HITACHI VK-C319E COLOUR VIDEO CAMERA
WHAT OUR EXPERTS SAY...
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
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
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
SETUP AND OPERATION
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 ??
ã R. Maybury