The H300 has an interesting mix of manual and automatic settings, though I suspect Samsung’s targeted consumer will stick with the Smart Auto dummy mode. There should be no issue there, as it does a respectable job of choosing the proper preset for any particular shooting situation. There is one issue with it that I found rather annoying, however. When on, Smart Auto hijacks the camcorder. It disables OIS DUO (a combination of digital and optical image stabilization), leaving the standard OIS as the default, and Smart Auto has to be turned off before allowing access to the menu screen. It’s a small annoyance, sure, but it seems wholly unnecessary.
While I commend Samsung for including so many manual controls, I wish the designers had made adjusting them easier. All manual adjustments to the picture have to be made in the touchscreen, which is too small and not touch-sensitive enough to be effective. Also, there is nothing in the way of onscreen guides to aid in adjusting. For example, there are no zebra stripes to indicate over-exposed areas, or lines to guide focus. I suppose the controls could be fun to play with and maybe help some newbies get comfortable, but they are not particularly useful with this sort of implementation.
On the bright side, the Samsung HMX-H300 exceeded expectation with its battery life. Samsung advertises three hours of juice from the lithium ion battery, and I managed to squeeze out three hours and nine minutes of constant shooting. Also, the optical zoom extends a decent length to 30x (digital zoom goes up to 300x, but as with most digital zooms, it’s useless as it destroys image fidelity). However, there are camcorders with deeper zooms in this class, including the Panasonic SD80 that extends to 37x.
Video, Audio and Stills Quality
Samsung H300 video quality is acceptable for a low-priced camcorder, but on the low end of what HD camcorders are capable of producing. The biggest problem affecting the H300’s output is ghosting, especially with moving objects. Ghosting is perhaps best described as 3D video viewed without 3D glasses, in which moving objects appear to have a transparent “ghost” double just overlapping them to one side. With stationary or slow objects, the H300 is fine, but ghosting will probably occur while shooting any objects or subject moving at a moderate speed, like a child’s sporting event.
Detail and textures are also lacking, putting the H300 just a step above pocket camcorders in that department. Colors are also hit and miss as the H300 has a tendency for oversaturation (especially reds and greens, which look near radioactive), and overexpose areas.
The H300 actually performs surprisingly well in low light. Noise and grain are present, but footage that would be near unwatchable with a weaker camcorder come out okay with the H300, complete with a minimal level or detail and discernable colors.
Audio pickup from the on-board stereo mics is also predictably mediocre, with tinny sound resulting from any source not emitting audio directly at the mics. There is no external mic input, which stinks, and the only mic feature is a wind cutter that does little.
Operation and Extras
Thankfully, the H300 shoots MP4 files, which are easy to manage. Extracting clips is simply a matter of dragging and dropping them off the SD card, and most PCs and Macs should be able to handle the files. The camcorder ships with Intelli-studio software that does little to alter my distaste for pre-packed video suites. Intelli-studio is not as buggy as some of the pre-packaged programs shipping with camcorders just a year ago, but chances are you have something better on your PC (Windows Movie Maker, Windows Live Movie Maker) and definitely your Mac (iMovie).
The H300 also ships with an AC power adapter, AV cable, USB cable, battery and CD ROM. Buyers will have to supply their own SD cards unless they purchase the devices with on-board memory, and they’ll definitely need an HDMI cable if they’d like to stream their HD video from the camera to an HDTV at its maximum resolution.