VIDEO CAMERA 1993

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REVIEW

HEAD

NOW UC IT.../STEADY AS YOU GO

 

INTRO

Optical image stabiliser technology makes its second appearance, this time from Canon who have incorporated it into their new high-band sub-compact, the UC5 Hi

 

COPY

Basic stability aids, like tripods and monopods are an anathema to most palmcorder owners, after all, when you've specifically chosen a machine for its small size and go-anywhere portability the last thing you want to do is lug around a couple of kilos of ironmongery to stand it on... The trouble is, as camcorders get smaller and lighter it becomes more difficult to hold them steady; this is especially true of machines weighing less than 1kg, which do little to damp involountary muscle movements in the user's hand and arm, one of the main causes of camera shake.

 

At the moment two types of electronic image stabilisation system are used on domestic camcorders; the first and so far the most common removes user-induced wobbles electronically, using information from motion detectors to counter movement by selectively scanning the CCD image sensor chip. It's fast and reasonably effective but the tradeoff is some loss of picture quality; (non-degrading electronic image stabilisers should be with us next year). The rival optical system, developed jointly by Sony and Canon uses an ingenious device called a vari-angle prism, effectively two glass plates separated by a flexible sac full of transparent fluid. Small servo motors, controlled by motion sensors, alter its shape and hence it's refractive properties, to ensure the image passing through the lens is always squarely centred on the image sensor. This system isn't quite as responsive as purely electronic systems but there's no reduction in picture quality.

 

Sony were the first to use 'Steady Shot' system, as they called it, on the CCD-TR805 Hi8 palmcorder, launched at the back end of 1992, that was the first and last we heard of it. Now, as promised, Canon have got around to fitting it to two of their latest machines,  the E700 8mm compact (review soon), and  the UC5 Hi, a Hi8 sub-compact which should be reaching the shops by the time you read this; it will be selling for the princly sum of 1400.

 

Our first encounter with Steady Shot, on the TR805, was fairly encouraging, and it worked quite well, though as that machine weighed well over 1kg -- and fairly immune to camera shake -- we questioned whether it was actually necessary. The UC5 tips the scales at 1.1kg, so it too isn't likely to suffer too badly from the jitters. However, the real irony is that Canon have simultaneously launched a second UC machine, called the UC40 which to all intents and purposes is a UC5 without an optical image stabiliser. That machine is significantly lighter than the UC5, less than 1kg in fact, which means an image stabiliser could be quite useful...

 

FEATURES

Time to look at the UC5 in a little more detail. The upright shape is and bottom loading decks are both familiar Canon traits, there's certainly no mistaking this one for any of the other Canon-inspired machines that have appeared in recent months. The most obvious difference between the UC5 and its predecessors, the UC1 and UC2Hi, is the enlarged lens assembly which houses the vari-angle prism assembly, (it can be seen working, if you look closely into the lens and gently shake the machine). The zoom lens has a 12x magnification, a digital zoom facility takes it seamlessly up to 24x, though the picture gets a little gritty once it's past 15x. There are fewer creative facilities on this machine, compared with the UC's 1 and 2; for example, it doesn't have any kind of title generator (very unusual for Canon),  few manual exposure controls, (apart from a high-speed shutter and five-mode program AE), and no digital effects, other than a 16:9 widescreen recording mode which electronically compresses the picture. The program AE system appears to be a cut-down version of the one used on the UC2, the options are:

 

* Sports: for blur-free replay (on a VCR) of recordings of fast action

* portrait: to make the subject stand out against a soft-focus background

* spotlight: exposure correction for a brightly-lit subject against a darkened background

* sand and snow: for shooting subjects against a bright, reflective background

* landscape: exposure compensation for shots with a bright sky and darker foreground

 

The UC5 has a backlight compensation button, though you might have difficulty seeing it as it's in the middle of the AE selector dial. Other features deserving a brief mention include the UC5's stereo hi-fi sound system and variable-angle microphone with normal, wide-angle, narrow and zoom sensitivity settings. The latter is linked to the optical zoom, so that the mics directionality changes with the picture. The UC5 has an accessory shoe, with contacts for an optional video light, but best of all it has a Control L socket, to allow it to be used with edit controller (including Canon's own); it's a great pity Canon do not fit this very useful facility to their other machines.

 

OPERATION AND HANDLING

The UC5 fits snugly into the hand, in spite of the uncomfortable-looking recesses in the handgrip. Balance is good, though it feels quite heavy and makes it prescence felt in the upper arm after a while. The zoom, stop/start and manual focus controls are well placed; the AE dial is not so easy to use, especially in the shooting position, and accessing the fiddly menu buttons (for secondary functions, like setting recording speed, shutter and wind-noise filter) under the viewfinder is quite a palava, particularly if you're in a hurry. The catch for the tape access cover, and the cover itself, could have been better designed and changing tapes can be a tricky business.

 

The controls on the left side of the machines are reasonably accessible, though the manual focus knob is a little too close to the microphone for comfort. The tape transport keys are behind a small flap inset into the right side of the machine. This is a minor ergonomic disaster area, with black buttons, inside a black hole, with black embossed control legends; they're difficult to distinguish, even in good light. This contrasts with the well thought-out start/stop/standby buttons, side-action variable-speed zoom control; the rotating on/off switch looks neat but it tends to be fouled by the viewfinder and battery.

