Samsung HMX-Q10 review

The Samsung HMX-Q10 made headlines when it was unveiled at CES back in January 2011, largely thanks to its flexible design that makes it easy for left-handed moviemakers to use. Samsung's SwitchGrip means that the camcorder is ambidextrous so it can either be used in the conventional way for right-handed users, or turned upside down for lefties. The screen automatically detects the change and adjusts accordingly. Sounds great in theory, but how well does it work in practice? We put the HMX-Q10 through its paces to find out.

Design

Measuring in at a svelte 119.4 x 53.3 x 43.7mm, the Q10 is a very neat little package and weighs just 214.55g so it's light enough to carry around all day without straining the seams of your bag. The no-frills design features an almost cylindrical body with a semi-matte black finish and dark grey detailing at the lens end completing the look.

The main selling point here is the SwitchGrip function which is designed to keep left-handed users happy. As the chassis design is pretty much symmetrical, turning the camcorder upside down offers the same usability, with the only practical difference being that the icon on the Home button is upside down. The screen itself detects when the unit has been turned over and automatically adjusts so that the display is the right way up. It takes a few seconds to adjust, but it'll not have you waiting for long.

Even if you're not left-handed, the flexibility to use the camera the other way round might enable you to get the best vantage point in a tricky shooting situation. If you prefer, the SwitchGrip function can be turned off completely. While the symmetrical design is good for flexibility, it means that the ergonomics aren't quite as good as on some conventional camcorders, so the weighting feels slightly awkward in the hand.

Likewise, the adjustable strap has been made so that it can sit completely flush against the camera body. This is great in terms of making the unit more compact, but it also means that there's no extra padding on the strap so it's not quite as comfortable to use as we would've hoped.

Connections comprise a Mini-USB port, HDMI and an AV jack, all of which are located on the camera body, and are revealed only once the screen has been flipped out. USB and AV and Composite cables are supplied in the box, but you'll have to provide the HDMI cable yourself. There's also a covered port for attaching a power adaptor, just above the record button, while the battery and SD card fit into a slot on the underside, along with a standard tripod mount.

Controls

When it comes to operation - Samsung has kept things as simple as possible and done away with any tricky dials or buttons. The only physical controls are located round the back, where a large record button and a zoom dial sit where your thumb naturally rests. The record button is logically placed for thumb control, but we found the zoom to be very awkward to use without moving the camcorder and jogging the shot, so we ended up having to use our free hand to control it - which is obviously not ideal. We would have preferred it to be located on top of the unit to make it easier to use smoothly, but the fact that you can use the Q10 the other way up makes this impossible. There's also a Home button located next to the screen, making it easy to swiftly pull up the home screen on the display.

While the lens covers on most camcorders tend to open automatically when the unit is powered up, the one on the Q10 is controlled manually using a small switch on the camcorder body. This means that technically you can record with the lens cover still shut, but a reminder message does appear on the screen when you turn the unit on and the fact that the screen will be black should alert you to the fact that you haven't opened it.

Flipping the the 2.7-inch LCD touchscreen out turns the camcorder on and closing it again turns the unit off. Alternatively, you can turn the Q10 off by holding the Home button down. The screen can tilt 90 degrees backwards and 180 forwards so that it's easy to capture yourself in your videos or to get a better vantage point when holding the camcorder up in the air or low towards the ground. When turned round 180 degress, the screen can be folded back into the body with the display facing outwards, ideal for comfortably watching your videos back.

You can manually adjust the brightness of the LCD display and also add guidelines to help with composition, if you choose. The screen itself is bright and clear - it struggles a little in very bright sunshine, but the adjustable brightness helps to improve visibility.

Shooting features

The colourful icon-based Home screen makes things very simple - you can access the following by tapping the relvant pictures - Smart Auto, Manual, Art Film, Album and Settings. Navigating round the on-screen menus was extremely intuitive, with the system clearly being designed for ease of use. The "drag & scroll" functionality means that using the touchscreen is similar to the experience that you get on a smartphone. Although perhaps not as instant as some of the top-tier phones, we found that it was zippy and responsive and we didn't have any trouble with making our selections.

The Q10 fetaures Samsung's Smart Auto feature which automatically adopts the most suitable shooting mode for video and stills. There are 10 pre-set modes to cater for different shooting conditions like low lighting, sunsets and portraits.

