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**The Samsung SC-X300L features a 1/6' 680K gross pixel CCD for the primary lens. The secondary helmet cam lens is equipped with a 1/4' 320K gross pixel CMOS sensor.
The main camera comes with a 10x optical zoom lens similar to last year's SC-X210L, a camcorder that struggled to produce clean and crisp video. The imager, lens and zoom level all appear to be essentially unchanged from the 2006 model, which turned in among the worst performances of the year in our tests. Considering other camcorders on the market for the same price or even cheaper (look at the falling prices of MiniDV) certainly calls this camcorder into question.
The external cam, undoubtedly the big selling point on the X300L edition, yielded an absolutely abysmal picture last year. Despite its portability, you'd be much better off just strapping the main body of the X300 onto your helmet if you ever want to people to make sense of the picture. Barrel distortion, poor focus, and especially poor auto exposure adjustments mean that tricky outdoor shoots with an abundance of light (like skiing) or with lots of light and dark mixing together (biking through the woods on a sunny day) could prove to be a major problem for the lens. There is no indication that this lens has been improved since last year so don't get your hopes up. **
**Low Light Performance
**Last year's models struggled in low light (and every other performance area) and the time we spent with the SC-X300L in Las Vegas suggests that little has changed. When shooting the darker recesses of the show floor, the image became hazy, dark, and indistinct. Automatic focus also failed to attain focus accurately when pointed away from bright light. While all camcorders have trouble making automatic adjustments in low light and low contrast areas, the SC-X300L had an even harder time. Samsung wasn’t able to provide a minimum lux level for this camcorder, but we hope to see an improvement. Considering the noise and image degradation experienced by the SC-X201L at 60 lux, it would take a massive improvement in low light performance to bring this model in line with similarly priced camcorders.
**The Samsung SC-X300L has 2GB of internal flash memory, capable of recording up to an hour of MPEG-4 ASP video at a maximum resolution of 720 x 576 and 30 fps. In addition to the installed flash memory, the X300L can also record to removable SD/MMC memory cards, but not the higher cacpacity SDHC cards. This flavor of MPEG-4 is the kind you'll find on a lot of digital cameras and multimedia devices, and is not very friendly to quality. Last year’s video was so compressed that it imbued shots with artifacts that were especially noticeable with fast-moving action. Again, is that what you're looking for in a sports cam?
In addition in the highest quality Super Fine video setting, the SC-X300L includes two lower quality settings called Fine and Normal. A lower quality 352 x 288 resolution setting, presumably intended for YouTube-bound video, is also available.
**With an increase to 2GB from the previous years top-end 1GB model, the Samsung SC-X300L records up to a hour of SuperFine video to the onboard flash storage device. The camcorder also accommodates SD/MMC memory cards via a card slot located beneath a smartly designed port cover on the front of the body. While Samsung did improve the onboard memory, 2GB falls far short of the 30 to 60GB capacities found in many HDD-based camcorders. Nonetheless, flash memory is a solid-state format that should stand up to the extreme sports action the SC-X300L is marketed for. HDD differs little from the hard drives found in laptop computers and are relatively fragile – if spacious – storage devices. During really bumpy conditions, the writing needle could skip and ruin your shot, or worse - destroy your hard disk. Flash memory is much studier. The ideal media here and one that we can expect to see in the future is high capacity memory cards, like SDHC. Older SD cards, like the ones this camcorder uses, have a 2GB limit . SDHC can reach up to 32GB. Match that with a better compression than MPEG-4 ASP and you're really on to something.
**Samsung was unable to comment on whether the SC-X300L would include the same software package as last year's model. The representatives at Samsung’s booth implied that users' response to last year’s software bundle may lead to a change, though it was not clear whether that would mean a new package, updates to the previous bundle, or no software at all. Unfortunately, the footage requires a codec supplied from Samsung, so these files cannot be instantly dropped into any NLE of your choice. We were actually surprised that last year's software bundle, that included ULead VideoStudio SE DVD 9.0, was among the better bundled software of the year. They could do worse than simply re-package it this year.
