By Evan Ackerman
In the market for a new HD camcorder? No? C’mon, why not? Everything’s getting smaller and cheaper, and HD camcorders are no exception. RCA sent us a sample of one of their smallest and cheapest, the EZ300HD, which can do just about everything you want and nothing you don’t care about. This is going to be fairly straightforward and simple review, because the essence of this camcorder is that it’s straightforward and simple. Oh, and cheap, of course… The EZ300HD costs just $130. Review, after the jump.
RCA calls this camcorder “EZ,” and they’re not kidding. It’s small (about the same size as an iPhone, and about twice as thick), and weighs so little that it feels like you forgot to put the battery in. There isn’t too much exciting going on as far as the case is concerned, but you’ll find all the features you need in a basic camcorder.
The front has a handgrip that’s unfortunately optimized for right handed people. You’ll also find a small LED recording light, and the mic. The lens, which flips out and around 180 degrees to let you record yourself (nice touch), has a little selector that lets you toggle between macro and normal modes. Although it’s a bit of a hassle, it actually works, and lets you keep things in focus down to about 10 inches.
The back of the EZ300HD has a 2.4″ LCD that’s functional if a bit grainy. It displays battery life, quality, and recording time remaining. The controls on the back consist of 5 buttons plus a rocker pad and a quality selector switch, and it’s all a dead cinch to operate. You can choose from HD (1280 x 720 @ 30 fps), HQ, or YouTube quality modes. Recording involves pushing all of two buttons, the on/off button and the big red record button. After you’re done, hit the play button to play your clip back and hold the delete button to delete it. The rocker switch lets you browse your clips, and adjusts the (entirely worthless) digital zoom. The last button is the photo button, and if you push it, you get a 5 megapixel photo. Seriously, camcorders don’t get much more painless to use than this.
Around the sides of the camera you’ll find a battery door for the proprietary lithium battery, which is good for up to 2 hours of recording time per charge. Just above the battery compartment is a slot for an SDHC card. The EZ300HD accepts cards of up to 16 gigs, which would give you 8 hours of HD recording, in addition to the 1 hour of HD recording (or 2 hours in HQ or 6 hours in YouTube quality) that you get with the 2 gigs of built-in memory. The other side has an AV port, and a nifty little switch that extends a USB connector out of a port in the top of the camcorder, a brilliant little feature… No cables necessary. The bottom of the EZ300HD has a strap loop, a tripod screw mount, and an HDMI connector.
Like I said, it’s dead simple to use. You just turn it on and push the button and off you go. It’s more comfortable to hold than it looks due to the light weight. It makes annoying noises when turning on and off and when taking still photos… I have no idea how to prevent this from happening. There’s no in-camera editing, but that’s okay. I think in-camera editing is a gimmick most of the time anyway, and I actually appreciate the fact that you can view and delete clips but nothing else. As far as quality, well, can I describe it with a “meh?” It’s technically HD quality, but only in 30 FPS, and the minuscule amount of glass in the lens means that it looks decent in good light but quickly dissolves in noise when things get dim. The audio sensitivity is pretty good, but loud noise can overload the mic. All in all, it’s not bad for normal, everyday use, but I wouldn’t recommend asking it to do anything especially complex.
The software comes on the camera itself, and you can install it when you plug the camera in for the first time. This is convenient. What is less convenient is that it takes about 10 minutes to install the assorted bits of software and codecs, and then RCA tries to convince you that you really need Mozy backup software, that you want a Weatherbug widget, and that Ask should be your default search engine. C’mon, RCA, crapware? Really? The whole “streamlined and simple” concept behind this camera just took a hit. Even worse, when you actually run the software, it displays ads for this same crap inside the program itself. Maybe this helps make the camcorder as cheap as it is, but I feel like if you pay for some hardware and software, you shouldn’t have to watch advertisements for entirely unrelated services (or anything, honestly) while you use it.
After I installed everything, one of my videos didn’t play. I’m not sure why. I closed the software (which triggered an annoying “thanks for using this software” screen), unplugged the EZ300HD, plugged it back in, and then it asks me if I want to install the software. Sigh. Closing that screen out, I ran the program from a desktop shortcut, and it starts but gives me a nag screen asking me to register the camera. I had previously declined to do this. Twice. Okay, you know what, I gave it a chance but now I give up, this is no longer EZ.
Thankfully, the EZ300HD shows up as a mass storage device when you plug it in to a USB port, and you can browse directly to your *.AVI format videos. Note that to view them, you may have to install the software once to get the proper codecs on your computer. I would highly, highly, highly recommend skipping all of the software crap and just using what you already have, like Windows Media Player and Windows Movie Maker to play and edit your videos.
Let me get it out of the way: the software sucks. RCA can be forgiven for minimizing features on such a low-end camera, and maybe even for the crapware and ads if it makes a material difference in the overall price of the camera… But the nag screens? Not classy. My advice is to not use the software at all lest it annoy the the heck out of you.
I personally would have preferred that the EZ300HD use AA batteries, which would afford much more flexibility but add weight and possibly, but not necessarily, bulk. Lithium batteries are nice and all, but 2 hours is not a very long lifetime, especially if you’re taking advantage of the memory expansion slot and can record 9 hours worth of video. Alternatively, it would have been nice if the battery could be charged via USB or just with a power cable, as opposed to a separate charger.
In general, though, the EZ300HD is a solid, compact, and convenient camcorder that records in HD. The controls are brainless, the integrated memory is useful, and the USB connectivity is a simple feature that makes the difference as to whether or not you should pay $130ish for it. It’s not fancy, but it doesn’t claim to be… It’s cheap, it’s simple, and it works.
[ RCA EZ300HD ]