effective for a £250 camcorder. There's a Tele Macro ability, too, although this is buried in the menu structure.
However, the overall range of manual options is not as great as some of Samsung's mainstream competitors, particularly Panasonic. The primary mode is Smart Auto, a common feature across most consumer-grade (and some professional) camcorders. This detects conditions and tries to set scene modes accordingly.
A single button on the left edge of the 2.7-inch touch-screen LCD calls up the icon-driven main menu. Switching to manual mode using the appropriate icon places a strip along the bottom of the screen with the manual settings. These include white balance with the usual presets for sunny or cloudy outdoor, neon or tungsten indoor conditions, plus a fully manual setting.
There's an exposure control with 13 steps between -2 and 2 EV, but no direct adjustment of shutter speed or iris. You can toggle back light compensation, and enable manual focusing, although this uses onscreen buttons so is rather fiddly. You can also choose between Normal and Super C.Nite modes for low light.
That is about it for manual options, although there are quite a few other special settings to play with, including a wide range of digital effects, which Samsung calls Art Film. There is also a time-lapse option that provides intervals between 0.1 and 3 seconds, plus a selection of presets that include camera moves. You can also record HD in portrait mode, as some people do with their mobile phones, which we find a slightly strange inclusion in a fully featured camcorder. But someone might want to use it.