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  • Introduction

  • Design

  • Front

  • Back

  • Sides

  • Top

  • Bottom

  • In the Box

  • Performance

  • Color

  • Low Light Color

  • Noise

  • Low Light Sensitivity

  • Low Light Noise

  • Low Light Color

  • Motion

  • Low Light Motion Test

  • Dark Motion Test

  • Resolution & Frame Rates

  • Video Sharpness

  • Stabilization

  • Testing Samples

  • Real World Samples

  • Usability

  • Auto Mode

  • Auto Controls

  • Menus

  • Handling & Portability

  • Battery Life

  • LCD

  • Stabilization

  • Manual Focus

  • Manual Exposure

  • Miscellaneous Controls

  • Auto Controls

  • Audio Controls

  • Editing

  • Features

  • Compression

  • Media

  • Resolution & Frame Rates

  • Still Features

  • Lens & Imaging System

  • LCD

  • Connectivity

  • Battery

  • Media

  • Waterproofing & Ruggedization

  • Panasonic HX-WA2 Comparison

  • Kodak PlaySport Zx5 Comparison

  • COMP 3

  • Conclusion

  • Photo Gallery

Introduction

Design

The HMX-W300 comes in red, orange, or black, and has nearly the same dimensions as that of an iPhone. So, you shouldn't have any problem slipping the camcorder into your pocket or carrying it around in a small purse, but you do need to remember to let it dry out after long periods of underwater use. The look of the camcorder is mostly unchanged compared to last year's W200, but Samsung did revamp the button design to make them more "water-friendly". The new buttons are coated in a layer of plastic, a design we call "membrane buttons", that eliminates any gaps that would normally exist between the button and the body of the camcorder.

Front

Back

Sides

Top

Bottom

In the Box

The HMX-W300 comes in a tiny box that includes a wrist strap, a quick start guide, and the W300 camcorder itself. That's all the camcorder comes with. Samsung originally announced another camcorder package, the HMX-W350, that came with a variety of additional accessories (including a floating bumper and a USB extension cable), but this model does not appear to be available for purchase.

The Samsung W300 doesn't come with much: just a quick start guide and a wrist strap.

Performance

Like the W200 before it, the HMX-W300 earned some very good numbers in our video performance tests. Sharpness was particularly key to the W300's performance, although the camcorder did not increase on the wonderful numbers obtained by last year's W200 from Samsung (the W300 still had enough sharpness to lead the pack in this test, though). Low light capabilities were also excellent, but we are seeing lots of good low light ultracompact camcorders these days. The HMX-W300's bright light performance was also good compared to the competition, but we did find the camcorder needed to make use of its white balance presets in order to obtain the highest possible color accuracy available. This is a solid performing camcorder overall, and it produces a better video image than its $160 price tag suggests.

Color

Cheap, compact camcorders often struggle with color accuracy in our tests, but these poor results are almost always related to the lack of an effective auto white balance system. The Samsung HMX-W300 fell into this exact trap in our color test, but, luckily for Samsung, the W300 also has a few built-in white balance presets that helped improve color accuracy by a very significant margin. More on how we test color.

Color Error Map The map on the left is a diagram of the color error. The length and direction of each line indicates how the camera processed each particular color while capturing video.

The Samsung HMX-W300 produced a color error of 6.21 and a saturation level of 119.30% in our bright light color testing.

Using auto white balance in our bright light test, the Samsung W300's video showed colors with an intensely orange hue and a color error of 14.3. The results were nearly unusable, but they weren't much different than colors we've seen from previous ultracompact camcorders (see the Kodak PlaySport Zx5). Switching the W300's white balance preset to the tungsten setting (to match the lights we use in our test) lowered the color error down to 6.21. This still isn't a fantastic score, but it is manageable, so if you want the best color performance from the W300 you will have to be prepared to use these white balance presets from time to time.