If you prefer to take the driving seat yourself rather relying on the Smart Auto, you can switch to the Easy Manual setting. This will let you adjust white balance, exposure, backlighting, focus and variable lighting modes for nighttime shooting. A feature that seems to be growing in popularity on the latest camcorders is the ability to add creative touches to your videos. The Art Film feature offers a range of effects including one that enables you to add a professional touch by fading in to your video from a black screen and fading out again at the end. This function is automatically turned off after you've used it once, so you'll need to keep resetting it if you want all of your videos to look the same.

You can also make use of the time lapse feature, choosing from time intervals of 0.5, 1, 3 and 5 seconds, but note that you'll only be able to record at 720/50p. For some arty effects, there's a selection of digital filters on offer including black and white, sepia and negative. You'll also get Ghost mode, which adds ghosting to moving images as well as the high-colour saturation Dazzle mode, Western mode - for a faded, vintage look and the high-contrast Noir mode. These filters (except for the Ghost mode) can also be applied when shooting photos. Using the Record Pause means that you can briefly pause your recording before diving right back in, without creating a new file. This makes things a lot easier when it comes to transferring and editing.

There are three video resolutions on offer - high-def 1080/50i, 720/50p and standard-def 576/50p. Tapping the camera icon on the screen will switch to photo mode so that you can take snaps using the big red record button. There are two photo resolutions to choose from - 4.9 megapixels (2944 x 1656 pixels) and 2 megapixels (1920 x 1080 pixels). When you take a picture, a graphic of a manual shutter pops up, like the iPhone camera, which is a nice touch as it's not always entirely clear on some camcorders whether you've actaully taken a snap or not. As you have to switch from video to photo mode to take pictures, and there's only one capture button, you won't be able to take photos at the same time that you're recording. 

Internals

The Q10 sports a 1.4-inch 5-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor, along with an F/1.8 Schneider Kreuznach HD lens. There's a 10x optical zoom along with a 20x digitial zoom for getting up close and personal with your subject. The built-in OIS Duo is present to smooth out your videos and reduce the effect of shaky hands so that you should end up with a nice smooth image. 

There is no built-in memory, so you'll have to invest in a memory card as there isn't one supplied. The Q10 will take SD or SDHC cards up to 32GB giving you plenty of room to store your footage - you should be able to get around 250 minutes of full HD video on a 32GB card.

The Q10 uses a rechargable Lithium-ion battery, which offers 100 minutes of running time. There's also an auto power off function that will switch camcorder off after 5 minutes to conserve juice, but you have the option to turn this off if you choose. To charge, you can either hook up the camcorder to the mains with the supplied power adaptor or plug into your laptop with the USB cable. The battery takes about 4 hours to charge fully.

Performance

While the video quality wasn't quite up to same standard as slightly more expensive camcorders such as the Panasonic HDC-SD90, it's still good for a camcorder that can be yours for around £200. Edges were generally sharp and clear although definition did suffer slightly in lower light where a little noise tended to creep into the picture, particularly when filming fast moving objects. Colours were vibrant and punchy with skintones looking reasonably realistic. It's not the best HD performance we've seen on a camcorder, but it's perfectly acceptable for this price range.

There is a built-in microphone, but no option for attaching an external mic, which would have been a nice addition. The on-board speaker is very basic and sounds a little tinny, but it does the job for a quick review of your footage. When played back on a good set of speakers, sound quality is decent enough- there is a fair bit of hiss in the background, but not much more so than other camcorders that rely on built-in mics.

We found that there was a relatively long delay between pressing the capture button and each photo being taken so that sometimes we had accidentally moved the position of the camcorder slightly before the image was captured. Obviously taking stills isn't the primary function of the camcorder, but
the time lag isn't ideal. The photos themselves are pretty good and packed with punchy colours although edges can be a tiny bit soft, particularly in lower lighting conditions. The digital effects modes work well and make a nice addition to the still image capture capability.

The Q10 also includes PictBridge capability for connecting the camcorder directly to a compatible printer, without the need to include a computer in the equation. Attaching the camcorder to a computer via USB will give you the option of installing Samsung's Intelli-Studio for organising and editing your photos and video.

Verdict

If you're left-handed or you want the option to use your camcorder effectively in either hand then the HMX-Q10 is a good choice. However, this flexibility comes at a price - namely comfort. The symmetrical design means the Samsung's southpaw-friendly camcorder isn't quite as comfortable to use as some conventional models and the zoom control is very awkward. We would have preferred this to be located on top of the unit, but then of course this wouldn't work when switched round for left-handed use. It would also have been nice to include the option to attach an external mic.

Despite some niggles with comfort and operability, the HMX-Q10 does have lots of plus points, including its decent HD video quality, the art filters and the fact that it's very easy to set-up and use, along with the flexibility of the SwitchGrip.