With the list of camcorder formats seemingly endless – Video 8, Digital 8, MiniDV, SD, to name just a few – you’d have thought we’d had enough of them, but no. There is one more we’ve been holding out for. It's the promised land of hi-def movie making: full blown Blu-ray. So far it’s eluded us, but not anymore – Hitachi has stepped forward with the DZ-BD7H.
This isn’t only the world's first Blu-Ray camcorder, but also the world's first with a hard drive attached. No more are we confined to the capacity of a standalone hard disk or those paltry AVCHD chewing MiniDVDs with barely enough capacity for 20 minutes of hi-def stag night calamity. No, from now on, if the internal drive fills up, we can just switch to dinky 8cm BD discs for never ending hi-def fun in satisfying one-hour chunks.
This is undoubtedly the future. AVCHD was only ever meant to be a stop-gap to squeeze hi-def onto now old-school formats while the tech monkeys got down to making camcorders with Blu-Ray or HD DVD on board. Hitachi's the first, but others will follow.
Two heads better than one?
With both a hard drive and BD-burner on board, the snappily titled DZ-BD7HA could have turned out a hybrid monster. Luckily, Hitachi's had some practice at blending with its DVD cams and the result is an eye pleasing, if plastic looking, shooter.
It's a fair size bigger and heavier than we're used to when compared to its minuscule AVCHD competitors (think JVC GZ-HD7 rather than Panasonic SD5) but it'll pass. We're not sure about the 747-esque hump up top that hides the BD7H's hot shoe but we're pleased to have somewhere to strap our video lights and external mics all the same – even if, oddly, there's no headphone jack.
The rest of the spec list is a now standard 10x optical zoom, 1920x1080i 'Full HD' output, distinctly average 5MP stills ability and a respectable, if not dazzling, 2.7in LCD. The modest 30GB hard drive is good for a family-holiday-friendly four hours at top quality.
Blair Witch horror show
So safari, so goody but here's where we start to fall out of love with the Hitachi. It's not that it isn't easy to operate or that it's badly made – it's point and shoot all the way and there were no tell tale creaks on our model – but it's just that, for a grand's worth of camcorder and a spangly new recording format, the results are, well, pants.
Outside in good light, and standing still, all is well. Add in some camera movement and the electronic image stabilisation makes straight lines appear wavy and the slightest judder akin to a Blair Witch shake fest. We've seen the effect on £70 web cams but here Hitachi really should be going for optical stabilisation.
Complete lack of focus
Focussing times are abysmal, just terrible. It can take forever to find a lock. Nearly all the shots we took start off with a bleary eyed, can-you-guess-what-it-is-yet moment while the camera finds its feet. Colour isn't much better with the auto white balance often taking a while to adjust, leaving a colour cast over the first few seconds.
In low light the quality just falls off a cliff. Colour becomes completely washed out and the focussing times become even worse. In short, this is a camera that really, really doesn't like the dark. At all. Not one bit.
Because Hitachi's used a non-standard format, the only editing software you can use for now is the one that comes with it. It's fine for the basics but no more. In fact we wouldn't bother with it at all. It's no more sophisticated than the on-board editing and, for some utterly bizarre reason, if you take your footage off the camera, Hitachi won't let you save the edited work back again – so much for burning your edited masterpiece to Blu-Ray then.
Are there any redeeming features? Not really. Let's just hope the next crop of Blu-ray cams are better.