Samsung HMX-H300 Review
A mid-range HD camcorder with a 30x optical zoom and a cheap price tag
The Samsung HMX-H300 is a mid-range HD camcorder with a 30x optical zoom and a cheap price tag ($399 MSRP). It doesn’t have a ton of features, and its video performance in low light was mediocre at best, but its compact design and budget-friendly price make it a camcorder worth investigating.
Design & Usability
This compact, simple design should appeal to beginners.
Samsung didn’t alter the design too much on the HMX-H300 as compared to last year’s HMX-H200. The camcorder still has a fairly traditional, horizontal design, although Samsung did implement a few adjustments to make its figure more streamlined. This was primarily done by smoothing out the back side of the camcorder so the battery pack fits flush with the back edge of the camcorder’s body. Samsung also increased the LCD by 0.3-inches (up to 3-inches), but this increase was done without making the H300 bulkier or less comfortable to hold. In fact, the larger LCD makes the touchscreen interface a bit easier to use.
The Samsung HMX-H300 is compact, even when compared to other mid-range HD camcorders in its price range. It weighs a little over 1/2 a pound (280g) with its provided battery pack, which is a good deal less than both the Panasonic HDC-TM90 and the Canon HF M40.
The Samsung HMX-H300 comes with a rechargeable battery pack that fits into the back of the camcorder. In our test, in which we let the camcorder record continuously without altering any controls, the H300’s provided battery pack lasted for 177 minutes (that’s just under 3 hours). This is an excellent battery life performance for a mid-range camcorder.
The camcorder uses the MPEG-4 codec and the H.264 compression format to record video. This is a similar system to the AVCHD compression used by most other consumer camcorder manufacturers, but the format used on the Samsung is not officially AVCHD compliant. The Samsung HMX-H300 is a Full HD camcorder, which means it has the ability to record a 1920×1080 video image.
There’s no internal memory on the HMX-H300, so you must purchase an SD-type memory card to fit into the camcorder’s card slot before you can start recording videos or taking pictures with the camcorder. The card slot works with SD or SDHC memory cards, but Samsung does not list SDXC compatibility as a feature of the HMX-H300.
Auto mode makes this mid-range camcorder very easy to use.
A nearly universal feature on today’s consumer camcorders is the presence of a dedicated auto mode. On the Samsung HMX-H300, this mode is called Smart Auto, and it is activated by pressing a button inside the LCD cavity. Smart Auto is one of the most conservative auto modes we’ve seen, as it completely locks you out of accessing the H300’s menu system. Other camcorders will offer simplified menus in dedicated auto modes, but there are some that also take the complete lock-out route that Samsung uses on the H300. With Smart Auto engaged, the camcorder also turns on its optical image stabilization and sets all controls to auto—with no way for you to change anything (unless you turn Smart Auto off).
We like the simplicity of the Samsung HMX-H300’s dedicated auto mode (Smart Auto), and using the camcorder in this manner is a pleasurable experience. Things definitely get more challenging when you dig deeper into the H300’s menu system and try to use some of the manual controls. While the camcorder does offer manual adjustment of focus, shutter speed, aperture, and exposure, it is clear that these controls weren’t Samsung’s focus. Adjusting said controls is not a streamlined experience, and the available options for adjustments are minimal.
Automatic controls can be used on the HMX-H300 outside of the Smart Auto mode, or you can set the camcorder to Smart Auto if you want to ensure everything is being controlled manually. In the menu system, you can select controls to be set manually on an individual basis. This means, for example, you can use manual focus, but leave everything else to automatic control if you want.
The Samsung HMX-H300 comes with Intelli-Studio software loaded on the camcorder itself. When we say the software is “on the camcorder” this doesn’t mean you can use it without the aid of a computer. What it means is that you install the software by connecting the camcorder to a compatible computer (PCs only) instead of inserting a software installation disc. The Intelli-Studio software is the same software that came with the Samsung HMX-H200 last year.
