When you're choosing a camcorder it's all too easy to be distracted by the added extras the special-effects buttons and editing functions that are so complex that they have pages of incomprehensible pictograms devoted to them in the instructions manual.
What is more important is to find a camcorder with good picture quality, because no matter how many features are included, a grainy picture is going to disappoint, particularly with the extra loss of definition that comes with copying onto videotape.
Hitachi's VMH80 Weathercam, a model of minimalism in terms of buttons and gimmicks, is unlikely to disappoint in its picture quality.
The successor to the award-winning VMH70, this new model offers high-quality pictures, with a 24x digital zoom that keeps images clear under magnification. The proof of camcorders is in the viewing, and this model produces images of striking clarity.
As with its predecessor, this new Weathercam is encased in a robust, waterproof shell, which might be worth considering if a school camcorder is being taken on a field trip.
The main upgrade in the VMH80 is a system designed to simplify playing back pictures through a television or video recorder. Instead of running a lead from the camcorder to the television, the VMH80 uses an infra-red beam, which sends its signal to a small set-top box, which is plugged into the television.
This is at least a small step towards cutting down the mangrove swamp of leads when camcorder, video recorder and television are attached together.