**The slender front of the Samsung SC-X300L is topped by the 10x optical zoom lens and directly beneath the lens is the oddly placed device that resembles last year’s flash. In fact, Samsung informed us that the this was not a flash but a focusing aid. The question is, do we take the booth worker at their word, or go with our gut? Our gut, and our photos, tell us that this is a flash - same as last year. The only manufacturer to offer an external chip for focusing right now is Canon's $4000 XH A1.
A vertically aligned port cover consumes the lower two-thirds of the camcorder’s front face and is opened via a tab located along its right edge. Inside, users will find a SD/MMC memory card slot for adding additional memory and a USB port.
**The Right Side
**The only feature located on the right side of the rubber camcorder body is the battery compartment. This compartment is opened via a tab located along the bottom edge. The battery cover does not protrude from the body of the Samsung SC-X300L and this sleek design helps add to the overall aesthetic and handling appeal of the camcorder. Unfortunately, form does not equal function in this case as the battery compartment does not allow for larger extended life batteries.
**The well-designed zoom slider is located at the top of the Samsung SC-X300L’s back, in the center of a polished silver ring. The silver ring is actually a two-way touchpad with Rec. Start/Stop on the right and Playback on the left. The small red dot indicating the Record button is easy to overlook, so someone picking up the camcorder for the first time might need to search for this vital button. Underneath the zoom slider is a small depressible joystick that can be manipulated using the thumb of the right hand. Users will find that the joystick is used to both navigate the menu system and make adjustments to settings. Pressing the joystick inwards can make changes in image and control parameters. The joystick is simply just too small to be used effectively and would be a struggle to operate with cold fingers out on the slopes. This is another area in which it seems the designers were told to 'keep it small' without considering the consequences of actual use.
Beneath the small joystick, the user will find a silver menu button raised slightly from the body of the camcorder. A mode button is located under the menu button, and when pressed, this control will open an on-screen display that allows the user to switch between MP3, voice record, file browser, system settings, and movie mode.
Three ports are beneath the mode button near the base of the camcorder. The first port is the DC-in terminal that is protected by a small plastic port cover. Under the DC-In port is a second port cover that conceals the remote camera port, as well as an headphone jack for listening to MP3s. The problem with this design is that the wired remote camera plugs into both its own proprietary port and the audio port of the camcorder. With this configuration, users will find themselves unable to listen to Gwar while snowboarding through six feet of virgin powder. It makes no sense that Samsung equipped the NV3, one of digital still cameras, for simultaneous MP3 playback and video recording without carrying that technology over to their sports camcorder lineup. If any user would benefit from such a perk, it's tattooed snowboarders toting the SC-X300L. Go figure.
**The Left Side
**The LCD screen for the Samsung SC-X300L is located on the left side of the camcorder body and snaps neatly into place in a vertical orientation when not in use. Pulling at the bottom edge of the screen will flip this monitor open and enables it to rotate through 270 degrees. Oddly, the in-camera microphones are on the exterior face of the LCD screen so that when rotated at a perpendicular angle to the ground the microphones point straight forward. This configuration means the microphone will point in the direction of the LCD’s backside and not necessarily towards the action. Hopefully, it’s an omni-directional mic.
On the frame of the LCD screen, directly beneath the monitor, the user will find two well-labeled buttons. The innermost control can be pressed to delete content while the other button will turn the display on and off. In the area masked by the LCD when closed (the LCD cavity) are three controls of note. The silver power button is located in the upper rear corner of this space while the in-camera speaker is located directly in front of it. A hold switch is placed directly beneath the power button.
**There are no controls or features on the top of the Samsung SC-X300L only the top of the lens barrel from front to back.
