Zoom Q3HD Handy Video Recorder Review

A few years back, Zoom released the HandyCam Q3 as a pocket recorder that would distinguish itself from the rest of the pack with its dual microphone setup and focus on comparatively high audio fidelity. Although it was an overall solid product that delivered in the sound department, it was not without its problems, and yes, they were all mostly video related. Zoom is now back with the Q3HD and is clearly rectifying the issues of its predecessor by upgrading the camera quality and adding a few little extra refinements along the way, but is this portable pocket cam the right one for you?


The Features of the Q3HD

The single most significant upgrade featured on the Q3HD as compared to its predecessor is most definitely the bump in the video department as this HandyCam is capable of recording video in true 1080p HD quality. The video quality ranks in more specifically at 1920x1080 full high-definition and is natively saved as MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (.MOV) format which should please any of you video bloggers out there as these are pretty much the go to formats for both YouTube and Facebook, as well as most other sites. And just in case 1080p might be taxing the memory a little too much, the Q3HD can also do 720p HD for longer recordings as well as SD formats when smaller file sizes are needed. Overall, the videos looked pretty good, even on the small 2.4 inch display, although while recording, the Q3HD doesn’t take advantage of the entire screen and simply shows a slightly smaller version, although those familiar with pocket cams can tell you that other similarly sized devices tend to have the same problem. Even with that said, the screen is sharp enough to make this problem negligible. Overall, the video is on par with most of today’s HD pocket cams but does benefit from its wide-angle lens which should make framing wider shots easier, although for the most part, the average consumer might not notice this. Also, the camera doesn’t feature autofocus and instead uses a fixed infinity focus, meaning that things start getting sharp at about three feet away. Although this isn’t a deal breaker (as most pockets cams also used fixed infinity focus), similarly priced pocket cams from Sony tend to have autofocus, although not nearly the same amount of audio fidelity. Also, the Q3HD has up to 4X digital zoom which is about right for similarly priced pocket cams.

As far as the sound goes, this is where the Q3HD shines above the rest of its competition. While most pocket cams usually simply place a mono microphone with more often than not sketchy audio recording capabilities into their camcorders, the Q3HD features “three dimensional” stereo sound via its two studio-quality condenser mics. The microphones are place in a 120 degree angle X/Y format which might not seem that important, but when considering that the Q3HD was made to record music, such as band practices or concerts, you’ll see why this is important. Time lags generated by differences in distances from sound sources are eliminated by aligning the left and right recording positions on the same axis. In addition to left-right stereo width, a sense of depth from front to back is also captured faithfully, allowing your recordings to sound three-dimensional. Although this is essentially the same setup used with the older Q3, there is definitely marked improvement with the Q3HD. When recording in a crowded room, the Q3HD is much better at filtering out background noise while still producing a very warm and natural overall sound. Even camcorders worth about twice as much as the Q3HD don’t match up to the “real” quality of the sound. The sound of the Q3HD is further bolstered by Mic Gain switch that lets you choose between Lo, Hi and Auto. Although the Auto feature does a good job of ensuring a well-leveled recording, the ability to manually switch between Lo and Hi comes in handy, especially when in an area with excess background noise (in which case switch to Hi). And just in case you simply want to record sound, the Q3HD has you covered with plenty of audio-only options. As far as quality and format goes, you have your choice between AAC and PCM with a bitrate from 160 to 320kbps which for those of you unfamiliar with the numbers, 320kbps is what you would get with your higher quality (better than CD) MP3 tracks.


The Hardware

The first thing you will surely notice with the Q3HD is its very light. So light in fact that the build at times felt a little weak and more like a toy than a piece of equipment, but still, overall it is pretty solid. The Q3HD is controlled by buttons which are each pretty straight forward; you have your Play, Menu, Delete, Record and a D-pad for maneuvering through the interface. Recording is as easy as you would expect – press the red Rec button to record and press it again to stop. If you look to the left side of the unit, you will see the Mic Gain switch , a Line In input jack,a DC5V jack (for an un-included ac adapter), a Line Output/Headphone jack, a TV Output jack and a full USB 2.0  cable that can be placed out of sight back into the unit (although it’s a little short for a USB cable). Also, it wouldn’t truly be an HD camcorder if it didn’t include and HDMI out so rest assured, you will be able to easily watch any recorded videos seamlessly via any HDMI compatible HDTV.

