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Video surveillance is a rather conservative technology. Changes, when they occur, tend to be fairly gradual in nature but they are usually for a good reason rather than just for the sake of it. Nevertheless, every so often a trend emerges, leapfrogging the usual evolutionary process. One such development is apparent from the number of new mid-range cameras now sporting built-in or integrated lenses.


Needless to say it's not a new idea, Mitsubishi pioneered the concept ten years ago but back then it was well ahead of its time. It has taken a while for the cost of electronic and optical components to fall to the point where it becomes a viable and economic option to the traditional approach of mixing and matching cameras bodies with screw-on lenses, to suit a particular application.


Hitachi, along with several other manufacturers recently, has come up with an interesting alternative. The VK-C319E mains powered colour camera is effectively a one-size-fits-all approach. The built-in lens has a simple tele-wide function and is designed to cover as wide a range of applications and conditions as possible. Hitachi wisely stopped short of adding any extra facilities such as auto-focus or a power zoom etc., -- which would have been inappropriate in the context of a camera designed principally for relatively undemanding fixed mount duties.


It is immediately obvious that there's something different about this camera, where the lens should be there's a smoothly tapering shroud. It's a visually attractive shape though several people commented that it didn't look like a video camera, which may or may not be an advantage in some circumstances. Inside the front cover there's compact F1.2 lens with a focal range of 2.4 to 6mm, giving a good angle of view (horizontal 33 74 degrees, vertical 25 to 58 degrees). A mechanical auto-iris actuator is attached to the side of the lens barrel.  Behind the lens is a 1/4-inch interline CCD image sensor with a 752 x 582 pixel array, which Hitachi claims will resolve up to 450 lines. Minimum sensitivity is in the region of 4 lux at F1.2 (wide angle setting) or 2 lux, with the AGC in the high position). 


On the rear panel there's a single BNC socket for the composite video output, a recessed rotary preset for setting up line-lock phase and three small buttons (we'll come bck to them in a moment), there'a also a captive mains lead and a mysterious socket marked 'Aux'. This turns out to be unused on this model, which seems a bit wasteful, we can think of at least one good use for it but more about that later on.


The camera is built around a lightweight steel and alloy exoskeleton, covered by removable steel outer panels, it measure 152 x 58 x 64mm, so it is a fairly compact size and shape. No attempt has been made to weatherproof the camera and there are two large ventilation grilles on the top panel so it should only be used in a clean dry environment. When the lid is removed the chassis flexes a little but the assembly derives a lot of its strength from the mains transformer and a large PCB responsible for power regulation. Three other PCBs are stacked vertically either side of the transformer. The two at front are responsible for the CCD and video processing, one at the rear handles connections and control functions. At first glance it looks quite flimsy the lens appears particularly vulnerable -- but since the optics are fully integrated there is no need for a rigidly mounted screw collar -- for a removable lens -- or any kind of back-focus adjustment. In any event the lens assembly is well protected by the shroud. Standard 1/4-inch mounting threads are fitted to the top and bottom panels.   


The three buttons on the back panel control a wide range of functions on the camera's on-screen display system. Pressing the top 'Set' button twice in quick succession brings up the on-screen display, superimposed white text on the video output. The main menu has eight options. Number 1 is negative/positive switching, which inverts brightness and colour levels. This feature is a bit of a mystery, we can't think of any good reason for having it, nor why it should be at the top of the men. It's possible it could be used to make the on-screen display easier to read but changing it back to make adjustments would make it unduly cumbersome.


Menu item number 2 is Automatic Gain Control (AGC) on/off, the manual helpfully suggests leaving it set to the factory default (switched on) for scenes with variable lighting levels. Menu 3 deals with white balance adjustment, the options are full auto or manual; in manual mode the WB setting can be carried out automatically by pointing the camera at a white card, or fine-tuned by individually tweaking red and blue gain levels. 


The fourth menu selection is concerned with manually setting the electronic shutter, there are nine speeds, between 1/50th and 1/30000th sec, plus 'AE mode where shutter speed adjustment is carried out automatically. Menu 6 is the camera ID or title set-up screen. The title can be up to eight characters long, and located in one of six positions along the top and bottom edges of the image. Menu 6, bizarrely labelled 'ELE-ZOOM', is for a 2x digital zoom that electronically enlarges the image.


Menu 7 is labelled ALC level and it covers a lot of ground. In the On position all adjustments are carried out automatically, in the off position there's the option to manually adjust the video signal level and set backlight compensation. This latter facility is surprisingly sophisticated, the image area is divided up into six sections, which can be individually switched on and off, to compensate for strong scene lighting (windows, lights etc.). Lastly, menu-option 8, which toggles between internal and external synchronisation (line lock).



The excellent instruction manual clearly sets out the order of business. The first job is to remove the shroud it's held in place by one captive screw and adjust magnification and focus on the lens. The adjusting arms can be locked into position once set. After that it's on to the menu display to set up or switch the various exposure and white balance functions and if necessary compose and position a camera ident/title.


It's all very straightforward and we suspect most installers will quickly find their way around the menu system. Whilst getting to grips with it, it occurred to us that it was a pity that Hitachi hadn't put the apparently superfluous 'Aux' socket on the back panel to good use. It could be easily adapted for a wired remote control for the camera's menu systems, saving installers a lot of messing around atop ladders. Since only three buttons are involved it wouldn't need to be terribly sophisticated, indeed it's the kind of thing anyone handy with a soldering iron could probably knock up in a few minutes. It would certainly make alignment a lot easier, especially on a multi-camera system.



Centre-screen resolution on our sample was a whisker away from the manufacturer's specs. In good natural light noise levels are very low, colours are sharply defined and faithfully rendered. The auto white balance system has a good stab at dealing with tube lighting, left to its own devices the picture looks a little warm with slightly exaggerated reds, but it is a simple enough matter to manually set colour balance using the white card method.  


The auto-exposure systems respond quickly to changes and work well down to relatively low levels, though greater care needs to be taken when there are strong lights in the scene. The sectionalised backlight compensation system is highly effective, though some slight adjustments to the alignment may be necessary to make sure the bright areas fit into as few zones as possible.


Since the lens is an integral part of the camera it's worth briefly considering the optical performance. On the tele setting and there is no significant distortion and the focus is uniformly sharp. At the extreme wide-angle end of the range the picture exhibits a fair amount of barrelling at the sides and focus tends to go just a little soft at the edges of the picture. Picture stability is excellent, there is no trace of jitter, and the image remained rock solid when the camera was subject to mechanical shock and vibration.



On the face of it the VK-C319E could be a tricky concept to get across to end-users since the general specification appears to offer little over and above what is already available from conventional cameras and lenses. Performance is very good and it's a flexible design, suited to a wide range of applications. However, the key feature is that integrated lens, which takes all of the guesswork out of lens selection and adjustment. It speeds up installation and because the camera and lens are designed to work together, there are no compatibility issues or any confusion over responsibility for service and repair, should anything go wrong. All this should be good news for end-users, which will benefit from faster installation and hopefully improved reliability. The VK-C319E could solve a lot of problems and it deserves to do well.



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                         ??                          



R. Maybury 1999 0110



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