Flash memory marches on! Samsung recently introduced a trio of high-def camcorders using advanced solid state drives (SSDs) rather than hard drives—or ancient media like tapes and shiny three-inch disks. SSDs read and write faster than HDDs, are lighter, use less power and have no moving parts making them just right for capturing video on the fly. Samsung sent us one with a 64GB drive—the HMX-H106—but the -H105 and -H104 are available with 32GB and 16GB storage, respectively at lower prices. The new AVCHD camcorders are fairly tricked out and it would be good to see if Samsung should be considered a key player in the HD Camcorder Game.
Features and Design
Compact size and lengthy recording times are the real pluses of SSD- and HDD-based camcorders—and the HMX-H106 has both of these traits in spades. It has attractive styling with primarily gray body that’s easily held in one hand. Measuring 2.32 inches wide, 2.4 tall and 5.06 deep, it weighs 14.2 ounces loaded with battery and optional SDHC card. The 64-gig drive holds a whopping 8.3 hours of Full HD Fine quality AVCHD video—more than for enough for handling multiple events and occasions.
The front of the HMX-H106 is dominated by the 10x Schneider Krueznach Varioplan HD lens which starts at a 37mm equivalent, a bit wider than the typical camcorder which is around 42mm. It’s not the true wide angle we appreciate so much in still photography but it’ll help for group shots and landscapes. You’ll also see a built-in lens cover, a flash, remote control sensor and recording light indicator. Flanking the lens barrel are the left/right portions of the stereo mic.
The right side has a comfortable swivel-mount Velcro adjustable hand strap. It can be locked into position for traditional straight ahead, eye-level shooting or you can move it to a variety of angles in conjunction with the adjustable LCD screen. In other words you can easily shoot overhead or hold the camcorder near the ground. It’s a welcome addition.
The top of the new Samsung has the wide/tele toggle switch and dedicated photo button nestled in an attractive metallic accent. In front of them is a notch that acts as a finger or thumb rest, depending on how you’re holding it. There is no hot shoe for an optional light, unfortunately.
On the left side is a swingout 2.7-inch 16:9 touchscreen LCD rated an O.K. 230K pixels. We say O.K. because although the screen handled direct sunlight well, it really didn’t have the pop and contrast we like. On the far left bezel is a Quick Menu button, a W/T zoom adjustment and the record button. We found the menus—Quick and otherwise–to be nicely designed and coupled with the touchscreen, drop-dead easy to use. There are a few logos here with SSD the biggest; we guess Samsung is proud of this breakthrough so we’ll cut them some slack.
The controls opposite the screen on the body are the usual: power, display to eliminate icon clutter on the screen, OIS (on/off), flash adjustment and Easy Q which is Samsung’s version of no-brainer shooting like Sony’s Easy Handycam option. A tiny speaker is here as well.
The rear has the record and mode buttons and a compartment for various inputs/outputs including DC-in, USB, A/V and mini HDMI. The bottom of the Made In China HMX-H106 has a compartment for the battery and optional SDHC card.
What’s In The Box
The camcorder comes with the basics. You get the body, battery, AC adaptor, Quick Start Guide, remote, USB and component cables. The bundled CD-ROM only has the full 147-page manual as a PDF. There is no software because it’s built into the camcorder like a Flip. Samsung calls it intelli-studio and it’ll handle basic edit chores. After handling the chores of charging the battery and loading a card, it was time to started recording videos and taking snapshots.
Performance and Use
The Samsung HMX-H106 has a 2.2-megapixel CMOS sensor so it records 1920 x 1080I video at a maximum bit rate of 16 Mbps, not the best AVCHD compression option available (24) as delivered by Canon, JVC and Panasonic. Samsung, like Sony, does some digital hocus-pocus claiming the 2.2MP chip takes 4.7-megapixel 2880 x 1620 stills when in reality it’s a native 2.1MP. They’re not fibbing just using interpolation to get the bigger number since marketing types always like things BIG. We used both options for stills but kept the camcorder at maximum video quality in all modes.
Before getting into the results lets just state the Solid State Drive really sped up the video operations of this camcorder. It popped to life quickly, immediately responded to start/stop controls and the unit barely got warm even during extended use (something not the case with any HDD).
We started shooting in Easy Q, then iScene (Samsung’s version of intelligent auto), tried appropriate scene modes then moved to manual which offered a surprisingly good selection of f/stops and shutter speeds along with white balance variations and so on.
Since it was a holiday weekend in small-town America we had the chance to record a vintage baseball game (circa 1893), clog dancers, a horse drawn carriage and other “quaint” subjects including smiling faces and expansive landscapes. Once done we viewed the material on a 50-inch HDTV, examined stills closely on a monitor and made a number of letter-sized prints.
Overall the video—given enough light—was quite good. Black pants of the old baseball uniforms were nice and inky, skin tones were accurate as were red church doors, cloggers’ costumes and overflowing flower pots. You’d be happy with the results. That said we could see a bit more noise in a cloudy sky compared to AVCHD cams using 24 Mbps compression instead of the 16 here. The iScene handled the exposure and focusing required for quick pans around the baseball diamond including close-ups. Where this camcorder disappointed was indoors shooting with available light as there was noise galore. To be honest, we’ve found this to be the case with almost all 2.2MP CMOS sensors. Another negative was the OIS which did a fairly good job removing the shakes from handheld videos but Canon and Sony do a better job.
As for the stills what can we say? They were decent but with minimal focus points, this is no Canon HF S10. Colors were fairly accurate but don’t expect major enlargements with these files. Surprisingly, the camcorder saved images fairly slowly, with the iris graphically closing down onscreen.
Samsung is to be congratulated for introducing the first SSD-based camcorders. They’re another nail in the coffin for tape and disk-based home video makers as flash memory and HDDs rule. You’ll pay the price being the first kid on your block with this toy but it’s just a matter of time before prices drop to more acceptable levels. By way of comparison a 2MP CMOS Sony HDR-XR200V with 120GB HDD is $999. The HMX-H106 does a good job capturing videos when there’s enough light with few focusing and exposure issues. Indoors with low light expect to swim in a sea of digital noise. And the snapshots are just O.K. Still with introduction of three SSD-based camcorders, Samsung is officially a player in the HD camcorder sweepstakes.
- Ample onboard storage (64GB)
- One of the first SSD HD camcorders
- Quality HD video with enough light
- Easy to use, nicely done menus
- Comfortable, adjustable strap
- Higher bit rate, please
- Noise in low light
- Stills are passable, no more
- LCD should be better
- No hot shoe