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SONY SSC-C158P COLOUR VIDEO CAMERA

 

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By any measure the Sony SSC-158 is a fairly conventional compact colour camera though it is notable for being their first camera to use a 1/3-inch CCD imaging chip. The chip in question is a high-performance Hyper-HAD type with a matrix of 291k pixels. A feature of this design is a microscopic on-chip lens (OCL) array, this improves the sensorís light gathering characteristics and contributes to a low-light sensitivity of less than 2-lux (f/1.2), though Sony confidently claim it will still produce a useable image down to 1-lux. The Sony SSC-C158 is pitched at the busiest segments of the surveillance market. Itís primary role is in single camera set-ups, though it can be easily integrated into suitably-equipped multi-camera systems.

 

Installation and alignment have been made as effortless as possible; it has a fully automatic ĎCCD Irisí exposure system, based around an electronic high-speed shutter that varies between 1/50th and 1/100,000th of a second, according to the amount of light reaching the sensor chip. It has fixed or auto-tracing white balance, chosen to suite scene lighting conditions, more about that in a moment. The camera is powered by a built-in mains power supply; Sony have produced a low-voltage, externally powered variant (24 volt AC, Class 2), called the SSC-C154, though this is currently only available as an NTSC model. 

 

Flexibility is always an important consideration and the C158 can be used with C or CS-mount lenses with manual or auto-iris (DC drive type). The video output is a standard 1.0V p-p PAL signal, with a variable V-phase adjustment for integration with multi-camera systems. It doesnít come with any mounting hardware, thatís left to the installer, but the mounting plate (1/4in UNC), can be fitted to the top or bottom of the casing.

 

The camera is housed in a tough steel case, with ABS plastic end caps, no attempt has been made to weatherproof the casing, a protective housing is required if the camera is to be used in a damp or dusty environment. Internal construction is very simple, all of the main components and assemblies mounted on a pressed steel chassis, so it should prove quite rugged. Most of the electronics are contained on a single, double-sided glass-fibre PCB, the circuit board has a high proportion of surface-mount components which will ensure a high degree of reliability and immunity to physical shock. The mains supply is built inside a separate plastic box; itís a switched-mode design, and although more complex than a normal transformer type PSU, itís more efficient, and generates less heat, another hopeful sign for a long and healthy life. Overall it shouldnít present installers with any problems.

 

Controls are few and far between. Most of them are grouped on the back panel where there are two miniature slide switches, one for switching the auto iris on and off, the other for selecting auto (fixed) or auto-tracing white balance. In addition thereís a push-button for locking the auto white balance setting, and two recessed buttons for adjusting V-phase. Also on the back panel is a BNC socket carrying the video output, and a captive mains lead, which emerges just below the video output socket. The cable supplied is approximately 1.5 metres long. A 4-pin socket for the auto iris lens is on the left side of the camera, close to the front, along with the incident light control and lens mount screws.

 

Initial adjustments are confined to selecting C or CS mount, according to the type of lens being used. This doubles up as the back-focus adjustment, once set it is locked into position with a grub screw. If the camera is being used with an auto-iris lens it may be necessary to use the light level (L/H) control to compensate for incident lighting. The L/H control is accessed through a hole in the side of the case, though it may not be necessary, the instructions say the default setting should be suitable for most situations.

 

The cameraís white balance system has two operating modes. The AWB (auto white balance) setting is used when the lighting conditions do not vary to any significant extent; to lock the WB setting the camera must be pointed at a plain white surface, the lock button is pressed and the setting is memorised, after the camera has been switched off, then back on again. In the ATW (automatic tracing white-balance) mode the camera adjusts the white balance continuously, to suit the prevailing conditions; manual setting is unnecessary.

 

PERFORMANCE

The specifications claim a horizontal resolution of 330-lines, this was confirmed by our tests which suggest that under ideal conditions it may even be slightly better than that. Sony quote a low light sensitivity figure of 1.9-lux, and once again this is on the conservative side, though at these extreme levels the image is very grainy but still able to yield useful detail. The auto exposure system is reasonably effective but fairly slow to respond to sudden changes in lighting level. In some circumstances this can be an advantage, though Sony appear to have employed a fairly basic metering system which isnít particularly discriminating and doesnít cope especially well with scenes that contain one or more bright light sources. Colour accuracy is good, even under normally troublesome fluorescent lighting. The instructions warn that colour changes can occur when the CCD Iris function is enabled, though we didnít notice any problems during our tests. The CCD sensor on our sample had at least one faulty pixel/pixel group, with a bright spot permanently visible towards the lower edge of the screen.

 

OVERALL ASSESSMENT

The C158ís automatic systems are capable of dealing with most routine lighting situations. Installation is quick and simple, the standard of construction is very high, and maintenance demands are low. Sony have wisely judged the need for a sensibly priced, no-frills colour camera that has good low-light performance -- the SS-C158 ably meets that need.

 

PRODUCT ASSESSMENT

Design and design features              ****

Circuitry and components                  *****

Ease of installation and wiring    *****

Range and variety of functions            ***

Accompanying instructions                   *****

Technical advice and backup            ****

Value for money                         ****

 

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© R.Maybury 1994 0711

 

 


 

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