Toshiba brings 1080p and optical zoom to a very low price. (May 30th, 2010)
Product Manufacturer: Toshiba
- 1080p and 10X zoom for $400.
- Simple interface.
- 4GB of storage built-in with SDHC slot.
- Slow motion and time lapse options.
- Good audio quality.
- Mediocre image quality.
- AVI container limits a cross-platform standard.
- Small range of image adjustment options.
- Slightly disjointed union of touch and physical controls.
Design and interface
Camcorder design has in many ways been massaged into oblivion: it's hard to design a barrel-shaped camera that breaks from the template. The X100 will feel very much familiar to anyone who's used a typical digital camcorder, but that does lead to a comfortable, easy-to-grip design. Ergonomically, the only real complaint is Toshiba's love of chrome and gloss, which leads to many fingerprints.
Expansion faces a similar sort of inevitability, albeit with a pleasant catch. Toshiba provides both RCA and mini HDMI video outputs as well as a mini USB port for offloading directly from the camera. An SDHC card slot gives it room for a lot of storage, but there's a pleasant surprise in store; the X100 has 4GB of memory built-in. Having any significant storage inside is rare in this class, and it means about 1 hour, 7 minutes of 1080p video (more at lower resolutions). That may be a bit short for a wedding, but it could cover a birthday party, graduation or many other situations without having to buy extra storage.
The interface is what you'd expect for this price. There aren't many options -- macro, scene presets and the white balance are the extent of the in-depth controls -- but the experience is kept very simple and uncluttered. Toshiba has made an odd choice for the interface, though: most of the options are best chosen through the (thankfully responsive) touchscreen, but it's hard to scroll through the top-level options without using the combination jog dial and directional pad on the back. It's not hard to get used to, but it's somewhat counter-intuitive at first.
Image and audio quality
Whenever a company promises 1080p video on the cheap, whether it's a pocket camcorder or a traditional design like this one, it's easy to be skeptical.
Some of that skepticism is warranted here. The X100's output is reasonably color-accurate, but it's clear the sensor can't quite keep up: at 1080p, 30 frames per second shooting, it doesn't cope with significant motion well. There's some evidence that the bitrate isn't as high as it could be due to softness of detail, although that may be a willing sacrifice to get the extra recording time. The "tower of jello" effect seen on DSLRs may have even crept up during a sudden bump to the camcorder. It does handle transitions in brightness relatively well, and we didn't notice blocking, ghosting or other obvious artifacts.
More worrisome may be the lens and how it interacts with that sensor. The 10X optical zoom factor is quite good for the price, but it's clear this is where Toshiba cut costs. When zooming slowly, we noticed the focusing motor periodically struggling to keep up. We noticed obvious purple fringing (chromatic aberration) at the far end of the zoom, a sign the lens may be too small relative to the sensor.
Image stabilization exists, but we found it somewhat dicey. Whether zooming out or just walking down the street, we found that the image was still prone to jittering from subtler movements. Some of this is true of camcorders as a whole, but we'd definitely recommend a tripod or else slow, deliberate pans and zooms to get the most out of the X100's somewhat limited abilities. There's a focus light built-in, but this is only to help make for usable shots in the dark.
As much as the image quality raises issues, the audio quality is fairly good. It isn't overwhelmed by multiple noises; scenes sounded more confused in real life than they did on the camera. Nothing so elaborate as 5.1-channel surround is included here, but we wouldn't demand it at this level.
Exporting video and special features
Ostensibly, the X100 records video in H.264 (AVCHD). While likely true, Toshiba inexplicably decided to wrap the video in an AVI container rather than use the raw MP4 or M4V. The result is artificially cutting off easy Mac support. The videos will play if you have VLC or a QuickTime plugin like Perian, but editing simply won't work in iMovie or even Final Cut without an extension. Windows users have it easier, but the choice is an arbitrary distinction that makes it difficult for one platform when it isn't really necessary.
Toshiba's quick-access solutions reflect this. ArcSoft diting software exists on the camera, but only for Windows. A YouTube button on the camera should streamline quick posting but won't necessarily work properly without Microsoft's OS. We're glad the built-in storage does mount like a removable drive on Mac OS X, so copying video off of the camera is easy.
No matter how you get footage off, there are a handful of extras, although it was hard to really justify their uses. Slow-motion and time lapse modes are handy for sports and special amateur movies, and motion tracking gives it a slight edge if used as an ad hoc security monitor. It can snap 10-megapixel still photos, but given some of the optical problems, we'd be hesitant to use it except to catch incidental photos when a separate camera isn't available.
From the initial sound of it, you'd believe we disliked the X100. The image quality is a definite sore point and shouldn't be ignored. If you're striving for something that will look flawless in a Blu-ray home movie, be prepared to pay up for a more expensive model. Your extra money will go towards a significantly better product better suited to fast motion and sharp images. And if you're a Mac user, this likely isn't the camera for you even if you accept those limits.
At the same time, though, the camera seems to exactly reflect its usefulness for the price. As a YouTube uploader camera, it's a definite step up from pocket cameras like the Flip Slide HD; the image and audio fidelity are both a step up above, and some of the deficiencies are masked when viewing in anything less than full screen mode. Considering that many higher-grade standard definition cameras can cost as much as what Toshiba's charging for HD, why pay hundreds of dollars more if the improvements won't be visible?
Having mentioned this, you may want to consider the Camileo H30 if you like the interface, OS support and concept but don't need as much zoom or large quantities of built-in storage. The cheaper model can still shoot at 1080p and has all the extra modes of the X100, but for $150 less only really loses the larger lens and half of the zoom range.