Unfortunately, even with its white balance presets, the Samsung W300 was not able to improve its color score over last year's W200 waterproof camcorder, although the results were very similar. Basically, our main point is this: if you're concerned about color accuracy in your videos, you should be prepared to spend more than a couple hundred bucks for a camcorder. Ultracompact models like the W300, while capable of producing decent color results, are not universally reliable when it comes to color accuracy.

Low Light Color

Color results in low light were also stronger on the W300 than what we saw on its predecessor. The new camcorder registered a color error in low light of 3.55, which is an exceptionally accurate score for a camcorder in the sub-$200 price range. Not only is it better than last year's model, but it is also better than the W300's color accuracy in our bright light test. This is likely tied to the camcorder's ability to handle the color temperature of our low-light LEDs better than our bright-light tungsten bulbs. Either way, the Samsung W300 showed more accurate colors than the competition, beating some camcorders by a wide margin—and the camcorder showed a strong saturation level of 96% in low light as well. More on how we test low light color.

Color Error Map The map on the left is a diagram of the color error. The length and direction of each line indicates how the camera processed each particular color while capturing video.

The Samsung HMX-W300 produced a color error of and a saturation level of in our bright light color testing.

Noise

Noise results in bright light were very good for the Samsung W300, but we saw the same kind of results from the competition, so this isn't anything to get excited about. This day in age we rarely see high levels of noise in bright light video, so the more important score to check out is the W300's strong performance in our low light noise test on the next page of this review. More on how we test noise.

Low Light Sensitivity

For the most part, the HMX-W300 performed just like its predecessor, the HMX-W200 in our low light tests. However, we did notice some slight differences in low light sensitivity. The HMX-W300 required a bit more light to produce a usable image than the W200, which is something of a surprise. Still, the W300 needed just 7 lux of light to capture our test chart properly (that's only two lux more than the W200 required). This is by no means a bad score for Samsung, it's just surprising that the new camcorder took a step backwards in this test. More on how we test low light sensitivity.

Part of the reason the W300, and most ultracompact camcorders in general, do a good job in our sensitivity test is due to the use of special low light modes on the camcorder. Normally we'd turn off any low light modes for this test, as they negatively impact image quality by using slow shutters or boosting gain to unsuitable levels. But with low-end models like the W300 this isn't possible, as the low light modes kick in automatically.

Low Light Noise

Samsung may have made the W300 a bit worse in low light sensitivity, but, in doing so, it seems the company improved the camcorder's noise levels and color accuracy in low light. The HMX-W300 averaged just 0.7% noise in our low light test, a number that is lower than that which we measured on last year's HMX-W200 from Samsung. More on how we test low light noise.

Low Light Color

Color results in low light were also stronger on the W300 than what we saw on its predecessor. The new camcorder registered a color error in low light of 3.55, which is an exceptionally accurate score for a camcorder in the sub-$200 price range. Not only is it better than last year's model, but it is also better than the W300's color accuracy in our bright light test. This is likely tied to the camcorder's ability to handle the color temperature of our low-light LEDs better than our bright-light tungsten bulbs. Either way, the Samsung W300 showed more accurate colors than the competition, beating some camcorders by a wide margin—and the camcorder showed a strong saturation level of 96% in low light as well. More on how we test low light color.

Motion

Judging by our tests, the Samsung HMX-W300 showed some improvement in capturing motion compared to its predecessor. The camcorder still showed plenty of artifacting in our test video, and even portions of the frame that had no moving subjects showed signs of flicker and interference. But the video was smooth, showed little color bleeding, and had less trailing than the HMX-W200 showed us last year in its motion videos.

In low light, the W300 showed a huge drop-off in motion performance. More artifacting was present in our test, detail loss was hugely significant, and the camera often had trouble focusing properly without the help of an adequate light source. We often see drops like this with cheap camcorders in low light, and the W300 suffers because of its automatic low light scene mode that makes use of slower shutter speed and higher gain settings. Both of these elements result in worse image quality, more motion blur, and detail loss in low light. More on how we test motion.

