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Canon keep up the pressure on Sony with their new Hi8 camcorder, the UC2Hi, designed with the demanding enthusiast very much in mind



If  the number of new slim palmcorders now coming on to the market are anything to go by, we can thank Canon for starting yet another design trend. This particular one began back in late 1991 with the launch of the UC10, an unconventional 'upright' 8mm machine. It made sense of Sanyo's 'Zeema' concept which had appeared three years earlier, by turning the awkward flat camcorder on its side, so it could be used one-handed. Canon refined the idea with the UC1Hi  last Summer, and this was followed by  Hitachi and Panasonic with their own distinctive 'thincams'. Canon seem determined to stay one jump ahead and the UC1 has now been superseded by the UC2Hi, which goes on sale this month for just under 1,300..


The basic UC or 'ultra-compact' layout remains the same on the UC2, with a bottom-loading Hi8 deck, topped by the lens assembly and viewfinder, however, Canon's engineers have been busy refining and improving the UC1's video processing circuitry, optics and control systems, as well as adding a set of digital effects, so to all intents and purposes this is a brand new machine. The lens has been uprated to a 3-speed/12x zoom, and new algorithms controlling the AF system speed up focus response in poor light, or when there is little contrast between the subject and its background. The most obvious outward change is a large LCD panel on the left side of the machine, this repeats much of what is shown in the main viewfinder display, which can be a big help when wading through the various menus, or setting the program auto exposure system, and manual parameters, including the shutter, exposure, effects and audio systems.


Not everything is new, though, and the UC2 retains the UC1's quirky remote infra-red control handset which forms part of the handgrip, Canon have also kept the all-important Control L or LANC socket, so it can be used as a source deck with an edit controller, including Canon's own, the rather basic VE-100. The UC2 also has an inner-focus lens with a servo control ring around the lens barrel, like the UC1 this works very well and you'd be hard pressed to tell it apart from a mechanical front-focus lens.


The main camera controls have been made a little larger, and spaced more evenly, making them easier to find.  Several buttons have been tucked away under a little flap to the side of the display panel, though these include the record search keys which  need to be used fairly frequently; three more buttons lurk beneath the viewfinder, though these, which include edit-erase, counter reset and secondary start/stop, are rarely needed. In common with its predecessor the UC2 makes extensive use of menu-driven displays. The system has been improved, and now the large control knob on the side both selects the required function -- by pressing the 'shift' button in the centre -- and riffles through the options, using the outer ring. It can take a while to get to some of the functions near the bottom of the list, fortunately they're fairly well organised in order of priority.


The digital effects system should please those keen to add a few creative touches of their own. There are four options: close-up which is basically a 2x electronic zoom,  doubling the power of the optical zoom; the second is overlap, it's similar to the digital mix effect on a couple of  Panasonic machines, where the frozen image from the last shot is gradually replaced by the new picture as it is recorded; number three is digital freeze, which simply records still images; the last one is called art, it's a solarization-type effect,  which greatly reduces contrast, giving the image a cartoon-like quality. 


The UC2's program auto-exposure system is almost unchanged from the one on the UC1Hi. There are six modes, starting with Sports, which automatically selects the highest shutter speed for the prevailing conditions, for improving the replay of fast-moving subjects; Portrait modes adjusts the shutter and iris for a narrow depth of field, so the subject stands out against a blurred background; Spotlight compensates for brightly-lit subjects against a mostly dark background; Landscape prevents over-exposure when shooting a scene with a lot of bright sky in the frame; Sand & Snow uses a combination of iris and shutter adjustments to get the correct exposure when the subject is strongly backlit by a highly reflective background, and Low Light engages a  slow shutter speed (below 1/50th sec.), to increase sensitivity.


The UC2 also has manual shutter and exposure controls which give the user some leeway for adjusting or compensating for various lighting situations, both are accessed and adjusted using the large control knob on the side of the machine. The exposure control has 8 steps either side of the nominal centre position, equivalent to a couple of f-stops on a still camera. This is an improvement on the manual override on the UC1 which had a much smaller range, and was controlled by a pair of tiny buttons, but it's still a long way short of being a manual iris. The shutter goes from 1/6th of a second to 1/10,000th of a second in 12 steps. Shutter speeds below 1/50th of a second produce an interesting blurring effect which can be quite eye-catching during a slow pan, or fast zoom. Both the exposure and shutter settings are graphically shown on the LCD panel, as well as in the viewfinder.