Auto / Manual Controls
**Picture & Manual Control
*For users of the Samsung SC-X300L, the automatic controls are going to be the primary set-up relied upon for shooting. Who has time to fiddle with manual focus while hang gliding or playing big stakes poker (ESPN told us that was an extreme sport). With automatic settings for shutter speed, exposure, aperture, and gain, the camcorder should be considered a point-and-shoot model for most of the market. In this area, it could have done much better.
As in last year's model, the SC-X300L displayed breathing (steady fluxuations in and out of focus) as it searched for focus in less than ideal lighting. Considering that the targeted market for this camcorder is undoubtedly reliant on auto controls when shooting down the side of a mountain with the wired remote lens strapped to their helmet, the performance of last year's model and the hints at performance of this year's model indicate continued disappointment. Automatic exposure looked better than the focus, and the primary lens performed well enough last year. The external lens was the big problem (see the Video Performance section above), and we're unlikley to see much improvement there.
In addition to the full auto and manual controls, the user will also find a handful of Program AE shooting modes listed in the Program AE sub-menu. They include: Auto, Sports, Spotlight and Sand & Snow. This smattering of options is hardly likely to satisfy users looking for flexibility and the range needed for action sports. Consider the wide breadth of choices on a camcorder like Canon's DC40 that includes Foliage, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Spotlight, Fireworks, Landscape, and Night. Granted, there is probably a hair's difference between some of these, but having these settings and having easy access to these settings is what makes for a great camcorder for nontechies.
*Overall Manual Control
*The overall manual controls for the Samsung SC-X300L are underwhelming. Users will find themselves having to rely on automatic shutter speed, aperture, and gain when capturing video footage with the SC-X300L because the only manual controls offered are zoom, focus, and white balance. The white balance and manual focus controls are accessed in the menu system, and in the case of the focus button, it is controlled via the small joystick found on the back of the camcorder body.
*The Samsung SC-X300L comes with a 10x optical zoom and a 100x digital zoom. The digital zoom setting is located in the menu structure but should be engaged with caution: A steep drop-off in image quality is seen in digital zoom territory. The optical zoom is controlled by a nicely designed control located on the back of the camcorder body near the top edge. The zoom toggle is located in the center of a polished silver ring and slides up for wide and down for telephoto zoom. This control can be easily adjusted with the thumb of the right hand. Zoom speeds were limited, but there was concise control over zoom when adjustments were made. Users should find this control interface to be one of the most satisfying controls on the camcorder body.
*Surprisingly, there is manual control over focus on the Samsung SC-X300L. The user can activate the manual focus by pressing the menu button on the back of the camcorder and scanning over until the focus sub-menu is entered. Once in the focus sub-menu, the user must select the MF option and press the joystick inwards to complete activation. There is no on-screen indication that manual focus has been engaged, and users will have no information regarding the current focal setting. In addition to a lack of display information, the manual focus control itself is not easy to use, with up and down arrows being the only indications of how to make adjustments. Using the joystick to adjust focus was a tedious experience. Even though the auto focus is plagued with problems, the manual focus control interface gives it some utility.
*Exposure & Aperture
*The Samsung SC-X300L follows in the footsteps of its predecessor by providing absolutely no control over exposure, exposure compensation, or aperture. Lacking even a basic exposure compensation setting may be irksome for novice users looking for minimal brightness adjutments. Then again, who cares about exposure when you’ve just captured a rad rail slide, jacked up on six cans of Red Bull.
The LCD cavity is sparse: power on/off and a hold button for pausing
*The shutter speeds for the Samsung SC-X300L are automatic, and users will have no control over this control parameter.
*The user of the Samsung SC-X300L will find that in addition to an auto white balance mode there is an option to engage additional presets and a manual setting. The white balance setting is located in the menu system and like the other settings within the shooting menu, a graphic overlay that continues to provide a live view while adjustments are made to setting parameters. This is especially helpful for the white balance where users will be able to immediately able to visually gauge changes to image quality as different options are highlighted. The white balances for the Samsung SC-X300L includes the standard auto mode with daylight, fluorescent, and tungsten presets and the manual "custom" setting.