See below for a full discussion of the available resolution and frame rate options for the

Low Light Motion Test

Dark Motion Test

Resolution & Frame Rates

In addition to the Full HD recording option, the HMX-W300 has a 720p HD video mode. This setting still records high definition video, but the clips are smaller in both resolution and file size. So, if you don’t care about quality all that much, you may want to shoot using this setting. You’ll be able to fit more video on your memory cards and the files will be easier to playback on a computer.

We should note that if you attempt to record very large video clips with the W300, the camcorder may automatically split your videos up into smaller clips. We found the camcorder usually created a new clip every 16 minutes of straight recording, but this wasn’t universal (sometimes it went for 15:59 and once it went to 16:29). Either way, you don’t lose any video when a new clips is created, one picks up where the other one leaves off.

Video Sharpness

Strong video sharpness was one of the main reasons we were won over by the Samsung HMX-W200 last year. The new W300 doesn't offer any improvement, but its sharpness results are still impressive for a camcorder of its class. Just like last year, the W300 measured horizontal and vertical sharpness values of 750 lw/ph. These results were obtained in our bright light test with the camcorder in motion (slowly panning back and forth). Perfectly still, the W300 showed vertical sharpness levels approaching 875 lw/ph, which, again, is a very impressive performance for a budget pocket-cam. More on how we test video sharpness.

Stabilization

If you look through the W300's menu system, you'll find the camcorder's image stabilization setting under the heading "Anti-Shake (DIS)". Unfortunately, the setting barely did anything to help stabilize the video in our test. We did see some improvement in our high shake test, but our low shake test showed no difference with the anti-shake system on vs. off. Overall, we can't say this feature is all that great, so don't make your purchase just because you read the W300 has a digital image stabilization setting. It's not a feature worth praising. More on how we test stabilization.

Testing Samples

Real World Samples

Underwater Sample Video

Samsung HMX-W300 Rolling Shutter Effect Sample Video

Bright Light Outdoor Sample Video

Usability

Like most cheap camcorders, the Samsung HMX-W300 is meant to be turned on, pointed at a subject, and used to shoot video without any complications. The camcorder handles this task fairly well, but it wasn't perfect. The buttons on the back of the W300 aren't all labeled well, and some of the camcorder's features aren't discussed in the tiny user guide that ships with the W300. The grip of the camcorder is better than last year's W200 by a hair, which is something that should help with underwater use, but we want to see a better locking system for the port covers on the base and side of the camcorder. Overall, this is a durable camcorder that feels stronger than its $159 price tag suggests.

Auto Mode

With its focus on simplicity and lack of manual controls, the automatic functions on the HMX-W300 are paramount to the camcorder's success. Here are the positives: the auto controls work quickly and are generally accurate in outdoor shooting situations. The camcorder's downsides include some overexposure issues and an auto white balance function that doesn't always work properly under mixed indoor lights.

The exposure errors are noticeable whenever we shot video with a bright light source within the frame. A noticeable amount of hazy glow showed up around the edge of the light source (like a window or lamp), which showed the W300's difficulty in producing even exposure. Focus changes with the autofocus system were less problematic, although we did see some focus popping in and out when shooting in dimly lit areas (like our motion test illuminated at 20 lux).

All the camcorder buttons, with the exception of the power button, are located on the back.

Auto Controls

There are a few special auto controls on the W300 that can help for specific shooting situations. There's a face detection option that attempts to maintain focus and exposure on detected faces within the W300's frame, there's a backlight compensation setting, and there's a waterproof mode button that optimizes settings for underwater shooting. You don't have to turn the waterproof mode on to shoot underwater, but the mode should make your underwater videos look clearer.