The UC2's audio system has been carried over from the UC1 and it features the same three sensitivity modes plus a zoom setting which ties the mike's directionality in to the optical zoom; the polar pattern is prettily shown in the LCD display. The wind-noise filter on this machine is now manually selectable, as opposed to being fully automatic on the UC1.


There are two independent titling systems; the first is a simple 1-page/2-line character generators; the second a fancy 2-page superimposer with 8 colour and reversal options plus various effects including shadow, see-through, scroll, wipe and variable image density.  Just in case you forget to slot in a title at the beginning, one can be superimposed onto the video output, so it can be edited or re-recorded onto copies.


We're pleased to see that Canon have responded to two of our main grumbles from the UC1 test. The first is a re-designed operate button. On the UC1 it was possible to inadvertently press the button, switching the machine off, whilst operating the zoom rocker. To prevent this happening the button now has a protective lip around it, so it's almost impossible to press it accidentally. We were also concerned about the strength of the clips retaining the remote control handset, they're now a lot more flexible and should last the course, even with clumsy handling.



In spite of the rather elaborate claims made for the UC2's digital processing circuitry we found the on-screen performance little changed from its predecessor with horizontal resolution just topping 380 lines. Noise levels were already low on the UC1 so any further reductions are difficult to see. Colour response appears to have been tweaked and the smearing which we noticed on the UC1 has all but disappeared. Recordings made in the standard 8mm mode showed reduced resolution, down to around 240 lines, which compares well with most 8mm machines.


The auto and effects systems are potentially very useful and work extremely well though the normal auto systems can be relied upon most of the time to get the exposure right for most everyday situations. Auto white balance needs help every now and again, especially in artificial light where there is a tendency for reds to be overemphasised in tungsten light, and there's a slight yellow cast under tube light.


The UC2's audio system is a very workmanlike affair and within the constraints of its  single-point stereo microphone it functions well with a broad response and moderately well-defined stereo soundstage. The mic zoom facility is there, if you listen hard, though it's no substitute for a proper directional microphone.



As a successor to the UC1 the UC2 stacks up very well indeed and all of the changes have been to the good, except one. The price, at just under 1,300 reflects the unfavourable currency fluctuations but it's still hard  to swallow a 300 increase (the UC1 cost 1,000), when for the past ten years we've become accustomed to Canon leading the way forward with improved specifications and falling prices. 




Make/model                    CANON UC2 Hi

Recording format            Hi8/8mm

Guide price                      1300



Lens                               f1.8, 5.4-65mm

Zoom                              12x, 3-speed

Filter diameter               37mm  

Pick-up device               0.3in CCD (470k pixels)

Min. illum. (lux)             1



Tape speed (mm/sec)       20.051(SP), 10.026(LP)

Max. rec. time                  240 mins (LP mode)

Remote control                 full function IR and Control L (LANC)

Main facilities                   auto/manual focus, auto/manual exposure,  programmed auto exposure (6-mode), auto/manual white balance, fader, slow/high-speed shutter (11 speeds, from 1/6th sec. to 1/10,000th sec.), world time/date recording, title generator, title superimposer, digital effects (2x zoom, overlap, freeze, art), zoom mic, wind filter, self timer, tape return, edit erase, bi-lingual replay



Viewfinder                       0.5in monochrome

Viewfinder info.               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, shutter speed, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, titles, AE mode, digital mode, time zone. fade trigger, dew, timer, menus



System                            stereo hi-fi

Microphone                    variable directionality, single-point stereo



Sockets                           headphones, ext. mic, Control L (minijack), stereo audio out, composite video out (phonos), S-Video

Size (mm)                       80.5 x 134 x 183

Weight                           0.9 kg (inc. tape and battery)



Batteries, (nicad and alkaline), straps, AC charger/power supply, RF converter, AV leads, IR remote handset, cassette



Resolution                     >380-lines S-Video, 240 lines composite

Colour fidelity                good

Picture stability              good

Colour bleed                   none

White balance                 good

Exposure                         very good

Autofocus                       good

Audio performance        good

Insert edit                       manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor    N/A



Value for money            7

Ease of use                     8

Performance                   9

Features                          9



(c) R Maybury 1993 1904



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Copyright (c) 2005 Rick Maybury Ltd.