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Close your eyes, and watch some video. Now open them, but plug your ears. Neither one seems complete, so why do most home camcorder jockeys ignore the audio and focus only on the picture? The Zoom Q3HD gets the balance right, shooting HD video while capturing audio with two terrific microphones. You’ll be able to see and hear footage from a music recital, a quiet grandfather telling stories, or nearly any other situation where other pocket cams would fail. While we can pick at the Q3HD’s many issues—including weak battery life and a narrow lens—we’d gladly take its results over competitors.
Q3HD records at several resolutions and speeds, including 1080p at 30 frames per second and 720p at 30 or 60 frames per second. Video quality is what you’d expect from a pocket cam, which means it’s adequate. Well-lit scenes yield sharp details and rich colors. But as the light levels drop, so does the Q3HD’s video quality. And too-rapid pans can introduce a jitter common to inexpensive cameras. The lens also feels tight. In small spaces—the majority of times we wanted to use the Q3HD—we had to lean back to fit everything into the narrow frame. Its 4x digital zoom can get you closer to the action as needed, but you’ll pay in image quality.
Without the microphone cage, the great audio would escape.
Listening to the Q3HD reveals its true hook. The built-in mics capture a great range of stereo sound, from the resonance of an acoustic guitar to rich-sounding dialogue. Selectable bit- and sample-rate settings tune audio performance all the way up to 24-bit PCM at 96kHz, or 48kHz AAC at 320kbps. We just wish the documentation did a better job of explaining all these choices.
The bundled 2GB SD card gets you about a half hour of footage using the highest quality setting. And you can go from zero to shooting HD video about two seconds after hitting the power button; the Q3HD is always ready to capture those fleeting moments.
Additional refinements could improve the camera. A built-in USB plug transfers recordings to your Mac with or without the pointless software bundle. But unlike Zoom’s audio-only recorders, you can’t use an attached Q3HD as a live mic or camera for your Mac. The weak battery life—we got fewer than 90 minutes of recording time per set of AAs—will make you fearful that they’ll run out in the middle of a shot. And the plastic device even includes a plastic tripod adapter; that’s cheap.
The bottom line. The Q3HD pairs decent image quality with uncommonly good audio. It’s easy to overlook this pocket shooter’s shortcomings once you hear the difference.
Q3HD Handy Video Recorder
USB port, bundled software requires Mac OS 10.4.6 or later
Strong audio quality. Includes audio in and out. Makes basic in-camera edits to free up space. Optionally records audio without video. HDMI and analog video outputs let you watch results on a TV immediately.
Lens distance is too tight for small rooms. Short battery life. Cheap body even includes plastic tripod-socket. Doesn’t mount as a live OS X audio (or video) device.