 

PERFORMANCE

We haven't noticed any significant changes in picture quality, compared with previous UC Hi machines, which gives the image stabiliser a clean bill of health. Resolution at just over 380 lines is fairly average for a Hi8 machine; that's offset by unusually low noise levels which could have something to do with the extensive use of digital processing circuitry on this machine, and, if memory serves, the UC2 as well.  So, whilst the numbers may not appear especially impressive the actual picture looks very good indeed, clean and sharp with natural-looking colours. Recordings made on standard 8mm tape also look crisp and well-defined, though again the resolution figure of 240 or so lines is not going to break any records.

 

The fairly limited range of exposure controls and the AE system do a satisfactory job under most circumstances, though the machine has little scope for creativity, or the capacity to deal with very unusual lighting conditions. The AF system can best be described as lively and when there's little in the scene to latch on to, it hops around all over the place. It can also appear indecisive where there is more than one subject to lock on to around the edges of the picture.

 

And so at last we come to the optical image stabiliser. Compared with Steady Shot on the Sony TR805 this version appears to have a slightly wider range, and can cope with a larger range of  movement, but a very small time delay  is evident, making the picture 'wallow' slightly. This is most noticeable when walking with the machine; at certain speeds the picture can appear as if it has been shot from a boat in a gentle swell. It copes well with normal hand-shake, though, and we got very good results when shooting from a moving car. Skier's and outdoor enthusiasts will be relieved to know that the stabiliser continues to work at low temperatures, our sample machine functioned normally after it had spent over an hour in the fridge, at 3 degrees C. Canon confirmed to us that bubbles could form inside the prism in a low-pressure environment, an aircraft for example, but they point out the bubble would naturally migrate to the top of the prism, where they wouldn't interfere with the picture, they also say any bubbles will quickly dissolve once the machine is returned back to normal atmospheric pressure.

 

The UC5's sound system did well in our tests, and we particuarly liked the variable-angle option, which is quite effective when used with the zoom. Our only misgiving concerns the proximity of the manual focus control to the built-in microphone, which can result in annoying scuffing noises, when it is used.

 

THE VERDICT

Setting aside for one moment the price, as far as we can see the main reason for buying a UC5 will be the image stabiliser which works well, and is markedly better than the current generation of electronic stabilisers. It's definitely not as well appointed as the UC2 which had a far better exposure system, the option of manual control, plus several quite useful creative effects. It was cheaper too, which brings us back to the price. We're slowly getting used to the idea that the days are gone when new camcorders were cheaper and better specified than the machines they replace but 1400 still seems like a lot to pay what is in the final analysis a fairly unexciting machine.

 

THE RIVALS

If you really do have a problem with the shakes, and image stabilisation and Hi8 recording quality are at the top of your wish-list then the Sony TR-805 looks like a much better deal, even though it's been around for a while. If you're not in a hurry then  you might want to hang on for  its replacement, the TR808, though UK launch date and price have still to be confirmed. If Hi8 recording quality is the main criteria then the Akai MS8, Canon UC30, Hitachi H37 and Sony FX700 are all cheaper, though only the Canon and Sony machine have edit terminals. You might also care to take a look at some S-VHS-C palmcorders, including the JVC S505, Panasonic NV-S7 and its newly-launched replacement, the NV-S85.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                   CANON UC5 Hi

Recording format           Hi8/8mm

Guide price                     1400

 

OPTICS

Lens                               f1.8, 6.1-73.2mm

Zoom                              12x optical, 24x digital

Filter diameter               46mm  

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

Min. illum. (lux)              3

 

VIDEO DECK

Long Play (LP)                          yes

Max. rec. time                                          240mins (LP mode)

IR remote control ?                                    yes

Edit terminal?                                              yes Control L

           

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto Focus?                              yes

Manual focus?               yes

Auto exposure?             yes      

Manual iris?                               no

Programmed AE?                  yes      

Auto white balance                          yes      

Manual white balance?            no

Power zoom                              yes      

Manual zoom?               no

Backlight compensation            yes

Insert edit?                                no

Audio Dub?                               no

Character generator?            no        

Digital Superimposer?            no

Image stabiliser?                     yes (optical)

Video light?                               no (optional)          

Battery refresh?                            no        

Accessory shoe?               yes

Record review                yes      

Fader?                          yes/black

Digital effects                             yes

Digital zoom?                            yes

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording,  high-speed shutter (7-speed up to 1/10000th sec), record review, retake, tally lamp, edit-erase, blank tape search, widescreen recording, variable angle mic setting

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.5in monochrome

Sportsfinder eyepiece?   no

Viewfinder info.               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, shutter speed, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, zoom setting, dew, AE mode, image stabiliser

 

AUDIO

Stereo?                                       yes

Audio dub?                                no

Wind noise filter?                yes

Mic socket?                              yes

Headphone socket?             yes

Microphone                                      single-point stereo

 

GENERAL

Sockets                           composite video and stereo audio out (phono), S-Video out (mini DIN), ext. mic and headphone (minijack), Control L (sub-min jack)

Size (mm)                       72 x 133 x 192

Weight                            1.1 kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries, (nicad and alkaline), straps, AC charger/power supply,

AV lead, remote handset

video light?                    no        

remote control?            yes

cassette adaptor?            N/A      

RF Converter?             no

SCART adaptor?            yes      

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                    380-lines (Hi8/S-Video), 240-lines (8mm/composite)

Colour fidelity              very good

Picture stability            average

Colour bleed                 negligible

White balance              average

Exposure                      good

Autofocus                     lively

Audio performance      good

Insert edit                     manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor  N/A

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money          8

Ease of use                  8

Performance                8

Features                      8

 

---end---

(c) R Maybury 1993 0909

 

 

 

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