This is the first camcorder from BenQ, and for a first effort, it’s not bad. But let’s be clear from the outset: this is very much an entry-level camcorder designed first and foremost to be easy to use, not for brilliant picture quality. The small unit is designed for portability and quick access to capture the unexpected, not to film a cinematographic masterpiece.
You’re probably most familiar with BenQ for its monitors or projectors, and in that market, it does a good job of the budget end. This is likely aimed at the same users, though it misses the mark a bit.
From the feature list, the M1 sounds like a bargain of a camcorder. It records 1080p full-high-definition video, has a 3in swivel touch screen, an autofocus lock and three second pre-record. It includes a wind-cut option, HDMI output, electronic image stabiliser, fade in/out effects, six lighting modes and 5x optical zoom.
But looking at the footage it captures, you’ll quickly realise that you get what you pay for in this sub-$400 video camera. The autofocus lock is a godsend – without it on, the video is constantly going in and out of focus, and completely unwatchable. And if your footage looks shaky, don’t turn on the electronic image stabiliser, as this appears to make matters worse rather than better.
Then there’s the 1080p resolution. Of course, 1080p is the buzzword at the moment, with anyone and everyone touting it in their gear. But the plain fact is that at the budget end of the market, few people will really have the computing power to watch it back properly, much less edit it with ease. Even my new model Mac Mini (2.53GHz, 4GB RAM) stuttered with the footage. But that’s not the fault of the camera.
When you can get the video playing properly, the image quality is OK – but far from what you might expect if you’re used to watching 1080p Blu-ray movies. In fact, I didn’t see any advantage over non-HD camcorders I’ve used – and it competes well with many SD camcorders in its price bracket. They’re likely to be a bit bulkier, though, unless you opt for the slim Sony Bloggie, which also boasts Full HD, or a Flip with 720p resolution.
Also, the M1 supposedly takes 10 megapixel stills, but the resultant images looked little better than what my iPhone 3G can manage – albeit much bigger. In fairness, most camcorders don’t take good still shots.
One of the camera’s features that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense is its ‘3 second auto pre-record’, which when turned on, continually records whatever you’re pointing at, only keeping three seconds at a time. But if you still have to focus on the action, why not just keep recording anyway? It’s not like it will magically catch the action while it’s facing the floor.
Where I was impressed with the M1 was in its controls. After a mere five minutes, I had figured out most of its basic operations. The touch-screen works surprisingly well, and is responsive and clear. The menus are easy to navigate and should make sense for even the most novice users.
Australian Macworld’s buying advice
If you’re looking for a camcorder that’s easy to use, and priced at the budget end, this won’t be the worst option available. However, if you’re expecting much from its 1080p claims, prepare to be disappointed. It’s easy to use, but it is let down by the quality of video it records.
BenQ Camcorder M1
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