Most camcorders in the H30's price class are extremely easy to use, mostly with one-button controls for recording and playback. To its credit, the H30 keeps things simple - and succeeds. Flipping open the LCD turns on the device, the red button on the back of the HD camcorder records, the play button plays video, and the video/still button toggles between modes.
There is no viewfinder on the H30, so users must monitor action through the display. It's a case of "what you see is what you get," as any applied scene mode (black and white, negative, etc.) or image grain on the footage shows in the display.
The H30 has a paltry amount of internal memory and requires external storage. It accepts SD and SDHC cards (not included) in sizes up to 32 GB, which Toshiba says can hold five hours of 1080p footage.
Of its video attributes, the H30's 5x optical zoom is probably its biggest selling point. Even though a handful of new and lower-priced camcorders have optical zoom, including the Samsung HMX-U20 and Sony bloggie CM5, it's still a premium feature on low-priced devices - and those units don't add the H30's picture controls. In lower resolutions, the 5x optical zoom can be stretched further with a 4x digital zoom, which predictably destroys picture quality.
The autofocus is reasonably quick and stays in line with the zoom nicely. An optional macro mode helps keep close-up objects in focus - yet another nice extra the H30 offers over the competition. I was also pleased with auto exposure, which adjusted quickly in most situations. However, it seems to be overly sensitive to white, reflective and brightly lit objects, overexposing for a moment before hastily correcting.
For shaky hands, the H30 has digital image stabilization, though not at the maximum 1080p resolution. It's not useful enough to ditch the full-HD mode in favor of the stabilized - but lesser - resolutions. However, it helps reduce jittery video, if only a little.
Other shooting effects include time lapse at one, three and five seconds, and slow motion. Both work as advertised and are fun to play with, but neither is a "must-have" feature. Still, they add to the extras that H30's competition doesn't offer.
Toshiba doesn't indicate how long a fully charged H30 battery is going to last in the field, but I stretched it out during four days of moderate shooting between charges. Toshiba also includes both a USB and AC adapter for charging the H30, and the lithium-ion battery is removable if you care to purchase and pack an extra.
In good lighting, the H30's video output is a notch above many pocket camcorders. I wrote in the H30's first look review that colors pop, especially reds, greens, blues and yellows, almost to the point of saturation, and I stand by it.
Videophiles won't like such inaccurate color reproduction, but they probably aren't interested in a $250 camcorder. Still, I think the colors look pleasant and the auto white balance works well. On the downside, the H30 blows out a few too many highlights in bright light for my liking, but it isn't worse than other budget camcorders in its class.
Blown up on a larger screen and footage shows compression; details are a tad soft and digital artifacts are visible. Also, when the H30 quickly pans while recording, images appear skewed or bent diagonally. This can happen with any device sporting a rolling-shutter CMOS sensor, but the H30 is more sensitive than most cameras I've tested.
Unsurprisingly, the H30 struggles in low lighting. Footage is noisy, focus drops and details are lost. The H30's night scene setting and digital light apply some digital processing to brighten things up, but the extra processing takes its toll with choppy, blocky video and color shift.
Video shot at a nighttime pool party or in an indoor bowling alley with the H30 will still be watchable, it's just that the footage will be adequate at best. Although I'm careful to avoid slamming the H30 too much for its low light performance since most low-priced camcorders have the same problem - and some perform worse.
Here are some examples of H30 video. First in average lighting:
With night scene:
With digital lighting:
The H30 lacks an external mic jack, which is disappointing. Audio is just as important to overall video quality as picture, and no on-board mic matches the performance of a dedicated external unit. If pressed, I'm sure most manufacturers will sacrifice audio for picture, including Toshiba.
The H30's on-board mic is passable since it picks up sound, but it doesn't have controls for audio levels or a wind-noise canceller. The H30 is also sensitive to camera rustles or strikes from the swinging lens cap. All result in loud clanks and crackles when handling the H30.
Still Image Quality
As with video quality, still quality largely depends on lighting conditions. In decent lighting, the 16 megapixel stills look great with the same bright colors as seen on the video. They suffer in low lighting, though not as much as video thanks to an onboard flash.
Overall, I'm pleased with the H30's pictures. I would describe photo quality from most budget and pocket HD camcorders, if they even offer the functionality, as slightly above cell-phone level. The H30 is clearly beyond that, though still doesn't rank among most dedicated compact digital cameras.
Operation and Extras
Toshiba really outdid themselves with the extras. The H30 comes with a mini-HDMI to HDMI cable, video cable, power adapter, USB cord, remote playback controller, micro fiber cloth and small carrying pouch. That's a lot for a $250 HD camcorder, especially the mini-HDMI cable, which isn't included in prosumer HD camcorders costing four times as much.
The Camileo H30 spits out AVI (H.264) and JPEG files, so extracting stills and video is as simple as dragging and dropping them from the appropriate file folder. The H30 comes bundled with Windows-only ArcSoft software for converting, burning and managing media. But it's unnecessary, clunky and slow, so Mac users aren't missing much.
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