VIDEO CAMERA 1993

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE

 

INTRO

Blaupunkt, ('blue-spot') are better known in the UK for their classy in-car entertainment systems, but that may all be about to change with their newly-expanded range of camcorders, TVs and VCRs. This month we highlight the SCR-750, a machine with a rather unusual history

 

COPY

We first met this machine over a year ago, during a visit from a team of experts from Panasonic's camcorder factory in Japan. Towards the end of the meeting  the T1, as it was then known, was shown to us, and our opinions sought . All this was on the understanding that it was an early pre-production sample, and we couldn't write about it as it was by no means certain that a European version would be developed.

 

We were only mildly enthusiastic and in the end Panasonic decided not to launch it in the UK; a PAL version was eventually put into production and it has been sold in Germany, where it is called the S78. That would have been the end of the story but for another German company, Blaupunkt, who are in the process of raising their profile over here, where they're mainly known for their excellent in-car entertainment systems. In amongst their quite impressive range of TVs, VCRs and camcorders we spotted the SCR-750, clearly a T1/S78 clone, it seemed like a good opportunity to see if our initial opinions and Panasonic's final decision were justified.

 

First the basics. The 750 is a sub-compact Super VHS-C machine with stereo hi-fi sound, 8x optical zoom, digital effects, including 2x zoom, image stabiliser, digital mix, snap-shot and still facilities. It has a 2/3-inch LCD colour viewfinder, integral lens cover and an NP-style battery which fits inside the machine, rather than on the side or back. A year ago the flat, vertical layout was quite innovative, though since then we've had the Hitachi M37 and a number of Canon machines, designed along more or less the same lines. By comparison with these the 750 looks a little bulky.

 

Some of our misgivings centred on the LCD colour viewfinder, time has not softened our opinion and we still feel they're an unnecessary and expensive frippery. However, in this case our concerns are tempered by the knowledge that the viewfinder is an integral design element, and it would be difficult, if not impossible to incorporate a monochrome viewfinder without drastically changing the shape. That doesn't alter the fact that an LCD screen makes manual focusing difficult, and even though this machine has a manual white balance control, you cannot rely on the LCD screen to make an accurate colour assessment.

 

Manually focusing the 750's inner-focus lens is made even harder by the two-button servo control, it is our least favourite method; it can be vague, and there is a tendency to overshoot. We might as well get the other gumbles out of the way: the wrist strap folds flat on the side of the machine, it looks very neat,  but it has to be unclipped every time it is used, which is a chore, if you're in a hurry to catch a shot. The stop/start button is in a slightly awkward position , and the still-recording button is too close to the zoom rocker for comfort. The integral battery pack arrangement means that in order to use a larger-capacity battery the cover has to be left off, increasing the chances that it will be lost. Lastly, there's no window on the tape compartment, so you can't tell if there's a tape in the machine, without switching it on, or pressing the eject button.

 

Fortunately there's enough good things to say about the 750 to redress the balance. The most frequently used controls are all accessible, but the tape transport buttons are kept out of the way, behind a sliding hatch on the cover of the tape compartment. The built-in lens cover is a good idea, and the 750 uses  a re-chargeable lithium battery to power the clock,  it doesn't need replacing. Best of all it has an RMC edit socket, it's the later type, called the 'new edit terminal' with 11-pins, but it is fully compatible with the more familiar 5-pin connectors, used on all of Panasonic's controllers (and Blaupunkt clones), plus an increasing number of accessory market controllers. The extra pins carry video and audio signals, in addition to the control data, so in theory the camcorder can be connected to the controller by just one cable, in practice it hasn't happened yet, though Panasonic assure us that products using this connecting system are in the pipeline.

 

IN USE

It looks, feels and handles like a brick with a wrist-strap, and it's distinctly nose-heavy. The surprise is that it is not at all uncomfortable to hold, though it is quite heavy and it can become a little tiresome after a while. Some of the controls could have been better thought our, in particular the awkward switching system for the digital effects; the main auto/manual switch is disastrously close to the microphone,  it definitely shouldn't be used when the machine is recording.

