I was hoping the Hitachi DZ-HS550A Hybrid was the ultimate “all in one” still-DVD-hard drive camera. 30GB hard drive, 30x optical zoom and 1500 digital zoom. WOW!! Out of the box it looked great. Immediately it fits perfectly in your hand, with the DVD drive serving as an excellent grip.
This camera is easy to shoot in both the HDD and DVD formats. I was recording immediately upon inserting the newly charged battery. Swapping between recording modes is as simple as turning a dial and waiting anywhere from 5-15 seconds, depending on whether or not the function has been used since turning on the cam. The 2.7" screen is bright, sharp and colorful, with the option to turn all white and serve as a light in dark shooting environments. The screen although bright was difficult to see in daylight. But it’s always easy to just look thru the viewfinder.
Is the DVD/HDD/SD an advantage? Aside from all other points, the main premise of the Hybrid is that one can shoot multiple formats and transfer between them with ease. This was not my experience. I was able to record but dubbing was power intensive and unless you had the ac adapter, the battery life was too short to transfer 30 minutes to DVD. Still shooting is fine as long as you remember your SD card. You also can't back up video to the SD card from either the hard drive or the DVD.
While the 16:9 ratio makes for footage that's happy on my TV, the video is adequate at best. For the most part, colors appeared washed out, with springtime purples muddied to make us crave winter. The best moment was from one of our vibrant yellow tulips, but even within acceptable exposure levels, texture detail from the pedals was lost almost completely. Following my daughter around in available light condition was over dark or over bright. The camera did react, but slowly. Maybe I was just expecting too much. Because of time and lack of skill I never shot in HD format. I also found 11 minutes to be too short a recording time for the DVD.
Sound Quality: Audio playback was surprisingly clear at mid to high ranges. Low ranges, such as background traffic, were emphasized a bit too much. Camcorders never have great mics and the Hybrid's could be a lot worse, so this one should suit most users.
I’m no tech wiz kid but I found the software is all but unusable for the Mac. On my PC I was able to navigate with a 43 minute call to tech support. I still found the software challenging. Tech support was very user friendly, patient and easy to follow.
Despite its limitations of sharing footage between recording methods, the Hitachi Hybrid is a decent solution for those looking to make in-camera DVD dubs. Plus, one can edit their clips, group together play lists and even add some limited transitions without ever leaving the comfort of a their LCD. Either bring the power cord or use the aftermarket long life batteries for about an hour of use each.
My search for the holy grail of video cameras still goes on.
I give this one a “swing and a miss” for Hitachi, sorry.