Other than the waterproof mode, you can't select a specific scene mode for use with the HMX-W300. However, the camcorder does have an built-in set of scene modes that are selected automatically based on the shooting situations. For example, a night mode will turn on when the W300 detects low light levels, but you cannot turn this mode off or on manually.

The W300's menu is easy to read and navigate, which isn't something we often say about camcorders in the sub-$200 price range. The W300 does have more features and settings than many cheap ultracompact models, so it is good to see Samsung organizing all of these options under a streamlined menu system.

Handling & Portability

Samsung's design alterations to the HMX-W300 are slight compared to its predecessor, so if you've handled an HMX-W200 before then you'll be familiar with the W300 as well. We like the durable body design of the camcorder overall, and we found the sides of the W300 were a bit easier to grip than that of the W200 before it. Still, this design is not perfect, and we'd like to see even better grip for a camcorder that is meant to be used underwater.

The camcorder is very small, roughly the same size as an iPhone.

Samsung did make some changes to the button design, and if you look at the back of the W300 you'll see it all of its buttons are covered by a layer of plastic. We call these "membrane" buttons because the actual button exists below the surface of the camcorder's plastic "skin". This design doesn't make the buttons easier to work, but it does help keep water, sand, and debris out of those little crevasses that surround traditional buttons.

The orange stripe is one of three color options for the W300. It also comes in red or black.

While the new button design does do a good job to keep water astray, the HMX-W300's port covers are a bit too vulnerable for our taste. The port covers keep the water out, let's be clear about that, but the locking mechanisms on the two covers are less than ideal. Both covers have no secondary lock function, which means if you accidentally slide your finger over the lock tab the covers will immediately pop open. This is easier to do than it sounds, and one accidental slip of the finger underwater could result in a damaged camcorder—as well as the loss of your video footage.

All the buttons on the back are accessible with your thumb.

On the off chance that you'll be using the HMX-W300 with a tripod, you shouldn't expect the camcorder to mount perfectly. The off-center tripod mount on the base of the W300 may result in severe tilting when mounted to a tripod plate, as was the case during much of our testing. It's not a problem you can't solve, a simple rotation of the horizontal tripod head can correct for this tilt, but it may be more of an issue on very simple tripods that don't have multiple adjustment options. The off-center tripod mount, as well as the W300's rounded bottom do make it difficult for the camcorder to stand upright on its own as well. You can get it to stand alone without assistance, but it's literally a balancing act.

Battery Life

We were able to record continuously with the HMX-W300 for 112 minutes on a fully-charged battery pack. That's not bad for a camcorder with a non-removable battery, but it is around nine minutes shorter than the W200 lasted in our battery life test. Despite this good battery result for the W300, keep in mind that this camcorder does not have the ability to change batteries. The pack is non-removable and is rechargeable via USB only. So, if you're planning to shoot with the W300 for a few days without charging in between... you may want to rethink your schedule. More on how we test battery life.

Changing the battery on your camera or camcorder is something most of us are familiar with, but you shouldn't expect to be able to do it on the HMX-W300. Because of its waterproof construction, Samsung locked away the battery compartment so it is not accessible unless you completely dismantle the camcorder. In other words, if you're having battery trouble you'll probably have to get a whole new camcorder.

LCD

On the back of the W300 is a stationary screen for viewing your video clips and framing your content, but there's nothing special about the specs of this LCD. It's a small 2.3-inch screen with a limited resolution of just 230,000 pixels. Those numbers are consistent with other camcorders in this price range, but that doesn't mean they're worth applauding. It's simply not a great screen. Samsung does offer brightness control for the LCD, however, but there are only two settings (bright and normal), so even that function is very limited.

Stabilization

If you look through the W300's menu system, you'll find the camcorder's image stabilization setting under the heading "Anti-Shake (DIS)". Unfortunately, the setting barely did anything to help stabilize the video in our test. We did see some improvement in our high shake test, but our low shake test showed no difference with the anti-shake system on vs. off. Overall, we can't say this feature is all that great, so don't make your purchase just because you read the W300 has a digital image stabilization setting. It's not a feature worth praising. More on how we test stabilization.

