It is generally true that you can take better pictures with a powerful DSLR than you can with a point and shoot, but the quality coming out of higher end cameraphones is certainly getting pretty impressive too. However, you probably don't want to take your iPhone with you on your surfing lesson and it would be terrible if you dropped your Canon into the resort swimming pool.
And that's where something like the Samsung HMX-W300 comes into focus. Dubbed "the perfect vacation camcorder," this is a pocket-sized shooter that will be able to survive even your roughest adventures, capturing them all clear as day without skipping a beat. Let's see how it really performs.
Specs and Features at a Glance
Even though it's priced quite affordably at around $150 or so, the HMX-W300 actually comes with some pretty decent specs. The BSI CMOS sensor is able to shoot at up to full 1080p (30fps) resolution and take five-megapixel stills. The bright f/2.2 lens means that you should be able to still capture the moment under low light conditions too. There is no optical zoom, which is understandable given the format, but you do have 3x digital zoom.
It recharges via the pop-out USB connector, which is located beneath a latch next to the tripod mount. Along the side of the camera, you'll find another latch that reveals the mini-HDMI connector and the microSD card slot. You see, the W300 does not have any internal storage of its own, so you will need to provide your own memory. My 8GB card was able to record about two hours of 720p or one hour of 1080p.
Not Just One Kind of Proof
This is easily the biggest advantage that this particular device has over other pocket camcorders. The Samsung HMX-W300 is billed as being "multi-proof." While you can't go scuba diving with something like this, you can fully submerge the camcorder in up to three meters of water. That's deep enough for your average surfing or snorkeling trip, for example. At the very least, it provides you with much added peace of mind at the beach or poolside.
In addition to surviving the wet stuff, this camera also repels dust and sand with its dustproof feature and it is shockproof too. It's clear that Samsung is targeting this device at the more adventurous types, as it becomes a good companion for hiking, biking, and other action sports. It's also much cheaper than something like a GoPro, but it's not quite as compact. At the same time, you do get a fair deal more options and customization than a GoPro.
Menus and Interface
Swinging around to the back, we find a 2.3-inch QVGA TFT LCD. Below that are all of the controls, which are actually a fair bit more complicated than something like the basic Flip MinoHD. There is a five-way navigator in the middle, with the central button being used to start and stop your recording. This is flanked by six additional buttons for accessing the menu, switching between photo and video mode, activating playback mode and so on.
It's not really any more complex than your standard point-and-shoot, but you may want to take some time to familiarize yourself with the controls. The menu system is easy enough to navigate and it's roughly the same as what we've seen on other Samsung camcorders. The main menu categories are in a row and then you move up and down to navigate through the various items.
Here, you'll be able to adjust the video quality, change the white balance settings, or try some of the different "Smart Filter" effects, like vignetting, fish-eye, classic, negative and western. Several of these filters cannot be used in tandem with HD video though, unfortunately, so you'll have to choose between having a higher-res or applying a creative effect.
General Video Performance
Have a look at my sample video compilation to get a better idea of what you can expect with the W300. I left all the settings on automatic and let the camcorder to the work. You can see how it handles image stabilization, for instance, along some of the bumpier moments in the video. What I did find was the video could turn hazy in harsh sunlight, but low light performance was admirable. The automatic white balance had some issues at times too, producing some strange color aberrations.
All this said, you have to realize that it is only a $150 device and it's been ruggedized to survive some pretty rough treatment. It's at least as good as a GoPro, albeit with not as wide of a lens.
The Underwater Test
To see how well the W300 stood up against water, I put it through a brief torture test. I dunked it in some water and continued to record the whole thing.
In the first part of the video, I submerged the camcorder in a glass pitcher filled with water and let it shoot the outside surroundings. The video quality obviously suffered by having to shoot through some reasonably thick glass, but you can very clearly hear how the sound changes as soon as the W300 is submerged. It continued to work quite well, but the mic was definitely picking up on its own echo.
In the second part of the video, I submerged the camcorder in a larger, opaque bucket of water. The video quality was quite impressive for the circumstances, becoming very clear as soon as the lens was fully submerged. It looked as if it zoomed in ever so slightly when it hit the water, but that could just be my perspective. It's important to note that for both segments, I set the camera on "aqua mode" and ensured both the USB and microSD flaps were fully closed and locked. That's important!
MEGATechie Tough Cookie or MEGATechie Wet Wuss?
Not everyone has a need a fully rugged tablet or a rugged laptop, but having a rough and tumble sports camcorder can be very handy when you're traveling and engaging in all sorts of adventures. No, the video and picture quality from the W300 isn't going to rival the perfect shots you get with your micro four-thirds camera or DSLR, but it's able to get that shot underwater and under far from ideal conditions.
The waterproof feature works very well and having the option for expandable memory will certainly help in a pinch. The bright f/2.2 lens is admirable under lower light conditions, but the lack of a light or flash may prove a little troublesome. At the end of the day, considering that this is only about $150 or so, it's a much better investment than spending $300 or more on a conventional waterproof point-and-shoot. This gets the job done and you don't have to worry about it getting hurt.