*There is no manual control over gain when shooting with the Samsung SX-X300L. This isn’t a huge surprise considering the lack of manual controls overall and the price of the camcorder.
Other Manual Controls**
**There are no other additional manual controls when shooting with the $449 Samsung SC-X300L.
**Following the less than stirring reaction to the sub-par still image features and image quality of last year's line-up, Samsung has chosen to remove the still feature options for this camcorder line-up. It is really no loss.
Handling and Use
**Ease of Use
**The Samsung SC-X300L uses a very basic menu interface with clearly-labeled options like display, delete, menu, mode, and zoom - giving it a leg-up in the ease of use category. But as we’ve found time and again, a well-designed menu system can be ruined by a poor navigation tool. In the case of the Samsung SC-X300L, its Achilles heel would have to be the small, oversensitive joystick.
Attaching cables and inserting memory cards were both simple processes and their placement on the camcorder body couldn’t be better. The battery cover is a bit tricky to remove at first, but once open, the battery remained resolutely in place until removed. This is especially appreciated after personally opening the AA battery cover of a digital camera and having my batteries spill into 20 inches of fresh snow.
**The Samsung SC-X300L fits nicely into one hand when shooting and comfortably adapts to a number of angles without having to make handling adjustments. The rubber coating found all over the body of the SC-X300L continues to add to the handling ease and comfort. The protective surface adds a nice level of grip to the small camcorder body unlike the smooth bodied and similarly designed Sanyo Xacti camcorders. Controls like the zoom toggle are designed well and positioned to aid the user in shooting with controlled results.
The LCD screen has a tendency to snap into a 90 degree angle when released by the user. This could be an irritating flaw for users looking to shoot one-handed with the LCD at a non-ninety degree angle. The record and play buttons are located to the left and right of the zoom toggle would definitely benefit from an increase in size and a more visually identifiable label. In low light, the controls were hard to locate and when shooting outdoors in cold weather, the size of these controls could be aggravating.
As mentioned a few times already, the joystick is the biggest handling problem. It limits fast and concise movement because of the small size and the oversensitivity to the 'in' movement. Like a keyboard with a sticky 'Enter' button, it will constantly make choices that you didn't mean to select.
**The Samsung SC-X300L uses a graphic menu structure that overlays a portion of the live view on the LCD, rather than covering it up completely. Sub-menu categories are listed along the top of the LCD screen and users can scan these categories using the left and right arrows of the joystick control. Once the appropriate sub-menu has been selected, the user can press the up and down arrows to navigate the contents each sub-menu. The shooting menu is a simple design for a simple offering of options. The live view helps with features like white balance as well as providing a constant glimpse of its effects.
There is a second menu, one to choose the camcorder's mode, that does take up the entire screen. A little flashier than the manual controls menu, this has icons that spin and flicker in a circle while you toggle through video mode, MP3 player, and voice memo recorder.
**LCD and Viewfinder
**The LCD monitor measures a scant 2" – and is among the smallest we’ve seen. The screen flips open when the bottom edge is pulled, and it rotates in a manner that limits the number of angles the screen can be viewed. The LCD screen can be turned on and off by pressing the monitor button located on the frame of the monitor directly beneath the LCD.
Audio / Playback / Connectivity
**The audio for the Samsung SC-X300L is recorded via the two mono microphones found on the outside of the LCD screen. The microphones will record well when the LCD screen is pointed at the action but if the user has tilted the screen in any other direction the microphones will either being pointing at the ground or into the sky. This may seem like a nonissue for users at first, but if capturing footage at unique angles, the audio may end up muffled. You'll also want to be careful that you don't accidentally place your thumb over the mic when holding the LCD straight.
