Overall, the VP-D103i has a conventional design, with no suprises in the locations of the main buttons and the menu layout.
The unit is rather robust, although the inflexible hinge on the LCD screen could lead to an unfortunate snapping incident. The black and white image seen through the viewfinder lacks the relative clarity of the LCD, and struggles to show an accurate representation of the various lighting modes and effects. With the LCD causing heightened battery drain, the image quality as seen through the viewfinder is a let-down.
One obvious design flaw is the location of the image capture button. The button is positioned on the top of the camera, next to the viewfinder, which leaves it directly under the user's fingers. This led to many errant photo captures during testing, and a great deal of frustration.
In addition to miniDV tapes, the camera also features a Memory Stick slot. Moving images can be recorded directly onto the Memory Stick, but at a maximum MPEG-4 resolution of 352 x 288, it's hardly worth the expense of buying removable media. Tapes and memory cards are loaded from the bottom of the camera, which could make shooting with a tripod inconvenient.
The features of the VP-D103i are targeted at novice shooters, and include an 'Easy Q' recording mode, power night capture and digital special effects.
The Easy Q function is great for beginners, as it applies settings automatically, allowing users to become familiar with using the camera without being intimidated by a swag of options.
There are nine digital special effects to enhance or distort your recording, ranging from standard sepia and mosaic modes to the more bizarre-looking emboss and art modes. Although the majority of the effects will leave your footage resembling a music video from the 1980s, they are fun to experiment with, especially for first-time users.
Onscreen menus are easy to navigate, with the volume control doing double duty as a menu scroll wheel. An early use of the menu for most people will be to disable the beep sounds which accompany any changes to the setup. These cheerful tones may initially amuse, but they soon make the camera feel a little too much like a toy.
In terms of accessories, USB and FireWire are both options for PC connection, although only a USB cable is included in the box. The bundled SE versions of Ulead's Photo Express and Video Studio software provide a solid introduction to the editing process.
The 16x optical/900x digital zoom is quite respectable for a camcorder at this level.
The camera was tested in several lighting conditions, and performed quite well in all. The power night capture and video light were better than expected, providing illumination for up to 3 metres.
A disappointing performance issue was the quality of the sound recording. As with many other consumer-level camcorders, the inbuilt stereo microphone picked up a significant amount of machine noise from the tape, which was quite noticeable when played back at higher volumes. In order to obtain clear sound that is free from buzzes and whirs, an external microphone would be an essential addition.
Battery life is pretty standard, with a two-hour charge providing up to two hours continuous recording time. However, the battery must be charged in the camera, which means there is no possibility of charging an extra one for immediate use when the first one runs out.
A good pick for new users, the Samsung VP-D103i performs well in most areas, but is let down by some disappointing design choices, such as the viewfinder, microphone and the lack of separate battery charger.