 

In spite of the controls the digital effects work well, and the mixer makes a very welcome change from a boring old fader (it has that as well). The image stabiliser is quite effective, though like the electronic zoom there is a noticeable reduction in picture quality but it is far less dramatic, thanks to the higher quality S-VHS recording system.

 

 

PERFORMANCE

The on-screen results were pretty much as expected with horizontal resolution between 380 and 400 lines, that places it firmly in the middle rank of high-band palmcorders, though the absence of colour spillage and very low noise levels gives it a small but very worthwhile advantage over most similarly specified machines. The lack of any serious exposure controls is perhaps its biggest drawback, and it really does need some form of backlight control, at the very least. The 750's auto systems are adequate for most everyday situations but there are times when they just cannot cope; the current trend towards programmed auto exposure systems -- and Panasonic are one of the leading exponents -- suggests that this design is nearing its sell-by date.

 

We thought the top-mounted microphone was going to give us trouble, in the end it wasn't a half as bad as we had expected, with more than adequate frontal sensitivity. However, like most machines with single-point stereo mikes it produces a very shallow stereo effect. It would be hardly worth the effort but for the fact that the hi-fi recording system has a very generous bandwidth, and the 750 has a socket for an external microphone.

 

VERDICT

A year on and we haven't changed our position significantly over the T1/750. It's dull but worthy, like the sober-suited businessmen Panasonic hoped would buy it, to put into their briefcases. It's not a bad machine by any means but measured against other high-band palmcorders in the same price bracket -- including the Panasonic S7, Hitachi H37 and Canon UC30 -- it lacks excitement, zip and pizzazz. Above all camcorders should be fun to use but there's nothing about this one that makes you want to pick it up and make video movies; it looks and feels like an expensive executive gadget, it could just as easily be a personal organiser, or a dictating machine. We're pleased Blaupunkt have decided to bring the 750 into the UK -- we're all for choice -- but with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight we think Panasonic were probably right not to bother.

 

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                   BLAUPUNKT SCR-750S

Recording format           S-VHS-C

Guide price                     1,000

 

OPTICS

Lens                               f1.4, 6-48mm

Zoom                              8x optical, 16x electronic

Filter diameter              43mm

Pick-up device               0.3in CCD (420k pixels)

Min. illum. (lux)             3, (1 lux, gain up mode)

 

VIDEO DECK

Tape speed (mm/sec)      23.39(SP), 11.70(LP)

Max. rec. time                 90mins (LP mode)

Remote control                RMC/5-pin  edit control socket 

Main facilities                 auto/manual focus, auto exposure, auto/manual  white balance, fader, time/date recording,  high-speed shutter (7-speeds up to 1/4000th sec), record review, digital image stabiliser, digital still, strobe and mix, gain up, 'snapshot' recording, built-in lens cover

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.6in colour LCD

Viewfinder info.               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, shutter speed, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, dew, head clog

 

AUDIO

System                            FM stereo hi-fi

Microphone                    single-point stereo

 

GENERAL

Sockets                           S-Video out (mini DIN), video and stereo audio out (phono),  external mic (minijack)

Size (mm)                      

Weight                            1.1 kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries, (nicad and alkaline), straps, AC charger/power supply, AV lead and adaptor,  cassette adaptor,

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                     >380-lines (S-Video), 340 lines composite

Colour fidelity               good

Picture stability             good

Colour bleed                  none

White balance                good

Exposure                        average

Autofocus                       good

Audio performance        good

Insert edit                      N/A (manual inserts clean)

Playback thru adaptor   good

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money             8

Ease of use                     8

Performance                   8

Features                         8

 

---end---

(c) R Maybury 1993 2806

 

 

 

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