The DZ-BD7 is the most revolutionary consumer HDcam to date, being the first to support 8cm Blu-ray discs. And if that wasn't enough, it also boasts a 30GB HDD; record initially to this, and then dub the desired footage to BD-R (recordable) or BD-RE (rewritable) media - these discs should be compatible with Blu-ray players.
The BD7 also has a standard-def MPEG2 mode, for recording onto DVD media, and a SD card slot for still photography. The 5-megapixel image sensor allows not only full-res (1920x1080i) high-def video, but also still 4:3 images with a (fixed) resolution of 2400x1800.
Big features mean a big cam; the BD7 is both larger and, at 600g, heavier than most DVD-only models. When using the hand-strap the zoom-lever, record-trigger and photo 'shutter' are all comfortably-accessible. Around the bodywork, you'll find various connectors including USB 2.0 (for PC-based editing), standard-definition video and a HDMI port for HD-Ready TVs.
Range of features
The lens itself has a 10x optical zoom, electronic image-stabiliser and a stills-flash. There's also an accessory shoe, but it's 'cold'. Setting up the cam involves jogging through menus on the 2.7in. flip-out LCD screen with a joystick device. Far from HD in resolution terms the screen may be, but it's nevertheless superior to the viewfinder. Controls on the rear switch between video and still mode - the on/off lever also switches between HDD and DVD/BD modes.
Full-auto operation makes basic operation a doddle - also included are four program-AE modes preset: Portraiture, Low-light, Spotlight and Sand/snow. The autofocus is alas not infallible, and has a tendency to 'hunt'. Those who want to do more than point-and-shoot will appreciate the manual controls. White balance, exposure and focus override are all permitted, while BLC can be turned on or off.
The controls could have been better thought-out. Because their operation involves the joystick, they can only be operated when the LCD panel is open.
Our main gripe, though, is that you cannot capture standard-definition to the HDD (although 'direct' DVD-recording is possible). Instead, you have to 'downconvert' when dubbing to DVDs. This wastes time. Another disadvantage is the potential quality resulting from recompression. The lack of HDD standard-def recording is ironic, because it would be far more economical than high-def when disk space is running low and no removable media is available.
One-touch dubbing makes it easy to copy one or more clips from HDD to removable media. Playlist-editing means that you can sequence clips stored on the HDD in any order and transfer the result.
And the much-vaunted compatibility with Blu-ray players? We tried playing BD7-recorded BD-RE and BD-R discs on a Samsung BD-P1000, but both were rejected immediately.
For its part, Hitachi claims that, at the very least, such discs will play on a PS3 console. We were thus forced to assess the BD7HE's performance via the HDMI output on a Sony LCD TV. Recording quality surpassed expectations, especially in the top recording mode. With daylight shooting, artefacting is kept to a minimum. Colours are pleasingly rendered. too.
Fine detail can, however, be 'masked' by movement. In addition, shadow-detailing could be better. We also noted a strange artefact during night-time shoots - prominent light sources were accompanied by dark 'shadows'. Observable detail drops dramatically as light levels fall, and so always ensure adequate illumination.
As a DVD camcorder, the BD7 fares just as well as 'ordinary' mid-range models. Sound is fair, if a little treble-dominant. Shooting to the HDD, the supplied battery yielded around an hour of operation (with the LCD panel) before giving up.
The BD7HE is undoubtedly an exciting development - Hitachi at least deserves congratulations for beating fellow Blu-ray supporters Panasonic and Sony - but there are frustrating flaws and idiosyncracies that deny it Best Buy status. Hopefully, they will be addressed by the company's next generation of Blu-ray cams and then we'll have something to recommend wholeheartedly.