Manual Focus

On ultracompact models like the W300 we rarely expect to see any kind of focus control, let alone a full manual focus option. The W300 does have a basic autofocus system that shifts between macro and regular focal ranges, but it has no method for controlling focus manually.

Manual Exposure

You won't find shutter speed, aperture, or gain control on this little camcorder, but you can turn backlight compensation on and off manually. That's it as far as "manual" exposure options go on the W300.

Miscellaneous Controls

Considering its lack of focus and exposure controls, we were surprised to find a few other manual controls on the HMX-W300, including a full set of white balance presets. You can't set white balance manually on the camcorder, but you can choose from daylight, cloudy, fluorescent, and tungsten presets. Some of these presets helped improve color accuracy by a significant margin in our video tests, but for outdoor shots you'll probably be fine with the auto white balance setting.

And if you're into digital filters and effects, you can explore Samsung's Smart Filters on the HMX-W300. Options for vignetting, fish-eye, retro, classic, negative, dazzle, noir, and western looks are all possible on the camcorder. Keep in mind, these aren't professional image controls, they're just silly digital effects. But that doesn't mean they aren't fun to fool around with.

Auto Controls

There are a few special auto controls on the W300 that can help for specific shooting situations. There's a face detection option that attempts to maintain focus and exposure on detected faces within the W300's frame, there's a backlight compensation setting, and there's a waterproof mode button that optimizes settings for underwater shooting. You don't have to turn the waterproof mode on to shoot underwater, but the mode should make your underwater videos look clearer.

Other than the waterproof mode, you can't select a specific scene mode for use with the HMX-W300. However, the camcorder does have an built-in set of scene modes that are selected automatically based on the shooting situations. For example, a night mode will turn on when the W300 detects low light levels, but you cannot turn this mode off or on manually.

Audio Controls

No manual audio controls and no external microphone inputs are available on the Samsung W300. There is a built-in stereo microphone, though, and it does pick up audio underwater (just not very well).

Editing

You can't do much in playback mode other than delete your video clips, protect your clips, or mark them for upload. Hitting the "share" button to mark videos for upload makes the upload process simpler, but you're still required to connect the camcorder to a computer to complete the transition.

Features

If you're not looking for a waterproof camcorder, then you probably shouldn't be researching the HMX-W300 at all. That's the camcorder's niche, and it's the primary reason it is a successful device. Samsung won us over last year with the HMX-W200, the previous incarnation of a rugged, waterproof camcorder from Samsung, and the HMX-W300 is a tad better. It can go deeper underwater (by six feet), it has a better button design, and it has a few more features for users to play around with. What the camcorder doesn't have is manual exposure controls of any kind, so if you want a model that offers more fine-tuning you should look elsewhere.

Compression

The Samsung HMX-W300 records Full HD video, that's a 1920 x 1080 resolution, and it does so by using the H.264 MPEG-4 compression system. MPEG-4 is the standard compression for most consumer camcorders, but the W300's clips are not AVCHD compliant, which is what you see from higher-end consumer models. This means the video files captured by the camcorder are easier to work with and less will be less taxing on your computer, but the W300's videos are likely to show more compression artifacting than AVCHD models. Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of various high definition compression types.

Media

On the left side of the camcorder, behind the locking port cover, there is a MicroSD memory card slot. This tiny slot fits all types of MicroSD cards, which include MicroSDHC and MicroSDXC memory cards. MicroSD cards work the same way as regular SD cards, but they're about a quarter of the size. This makes them easier to lose, break, and harder to find in stores than regular-sized SD cards (which are already as small as a postage stamp). If you can't tell already, we aren't huge fans of MicroSD cards, and we'd rather have Samsung make the W300 a bit larger if it meant the presence of a regular-sized SD card slot. Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of various media types.

