Panasonic's "hybrid" camcorder offers a choice of video recording to either internal hard disk or high-capacity SD card media and, on first impressions at least, shares an outward appearance with several models in the JVC Everio G range of HDD camcorders.
It's aimed at the home movie maker looking for a no-nonsense, easy-to-use camcorder that offers truly tape-less recording and playback together with all the necessary functions and features necessary to record great-looking widescreen video - and still get a lot of change from £500.
The camcorder's compact design makes it a really comfortable and handy unit to use, and its size makes it easy to tuck into a pocket or small bag when not in use. Its non-removable 30GB HDD occupies the part of the camcorder where the tape would be accommodated on a DV camcorder and this contributes to an equivalent body mass overall.
A collection of controls sits at the back - among them an independent on/off button, main function dial (providing Record and Play options for Movie and Photo shoot modes respectively), a Menu button (for selecting Record and Play functions) and a mini-joystick positioned in the centre of the main function dial, which is used to navigate the menus and make selections.
The H250 employs three 1/6th inch CCDs each of which produces an effective 540,000 pixels. The 10x optical zoom lens also features Panasonic's superb Mega OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) that works to smooth out hand-held shots most impressively when fully zoomed-in to a distant object.
We like the shutter-style lens cap, which opens and closes by turning what you might think is a focus ring - very useful in protecting the lens when putting it your pocket - even though you're denied a manual focus ring, of course.
The Menu button provides the entry point (in all camera modes) to the choice of functions. Like retrieving digital stills images in a camera, we can review movie clips and stills by using the mini-thumbwheel to navigate our way around the pages of thumbnail representations on the 2.7in LCD and select one (or more) to view and play. It's also a relatively easy job to create a Playlist of clips that can be recalled when you want to show only a selection of clips on a TV screen or even burn to DVD.
In addition to having a button - positioned inside the opened LCD screen recess - with which to increase the brightness of the LCD screen in three steps, Panasonic has included a simple DVD Copy button.
When the camcorder is connected to a Windows or Vista PC via USB 2.0 cable (supplied), and where the bundled Image Mixer software CD is installed, it's possible to make a quick, no-nonsense, DVD backup copy of your clips as stored on either HDD or SD card. Just click the button and off you go. This is a nice little add-on that saves the user's precious time.
Even when shooting in fully Auto mode, it performs well. The 30GB HDD provides ample capacity for several 'family days out' movies, and the convenience of SDHC card shooting made it all the more flexible.
Shooting in full Auto mode does create some problems when shooting against sheet-white skies, but careful use of the manual controls will eliminate such fundamental errors; colour and resolution when shooting in both 4:3 and 16:9 widescreen modes is very good indeed - widescreen movie playback looks great when you've been careful during shooting.
As with many so-called "handycam" sized cameras, audio does suffer when it's a bit windy, but in optimum conditions it's very good -spacially, the stereo is well-defined and audio definition is good.
The choice of recording media makes life on the road really easy, and with the plummeting cost of high capacity SDHC cards it's probably fair to say that recording to DV tape or DVD disc is actually more expensive.
Given that the knurled ring around the lens barrel is there to open and close the shutter, it would be nice to think that Panasonic would have replaced this with an Auto lens cap and given us a manual focus ring instead, but all in all this is a great camcorder at its price, and we can't see many users having much cause to complain about anything at all.