Audio playback occurs through the in-camera speakers found in the area masked by the LCD when closed. In addition to these audio options, the user will find that there is a headphone jack located under a port cover on the back of the SC-X300L. This jack will enable users to listen to MP3 files that have been saved to their flash memory. The problem is that you can’t listen to audio when recording and the quality will be anything but impressive or full frequency. Also, why would you clog up a limited amount of space with music when you should be saving that space for video? Finally, it should be noted that this jack is proprietary and if the headphones included with this camcorder are similar in design to the ones found with the Samsung NV3 digital camera, wearing them out in public would be grounds for mockery by your friends.
**Entering playback mode is activated by pushing left on the two-way touchpad that surrounds the zoom toggle. This control was poorly marked and we had a hard time hunting it down. Although we were unable to access the playback model on the CES show floor - that option was locked out - the Samsung representatives emphasized that little to nothing had changed this year.
With last year's model, the immediate playback of prior footage is done by pressing inwards on the joystick. Adjustments to volume level are done by pushing the joystick up or down. And finally, pressing the zoom slider upwards provides the user with a display of six thumbs - one for each clip. Deletion of selected video clips occurs by pressing the delete button located directly beneath the LCD on the LCD frame.
**Users of the Samsung SC-X300L will find two areas for ports on the small sliver of a camcorder body, with two sets of ports located on the front and three ports on the back. On the front of the camcorder body, underneath a hard plastic port cover, the user will find the vertically positioned SD/MMC memory card slot and the USB port for transfer of video and audio files. This port cover opens from the right side via a tabbed edge. It neatly snapped back into place when closed, giving reasonable satisfaction that your card will not go flying out when you take a nosedive. On the back of the camcorder, in the lower two-thirds of the body, are two port covers. The top port cover will open to reveal a DC-in port; the lower port cover protects the external lens jack and the AV-out jack. The SC-X300 (non-*L* edition) simple omits the external lens jack. Because the AV-out jack is a proprietary fit and since this is also the headphone jack, users will need to rely on the included headphones.
***Wired External Lens* – The external lens found with the Samsung SC-X300L is identical to the camera found with last year's model: a 3.5' length and 1.5' width. On the cable that connects the lens to the main body is a clip that can attach the button to a flap of clothing. On the reverse of the clip is a power button. Because both power and data is supplied through this cable, the battery drain is considerable, and you'll want to keep the external lens turned off when not in use. This external lens has a 1/4' CMOS sensor with 320K gross pixels, identical to last year's model, according to Samsung reps. We found the image produced by this sports cam to be fish-eyed and horrendous for anything other than highly compressed online videos. We highly recommend trying this out before buying, expecially if this is the selling point for you. The quality is a far cry from the primary lens on the body and footage from the body is a far cry from other camcorders in the same price range.
Comparisons / Conclusion
**In the last few years, the Samsung sports cams have certainly gained a following. They cater to a market, and for the most part, they satisfy. The body is exceptionally rugged, and the flash memory has a distinct edge over DVD, HDD, and even tape in its ability to avoid vibration damage. The new SC-X300L will provide sports enthusiasts the SX-X210L’s offerings with an upgrade in memory, a loss of still image functionality, all at a lower price. This camcorder has an identical external design and interface with the same 1/6' 680K gross CCD, 10x optical zoom, 2' LCD, and rubber body. It also maintains the multifunction features of MP3 player and voice memo recorder.
The image quality, at least on the CES floor, appears to suffer the same noisy low light performance and difficultly in focusing. This camera really has a very specific niche market with the included external wired remote camera and the rubber body that screams it can take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’. It’ll be interesting to get this model into our testing rooms and find out just how much this camera shares with the SC-X210L. In the meanwhile, if dead set on one of these two camcorders, opt for the newer SC-X300L with its expanded memory.
A new option, and one that some people have been waiting for, is Panasonic' s solid state HDC-SD1, that can record high definition in the AVCHD format. Of course, the SD1 is significantly more expensive and much larger to mount to a helmet, but it may lure some of the Samsung fanbase away.