The U.S. camera market is already flooded with affordable HD camcorders, but Toshiba thinks consumers can do with another, especially one that sports features typically found on devices costing twice as much.
That's what we have with Toshiba's H30, an entry-level device wedged between the higher-end X100 and pocket-sized S20 in its new Camileo line of HD camcorders. For $250 at launch, the 1080p Camileo H30 may run with the Flip and other pocket camcorders in price, but with a 5x optical zoom and picture controls, it laps them in specs.
In appearance, the Camileo H30 resembles a traditional camcorder. But what about performance? Is the low-cost Camileo a great value that shoots great video? Or is the H30 budget bin bound because of cheap and choppy video performance? Read our review to find out.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The Camileo H30 looks and feels like a standard camcorder, the kind you balance in the palm of your hand and secure with a Velcro strap that runs length-wise across the device. Under the lens at the front of the H30 is a flash for stills (there is no external light for video) and a red LED that blinks when the device is recording. On top and just behind the lens is the speaker for playing back videos, and there are two sections of microphone pinholes on the front of the flip-out 3-inch LCD touchscreen. Weighing about nine ounces, the Camileo H30 is on the smaller end in terms of standard camcorder size, ideal for purses and backpacks, but too large to fit in a pocket.
It comes in one color palette: a traditional metallic silver and black with a plastic glossy finish that doesn't hide smudges and fingerprints well. Toshiba packaged a microfiber cloth with the H30, but based on the cloth's small size, it's probably intended to keep the touchscreen LCD clean. I expect you'll have the cloth performing double duty, wiping the touchscreen along with every other part of the H30 you touch.
Ergonomics and Controls
Most of the H30's controls are accessed through the touchscreen, but there are also a few dedicated buttons on the device, each easily accessible and labeled appropriately. The tele/wide button that controls the zoom is where you expect it: on the back top of the H30. A playback button, mode button for selecting stills or video, OK/record button for choosing menu items and taking pictures/recording, and a rolling wheel for navigating the menus are all located on the back panel. There are also three points on the rolling wheel that when pressed, either toggle the LCD display's icons and information, delete footage or turn on/off the flash and digital light option.
Hidden under the LCD are a dedicated power button and the pre-record/YouTube Direct button, which allows users to record footage 3 seconds before actually hitting record (the H30 retroactively grabs what was in frame before the record button was hit) and directly upload videos to YouTube when connected to a computer via the USB.
A slot opens on the palm-side of the H30 to reveal the AV jack, mini-HDMI out and USB port. Underneath the H30 are a tripod socket and flip-open covering that hides the battery and SD card slot.
With its size, the H30 likely fits nicely in the palm of most hands. However, Toshiba situated the Velcro strap low on the device, and it's is still very loose when secured at its tightest point. As a result, the H30 wobbles in your hand unless you arch your fingers to support it, which can lead to discomfort and cramping. Also, the detached lens cap, when secured with its short cord from the Velcro strap, hangs very close to the lens. Move the camera too quickly and the cap will swing wildly, make unwanted cameos in footage and knock against the camcorder casing.
Menus and Modes
The H30 has four shooting modes: 1080p/30fps, 720p/30fps, WVGA/60fps (wide-screen SD resolution) and VGA/30fps (4:3 SD resolution). For stills, the Camileo H30 offers 16 megapixels, 10 megapixels and 3 megapixels. According to Toshiba, the H30 has a 10 megapixel CMOS sensor, so there is some interpolation with higher-resolution stills.
For a $250 device, the H30 has a surprising number of menu controls. Between still and photo mode, the options are familiar, with choices for resolution, white balance, scene, effects (including stabilization and slow motion), and basic camcorder settings like language and date/time. Everything is preset; for example, white balance is limited to auto, daylight, fluorescent (lighting) and tungsten so users can't tinker and manually adjust it. But Toshiba has most shooting situations covered and the Camileo H30 offers much more with picture control than other devices in its price range.
Switching to playback mode and the touch menu loses a lot of its responsiveness. Cycling through files in both still and video is frustratingly slow, and the rolling wheel doesn't fare much better as an alternative to the touchscreen. In addition, selecting specific files to play back is an exercise in aggravation. The H30 rarely responds on the first finger tap, and sometimes cycles through the thumbnails instead of playing back the specific file.
The Camileo H30's 3.0-inch touchscreen LCD display flips out 90 degrees and rotates 180. Menu items can be accessed and controlled on the touchscreen with a finger tap or short slide. It's reasonably responsive and the 3.0 inches offer enough real estate for large icons and easy-to-read fonts. However, there are no controls to adjust brightness, making the screen difficult to see in direct sunlight.
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.
Without the extras, I would say that the $250 Camileo H30 is an unremarkable budget camcorder, but a good value nonetheless. When you consider the mini-HDMI cable, power adapter and other packaged goodies, it becomes a great buy.
Competing devices may outperform the H30 in individual categories, but they don't offer the same mix of picture control, optical zoom and extras for this price. While it doesn't quite meet the standards of most entry-level HD camcorders, which typically cost twice as much, casual users will find a lot to like with the H30.