The camcorder works with MicroSD memory cards, which are 1/4 the size of a regular SD card.

Resolution & Frame Rates

In addition to the Full HD recording option, the HMX-W300 has a 720p HD video mode. This setting still records high definition video, but the clips are smaller in both resolution and file size. So, if you don't care about quality all that much, you may want to shoot using this setting. You'll be able to fit more video on your memory cards and the files will be easier to playback on a computer.

We should note that if you attempt to record very large video clips with the W300, the camcorder may automatically split your videos up into smaller clips. We found the camcorder usually created a new clip every 16 minutes of straight recording, but this wasn't universal (sometimes it went for 15:59 and once it went to 16:29). Either way, you don't lose any video when a new clips is created, one picks up where the other one leaves off.

Still Features

There are four different photo size options on the HMX-W300, but you must be in the camcorder's still image mode to make use of them (you can't take photos during video recording). The size options top out with a 5.5-megapixel photo option (2720 x 2040 resolution), followed by 3-megapixel, 2-megapixel, and VGA (640 x 480) size options. Honestly, this isn't a bad range of sizes for the little camcorder, but you still shouldn't expect to shoot stellar photos with the W300. The camera on your Smartphone (if you have one) is probably just as good if not better than this—although the W300 is waterproof in still image mode as well as video mode, remember.

Lens & Imaging System

The lens on the W300 has no optical zoom capabilities.

From what we can tell, the Samsung W300 has the same lens as its predecessor, the HMX-W200. It's an f/2.2 lens with no optical zoom and a fixed 4.3mm focal length. But just because the lens is "fixed" doesn't mean the W300 has no autofocus mechanism—it does. The camcorder will make slight focal adjustments, which are certainly noticeable if you look closely, as you point the W300 at subjects of varying distances (much like the autofocus on a iPhone camera).

The sensor on the W300 also looks identical to the one found on the Samsung W200, at least judging by the specs. It's a 1/3.2-inch BSI CMOS imager with an effective pixel count of just over 4.3 megapixels. Those specs are in line with what we see on most cheap, pocket-cams.

LCD

On the back of the W300 is a stationary screen for viewing your video clips and framing your content, but there's nothing special about the specs of this LCD. It's a small 2.3-inch screen with a limited resolution of just 230,000 pixels. Those numbers are consistent with other camcorders in this price range, but that doesn't mean they're worth applauding. It's simply not a great screen. Samsung does offer brightness control for the LCD, however, but there are only two settings (bright and normal), so even that function is very limited.

Connectivity

The HMX-W300 isn't just a small camcorder, parts of it are actually tiny enough to be called micro. Instead of a standard mini-HDMI port, the Samsung W300 includes a micro HDMI terminal (one of the few differences between the W300 and last year's W200 when it comes to ports). Next to the micro HDMI port is a MicroSD card slot, which is the same slot found on the W200 camcorder.

We know Samsung is trying to cut down in size by including these two "smaller" port options, but we don't like this choice. Samsung was able to squeeze in a mini HDMI port on last year's W200 just fine, so we're sure one could've been included on the W300 as well. Why are we upset about this? Well, micro cables and memory cards are harder to find than regular SD cards and mini HDMI cords. The small size of the MicroSD cards also make them far easier to lose than their slightly-larger cousins. All we're saying is we'd rather have the larger ports than the frustration of having easier-to-lose memory cards and harder-to-find cables.

For connecting the W300 to a computer, as well as charging the camcorder, you'll find a built-in USB arm on the bottom of the device. Open the waterproof door cover and out will pop the small USB arm. This isn't the best design ever, as the arm doesn't extend very far from the camcorder's body. So, if you have a computer with a USB input that is difficult to access, you're going to have trouble connecting the W300. Our suggestion: buy a USB extender cable to give yourself more flexibility when connecting the W300 to a computer. They're cheap and you'll definitely use it.

