Samsung SC-D453 Review - Small, Lightweight, Cheap.

I don't know if women feel the same about new toys that guys do.  For example, when I get a new camera or other electronic device I just want to rip open the package and play with it, find out how it works, do cool stuff with it, then eventually read the manual and find anything I missed.  So when I got to play with the Samsung SC-D453 I was really excited.  We took it to Baja and planned on using it to supplement my photos with vide

o.

Now, three weeks after returning from Loreto Bay and several angry phone calls from my publisher, I've finally pulled out the camera and began this review.  Currently the camcorder is charging.  This is after I downloaded about 42 minutes of footage from our trip with the camera plugged in the entire time.  Just before I downloaded the video, I turned it on and found the included battery was completely drained.  After finishing the download, I unplugged the charger and the camera turned off.  This illustrates one of the largest problems with this camera.

Samsung SC-D453

The SC-D453 has a nice size, it fits nicely in a normal size palm and is light weight and easy to use.  However, the included 7.4V 800mAh Li-ion battery runs dry so fast it makes using the camera nearly impossible.  I received the camera on Friday, turned it on, tested the zoom, and noticed the battery warning light began flashing.  It was charged for a couple hours and I took it with me on our trip, shot a few minutes of footage and saw that warning light come on.  I charged it all night, shot some footage on Saturday, charged it all night Saturday and shot about a half hour of video on Sunday.  By Sunday afternoon when I began capturing video on our flight back, I was already seeing signs that the battery wasn't going to last long enough to do the entire capture.  Samsung, if you can't include a battery that can record an entire hour of video on your minidv (typically 60 minute tapes) cam or go three weeks without draining out completely then we've got a problem.  Also, if I plug the camera in while capturing video, I want to actually charge the battery not just run the camera.

Feature-wise, I look for five things in a camera:  Size, weight, image quality, ease of use, and battery life.  We've already gone over the later and touched on the first two.  Image quality is by far the most important factor in buying a camera.  For the record, I'm a big fan of the Canon XL2.  As a photographer, I lean towards the high-end because I know the quality is there.  With the SC-D453, we're on the small end and I can't possibly expect the image quality to be there.

With 900x zoom, there's one thing that sticks out and screams at the top of its lungs here.  There's no optical image stabilizer!  I'm sorry Samsung but there's not a person alive that can hold a video camera of this size and shape absolutely steady at 900x.  Unfortunately the urge was too great to not use the 900x zoom especially when we were whale watching or bird watching.  During play back, this footage is unwatchable and makes me almost sea sick which is shocking considering how calm the water was.  Fortunately at less extreme magnification the visible camera bob can be considered normal and non-nauseating.

Image quality is important in all cameras.  Even for $300, I expect decent image quality.  For this camera's $300s worth, you get decent quality video if you can keep the camera still enough.  I say this looking at my footage on an LCD monitor that costs more than the camera itself costs.  The colors are reasonably accurate considering it only has a single 1/6' CCD.  The auto exposure works reasonably well only blowing out the highlights in the bright white areas.  The sharpness of the video was lacking on my monitor but to be fair should look perfectly fine on a TV screen with far less resolution than my monitor.  Of course, you won't be using this camera to play back on your expensive HDTV.

Most people are going to use the 2.5" LCD screen over the tiny viewfinder.  Simply put, on a camera this small the 2.5" screen is generous and probably as big as you'll get.  The color viewfinder however is just as tiny as the camera and is absolutely useless especially when trying to read the menu items.  However, it is sharp and if you have good eyes you can actually read the menu text.  Just take two aspirin and call your eye doctor in the morning about the eye strain.  The LCD screen is good and gives an accurate display of what you're recording or playing back.  Also included for play back is a tiny speaker for the stereo PCM mic in the front of the camera or for an external mic plugged into the 1/4" jack. 

For those Sony fans out there, this camera can also use a memory stick.  I would have preferred the more common Secure Digital card but it's nice to see someone else buying into Sony's proprietary format.  Of course, the slot for the card is under the battery which makes using it more difficult than using a minidv tape which can be ejected without removing the battery or taking the camera off the tripod.

The stereo microphone is fairly good and actually Omni directional.  Be careful what you say because this camera will pick up voices behind it.  Waves and wind were easily picked up by the mic and actually played back quite loudly.  Upon further investigation into the menus, there is a wind noise suppressor that I didn't try.

The menu is easy to navigate.  Behind the zoom rocker and still-photo button is a smaller three-way rocker and menu select button.  The button brings you in and out of the menu.  The rocker allows you to move up and down the menu while pushing the rocker in allows you to select the item you have high-lighted.  The system is pretty straight forward with menu items on the left expanding to the right with items in each category and further to the right with choices for each item.

For electronic devices, as I mentioned above, I like to play with them first and then read the manual.  For me a device has to be intuitive.  If I have to read the manual to figure something out then the device is too complicated to use.  I only read the manual when I want to find out what features I've missed.  I didn't even get to the manual for this camera.  Most of the features were easy enough and intuitive enough to use that I just picked up the camera and went.  However, the 'Easy-Q' button remained unpressed during the entire time I used the camera.  I still don't know what it does exactly.  I think it activates some sort of digital image stabilizer and does some sort of scene setting.  I don't care.  If it doesn't say IS or tell me otherwise what it does, I'm not going to use it.

For me a camera that costs $300 had better be easy to use and give me exactly what I want without pressing a lot of buttons and having to drill down menus.  The buttons have to be labeled clearly and when I need to use a menu, it had better be painless.  Samsung got most of this right.  With the exception of the 'EasyQ' button the SC-D453 is a quick and dirty camera that's small enough to be easily portable and simple enough that all you have to do is turn it on, point, record, and zoom.  Play back is easy too.  The power switch has three settings:  Playback, Off, and Record.  Inside the camera are four main buttons:  Play, Stop, Rewind, and Fast Forward.  That's all I want and need.  Image quality is decent overall for outdoor shoots.  Indoors you start seeing problems with noise and color accuracy.  Sound is decent as well.

If you want a small and light weight minidv camera with basic features and a good digital zoom, this is camera deserves a look.  It's easy to use and cheap.  If you want something that will give you good video, you're going to have to pay more.  You'll only find decent video here.  As far as being a cool toy to play with:  that quality wore off after the first five minutes of use. 

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