If there was single big problem with the hardware, is has to be its prehistoric use of the double A battery.  While most pocket camcorders (as well as most electronic devices) feature rechargeable lithium ion batteries, the Q2HD is powered by two double As and although they are readily available, they will only last you two hours with video capture or four hours when used just for audio. Overall though, it’s a negative, yes, but not a deal breaker. You can power it though an ac adapter but that really defeats the portable aspect of the Q3HD unless you happen to be using it at home while hooked up to a TV.

The Q3HD uses SD cards for its memory and ships with a 2 gig, which is essentially about 30 minutes of full HD video, although if you spring for and SDHC 32 gig card, that number jumps significantly to 7 hours – too bad the batteries won’t last you nearly as long, but again, minor problem in the bigger scheme of the device. 


The Verdict

All in all, the Q3HD is a solid video capture device with outstanding audio recording capabilities and plenty of different format options. Although it is not without its problems (battery life, plastic build), those out there who are more concerned about audio fidelity when choosing a camcorder – such as musicians – will find plenty to like with the Q3HD. With unparalleled sound, easy to use execution and compact form factor, the Zoom Q3HD is a great choice when the music matters most.


Recording Media: SD/SDHC card (up to 32GB)  *Class 4 or higher recommended.
Imaging Device: 1/3.2-inch 5M pixels CMOS sensor
Optics Lens: Fixed Focus (1.0m to infinity), F2.8
Video Format: MPEG-4 AVC / H.264(MOV)
Video Resolution: HD1080p 30fps、HD720p 60fps、HD720p 30fps、WVGA 60fps、WVGA 30fps

Audio Format: 
PCM (Quantization : 16/24bit, Sampling Frequency : 44.1/48/96kHz)
AAC (Bit Rate: 64 to 320kbps, Sampling Frequency : 48kHz)

Sound Functions: Lo-cut filter, Auto REC level
Video Functions: 4x digital zoom, Scene select, Divide, Trim
Display: 2.4-inch full color LCD (QVGA)

Built-in Mic: Unidirectional, 120-degree X/Y stereo
Maximum Sound Pressure Level: 130dB SPL

Built-in Speaker: Monaural, 400mW 8Ω
Input: LINE IN (1/8" Stereo phone jack)

Mini-HDMI (Type C)
TV OUT (NTSC / PAL compatible)
LINE/PHONES OUT (1/8" Stereo phone jack)

USB: USB2.0 High speed compatible, Mass storage class operation

Power Requirements: 
2 x AA batteries (LR6 or Ni-MH)
AC adapter(AD-14): DC5V/1A/center positive

Battery Life: 2 hours (Movie mode), 4 hours (Audio mode)
Dimensions: 51(W) x 132.9(D) x 23(H) mm
Weight: 105g (without batteries)
Accessories: SD memory card (2GB), 2 x AA/LR6 batteries (for testing the unit)

System requirements for HandyShare software
Windows XP 32bit (SP2 or later), Windows Vista 32bit / 64bit (SP1 or later), Windows 7 32bit / 64bit
Intel Pentium4 1.4GHz / AMD Athlon 64 or faster
512MB RAM (1GB or more recommended)
1024 x 600 monitor resolution or more
USB1.1/2.0 compatible port

Mac OS X 10.4.6 or later / 10.5 / 10.6
Intel Core Duo 1.66 GHz or faster (Intel Mac only)
512MB RAM (1GB or more recommended)
1024 x 600 monitor resolution or more
USB1.1/2.0 compatible port

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