Battery

Changing the battery on your camera or camcorder is something most of us are familiar with, but you shouldn't expect to be able to do it on the HMX-W300. Because of its waterproof construction, Samsung locked away the battery compartment so it is not accessible unless you completely dismantle the camcorder. In other words, if you're having battery trouble you'll probably have to get a whole new camcorder. Find out how the product:model/product:model performed in our battery life test.

Media

On the left side of the camcorder, behind the locking port cover, there is a MicroSD memory card slot. This tiny slot fits all types of MicroSD cards, which include MicroSDHC and MicroSDXC memory cards. MicroSD cards work the same way as regular SD cards, but they're about a quarter of the size. This makes them easier to lose, break, and harder to find in stores than regular-sized SD cards (which are already as small as a postage stamp). If you can't tell already, we aren't huge fans of MicroSD cards, and we'd rather have Samsung make the W300 a bit larger if it meant the presence of a regular-sized SD card slot. Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of various media types.

The camcorder works with MicroSD memory cards, which are 1/4 the size of a regular SD card.

Waterproofing & Ruggedization

Samsung lists the HMX-W300 as both waterproof and shockproof, but the camcorder does have some important depth limitations you need to consider. The 'shockproof' label means you can safely drop the W300 from a height of 6.5 feet (2 meters), which should cover most slips out of your hand during recording, but the design probably isn't durable enough to protect it from a toss across a room.

The waterproof feature allows the camcorder to travel up to 16.4 feet underwater (5 meters) for about an hour, which is actually an improvement over last year's HMX-W200 (10 feet). This makes the W300 a perfect camcorder for snorkeling and pool activities, but you'll probably want something that can handle a deeper plunge if you're checking out coral reefs on a scuba dive. There are plenty of waterproof cameras in the $400 price range that can go more than 30 feet below water without problems—and most of those models have decent video modes as well. You can also buy special waterproof housings for some consumer camcorders, or use an adventure cam like the GoPro, that allow you to go nearly 200 feet below the Earth's surface. That's deep.

But the Samsung HMX-W300 gives you a decent amount of durability and waterproof functionality for its sub-$200 price tag. The design is surprisingly solid for a camcorder that's so cheap, and we appreciate the slight changes Samsung made on the camcorder to make it better-suited for underwater use. We still have a problem with the port covers, however, and we wish they had a secondary locking system to ensure they remain shut at all times. As is the case with all waterproof electronics, you still need to be careful when you use the W300. And when you remove the camcorder from the water, make sure to let it dry out for a while to prevent water from leaking to sensitive areas.

Panasonic HX-WA2 Comparison

Samsung didn't reinvent the wheel with the HMX-W300, in fact, it barely replaced the tires. The new W300 looks and acts very similar to its predecessor, and if you aren't a camcorder aficionado you probably wouldn't be able to pick out the differences between the two waterproof models. But there are a few differences, and it's our job to point them out.

For starters, the W300 can travel 6.4 feet deeper underwater than the HMX-W200. That's a whole body length we're talking about, so this isn't just an "incremental" improvement. The W300 also has a better button design that keeps water and debris from getting stuck on the back of the camcorder. When we reviewed the W200 last year, we remember coming home from the beach to find lots of sand trapped around the camcorder's buttons. The HMX-W300 takes care of this problem by covering the buttons with a layer of plastic, effectively embedding them beneath the body of the camcorder. The W300 also has a few white balance presets that weren't present on the W200.

That's mostly it when it comes to improvements, though. The W300 performed eerily similar to the W200 in our tests, but that makes sense considering Samsung didn't change the lens or sensor on the new camcorder. So if you want an upgrade in image performance you shouldn't expect the W300 to give you what you desire. The subtle improvements to design, waterproof depth, and white balance controls do make the W300 a better camcorder than its predecessor, though. Consider this a minor upgrade to an already excellent ultracompact camcorder.