The lens on the HMX-H300 has a long, 30x optical zoom, which is one of the longer zooms we’ve seen on a mid-range HD model. The lens has no automatic cover, however, so you must remember to flick the small lens cover switch on the side of the camcorder to keep the precious lens protected when it isn’t in use. The camcorder has a 1/4.1-inch sensor, which is the same size CMOS used on most mid-range HD camcorders (the Panasonic HDC-TM90 and Samsung HMX-H300 included). One mid-range model that does not use a 1/4-inch sensor is the Canon HF M40, which uses a larger, 1/3-inch sensor instead (but a smaller concentration of pixels).
There’s no separate photo mode on the HMX-H300, but we actually like that setup. If you want to take photos or adjust photo settings you don’t have to switch to a different mode—it can all be performed in the dual video/photo mode (the camcorder’s regular shooting mode).
Time lapse recording is a great way to capture minute movement—like a sunrise or a flower in bloom—in a fast-paced sequence. You set an interval in which the camcorder will record one frame of video over a long period of time. Interval options include every 1/2 second, 1 second, 3 seconds, or 5 seconds.
Low light noise was a big problem for the camcorder, and it brought the H300’s entire low light performance down.
The Samsung HMX-H300 had trouble producing accurate colors in our bright light test, and the test images we captured looked dull and muted. To top it all off, the H300 has no color modes or picture adjustment options that let you tool with the colors recorded by the camcorder. This means the colors you see in auto mode are the colors you’re going to be saddled with in all record modes. Of course, colors will change depending on the kind of lighting you use, and the type of white balance system you employ. We do all of our testing with a manual white balance in an effort to obtain the best color accuracy possible with the camcorder.
Since the Samsung HMX-H300 has a fairly wide angle of view for recording video, we tested its low light sensitivity both with and without using zoom. It performed decently, but the HMX-H300 needed nearly twice as much light to record an image with the same brightness when we zoomed in a bit. Let’s be clear: these scores aren’t great, but they do represent a huge increase over last year’s HMX-H200.
Overall, we didn’t mind the way the Samsung HMX-H300 captured moving subjects. There were some problems with sharpness and clarity, but motion consistently looked smooth. Artifacting was more prominent than what we saw from the competition, but the amount was still very low. There was some discoloration and blur in both of the rotating pinwheels in our motion test as well, but, again, the presence of these traits wasn’t all that distracting.
The Samsung HMX-H300 did not capture video with the same level of sharpness as the competition from Panasonic and Canon. It performed okay for a mid-range HD camcorder, but they not in the upper echelon of camcorders. The most disappointing revelation from this sharpness test is the fact that the HMX-H300 did worse than its predecessor, the HMX-H200.
The Samsung HMX-H300 is not one of the best HD camcorders we’ve reviewed, budget-friendly or not.
While Panasonic and Canon made strides in improving mid-range HD camcorder lines, Samsung stayed put, as exemplified by the HMX-H300’s eerie similarity to last year’s HMX-H200 in both performance and design. This isn’t to say the H300 is an awful camcorder—it’s still a decent option, particularly when you consider its low price tag. We just think there are better camcorders, like the Panasonic HDC-TM90 and the Canon HF M40, that offer much better performance and features for just a couple hundred bucks more.
What disappointed us most about the HMX-H300—in terms of performance, that is—was the fact that Samsung failed to improve the video quality on the camcorder as compared to its predecessor (the HMX-H200). In fact, the H300’s video in low light looked even worse than what the H200 showed us at times. We did like the design improvements Samsung made, however, which include a larger LCD, tighter design, and a better hand strap, but those changes are clearly overshadowed by the camcorder’s poor video image quality.
We like the HMX-H300 as a budget camcorder, but you have to keep in mind the model has no internal memory. This means you must add the cost of a memory card on top of the cost for the camcorder before you can start recording. Both the Panasonic HDC-TM90 and Canon HF M40 have 16GB of internal memory, which we think is worth around $50 for the convenience. Taking this into account makes the H300 less of a bargain, and the fact that we’ve seen TM90s popping up for sale on Amazon and B&H for under $450 makes it all that much more enticing.
If you can afford the extra cash, going with the Canon HF M40 or Panasonic HDC-TM90 will give you a huge upgrade over the Samsung HMX-H300 (we really can’t say this enough). And if you’re looking at the HMX-H300 because your on a budget, we may recommend trying to find a cheap Samsung HMX-H200 instead. After all, it was just as good (if not better) than the HMX-H300 in our video performance testing.
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