Kodak PlaySport Zx5 Comparison

Panasonic has had its hands in the waterproof camcorder market of a couple of years now, but since its acquisition of Sanyo the company has begun to release its own line of "pistol grip" compact camcorders. The HX-WA2 is a waterproof version of the pistol grip camcorder, which is kind of humorous when you consider pistol grips are also the shape of your average garden hose. This gun-like design does offer a good grip for handheld shooting, but overall the HX-WA2 absolutely fails when it comes to handling.

While the WA2 did put up good numbers in our performance tests, the camcorder struggled with everything from poor menu design to slow controls to a terrible button interface. Sure, the camcorder has more controls than your average ultracompact model, but you need to ask yourself how important controls like shutter speed and aperture actually are for a cheap, waterproof camcorder. Are you really going to change the gain levels while you're snorkeling? Probably not.

The HX-WA2 has promise as a camcorder, and it certainly appeals to control enthusiasts, but its cheap design doesn't bode well for a product that's supposed to be submerged underwater for long periods of time. Panasonic cut too many corners and didn't put enough of an emphasis on user interface with the HX-WA2, and that ultimately led to the camcorder's undoing.

COMP 3

Kodak doesn't make cameras or camcorders anymore, which probably won't bother too many people. But it should bother fans of waterproof camcorders. The PlaySport Zx5 is one of the few camcorders that rivals the Samsung HMX-W300 in design and usability. In fact, the Kodak is probably easier to use than the Samsung, and we found its rugged design to be more durable overall.

Unfortunately, the Zx5 is an old model now, and you can only still purchase the ones that are still left on the shelves since Kodak declared bankruptcy earlier this year. With Kodak pulling out of the camcorder market, it is doubtful we'll ever see a successor to the Zx5, which is sad because we'd love for Samsung to have some good competition in this field.

But if you can find a Kodak Zx5 for sale, which is very plausible, we think it is a waterproof model worth your money. Its performances in our video tests weren't quite as good as the Samsung W300, but it made up for those losses with a better and simpler user interface. Remember, the Zx5 is a cheap, waterproof camcorder—just like the Samsung W300—so you should only spring for it if that's what you're looking for. It's not the kind of thing you'd want to shoot a documentary or indie film with.

Conclusion

If you're planning to spend less than $200 on a camcorder, you can't get much better than the Samsung HMX-W300. It's easy to use, has a waterproof design, and its image quality is very good for a camcorder of its size and price. The camcorder is not for people who want top-notch image quality, though, nor is it for people who require access to manual controls. This is a simple pocket cam that is great for capturing poolside activities or passing off to your kids during a picnic.

The W300 is also not a huge upgrade over Samsung's previous waterproof ultracompact camcorder, the HMX-W200. Let's be clear, if you own a functioning W200 camcorder, then it is not worth upgrading. The updates Samsung made to the W300 are minimal, although we do respect them. The new camcorder can safely travel six feet deeper underwater, it has a more waterproof button design, and it has a few extra controls (like white balance presets). The W300 isn't a trailblazer in the waterproof camcorder market, but it's the best one we've seen so far this year, and it continues the success that Samsung started with last year's W200.

If you want to spend a little more, say in the $300 - $400 price range, and you care more about underwater photography instead of video, then you should check out our 2012 Waterproof Camera Showdown. These waterproof cameras all outperform the W300 when it comes to still image performance, and many of them offer video modes that are on par with the HMX-W300's capabilities. But you can expect to spend double for a good waterproof camera than you will for the Samsung W300, so you do have to consider cost when you compare these products.

Meet the tester

Jeremy Stamas

Jeremy Stamas

Managing Editor, Video

@nematode9

Jeremy is the video expert of our imaging team and Reviewed.com's head of video production. Originally from Pennsylvania and upstate NY, he graduated from Bard college with a degree in film and electronic media. He has been living and working in New England since 2005.

See all of Jeremy Stamas's reviews

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