VIDEO CAMERA 1993

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MEGA-TEST

 

HEAD

SMALL SCREEN GEMS...

 

INTRO

Is size important? We think so; here's a selection of half a dozen of the smallest and lightest camcorders around, and as you will see small doesn't necessarily mean expensive

 

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Six camcorders, costing from 700 to 1200, but what have they got in common? It's size, or rather the lack of it, because these six are amongst the smallest and lightest machines on the market. But is that an important issue anymore, with the average weight of a compact camcorder now little more than a kilogram? The lightest machine in this round-up has an all-up weight of  just under 800 grams, so there's only 200 or so grams in it -- about as much as a large apple --  so it would seem not, but weight isn't the only consideration.

 

The difference in size between these machines and the rest of the pack is quite considerable, the smallest of them will fit comfortably into a coat pocket, stow easily in weekend luggage or slip into a briefcase. That's the dividing line between a real go-anywhere sort of camcorder, that you're happy to take with you wherever you go, and one that spends most of its time gathering dust in the bottom of a cupboard, because it's just a bit too large drag about, except on special occasions. As you can see the traditional link between size and price has been broken, and the smallest machines are not necessarily the dearest anymore, though it has to be said that if you want to combine small size and performance then you can expect to pay over the odds, but if it means you're going to get more use out it, it has to be money well spent.

 

By the way, you may be wondering why we haven't included the smallest and lightest camcorder of all, the Panasonic NV-CS1; that's because it's a nasty, overpriced record-only machine and we don't like it; ignore it and pay the extra for a proper camcorder!

 

CANON UC40Hi, Hi8, 1200

One of Canon's instantly recognisable 'upright' machines, a close relative of the UC5 which has an optical image stabiliser and costs a further 200. Above average performance with its Hi8 and stereo sound recording systems but otherwise fairly modestly equipped for a machine costing the better part of  1200. The main features include a 5-mode program AE system, covering most routine shooting conditions, manual shutter, 16:9 widescreen recording mode and a Control L editing terminal. The optical zoom is supplemented by a 2x electronic zoom, taking the maximum magnification up to 24x, though the picture starts to look a little ragged once you get past 15x.

 

It's reasonably easy to use, with all of the important controls close at hand. The limited number of creative facilities and manual controls means this machine is better suited to straightforward recording work; the auto-systems cope well with the unexpected, though the autofocus can sometimes be indecisive if there is a lot of movement within the scene. On-screen performance is fine, horizontal resolution is a little over 380-lines, when viewed on a TV or monitor equipped with an S-Video input, even on an ordinary TV the picture still looks sharper and more detailed than an ordinary 8mm or VHS-C camcorder. Fairly expensive but a well-engineered machine, capable of very good results in relatively undemanding situations.

 

SPECIFICATION

OPTICS

Zoom/lens                    12x optical/24x electronic, f/1.8, 5.4-65mm

Filter diameter             46mm  

CCD                             0.3in

Min. illum. (lux)           3

Size (mm)                     73 x 134 x 195        

Weight                          0.8kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

VIDEO DECK

Long Play (LP)                          yes

Max. rec. time                                          240mins (LP mode)

IR remote control ?                                    yes

Edit terminal?                                              yes (control L)

           

MAIN FACILITIES 

Manual iris                                            no          

Programmed AE?                              yes (5-mode)  

Manual white balance?                       no

Manual zoom?                           no

Backlight compensation                yes

Insert edit?                                            no

Character generator?                     no

Digital Superimposer?              no

Video light?                                           optional

Fader?                                      yes

 

AUDIO

Audio Dub?                               no

Stereo?                                     yes

Mic socket?                              yes

           

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                     380-lines

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                            7

 

 

HITACHI VM-H37, Hi8, 900

Reaching the end of the line now, so you may have to hunt around for this machine, but it's worth the effort, taking into account the price, specification and very low shooting weight. It's showing its age just a little by not having a programmed auto-exposure system, and manual camera controls are rather thin on the ground but to make up for that it has a two-mode digital zoom (20x and 64x) three-mode fader, digital filter (sunset, sepia and monochrome) and digital effects which include slim and wide recording modes. It has a stereo recording system but the microphone doesn't create a very wide image, and there's no external mic. socket, which is a disadvantage.

 

Layout and handling are both quite good, though we're not very impressed with the viewfinder extension tube which has a rather feeble latch and tends to collapse back to the stowage position if too much pressure is applied. It's very simple to use, mostly because it has so few controls, but the auto focus and exposure systems do a reasonably good job, most of the time. Picture quality is adequate, our sample managed to resolve around 370-lines, (S-Video), which still looks a great deal better than most ordinary camcorders, but isn't going to break any records when compared with other high-band machines. Almost a classic in its day but now mostly of interest to those looking for a very small, light and easy to use high-band machine, that's not going to break the bank.

 

SPECIFICATION

OPTICS

Zoom/lens                     8x optical/64x electronic, f/1.4, 6-48mm

Filter diameter             34mm  

CCD                             z0.3in

Min. illum. (lux)           2

Size (mm)                      80.5 x 104 x 238        

Weight                          0.78kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

VIDEO DECK

Long Play (LP)                          yes/no

Max. rec. time                                          240mins (LP mode)

IR remote control ?                                    yes

Edit terminal?                                              no

           

MAIN FACILITIES               

Manual iris                                            no

Programmed AE?                              no        

Manual white balance?                       no

Manual zoom?                           no

Backlight compensation                yes

Insert edit?                                            yes

Character generator?                     yes

Digital Superimposer?              no

Video light?                                           no        

Fader?                                      yes

 

AUDIO

Audio Dub?                               no

Stereo?                                     yes

Mic socket?                              no

           

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                     370-lines

Colour fidelity               good

Picture stability             good

Colour bleed                  none

White balance                average

Exposure                        good

Autofocus                       average

Audio performance        good

Insert edit                       good

Playback thru adaptor   N/A

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money             9        

Ease of use                        9     

Performance                     8      

Features                             8     

 

 

 

JVC GR-AX35/55, VHS-C, 600/750

Two for the price of one; the JVC GR-AX35 and AX55 are so closely related that we can include them both in this selection of smallest and lightest machines. On the surface they're unremarkable-looking VHS-C palmcorders with 6-mode program AE systems, a fair sprinkling of creative and convenience features, and a built-in video light, in the case of the AX55. However, what makes both machines so special is the RM-V704 remote control , which comes as standard with the AX55, or as an optional extra on the AX35, for 60. It contains the business end of a sophisticated but simple to use assemble-editing system that will work with a wide variety of VCRs. Up to eight scenes can be automatically transferred from the AX35/55 to a VCR, handy for cutting out all the mistakes and tedious bits, turning a commonplace home video into a watchable mini production.

 

Although the picture isn't as sharp or detailed as a high-band machine it is nonetheless very good, with horizontal resolution for both machines a little above 240-lines.  The AE system covers most shooting situations; colour accuracy is, or should be near perfect with no less than nine white balance presets, covering just about every type of natural and artificial light. It has a few rough edges; manual focus is cumbersome, there's no external mic socket, and several important facilities can only be accessed by a second optional remote control, otherwise they're ideal for movie-makers who want to take their hobby just a little bit further. By the way, the AX35 is by far the better deal, even taking into account the extra cost of the remote control handset.

 

 

SPECIFICATION

OPTICS

Zoom/lens                     10x, f/1.8, 6-60mm

Filter diameter             43mm  

CCD                             0.3in

Min. illum. (lux)           4

Size (mm)                     184 x 120 x 111        

Weight                          0.9kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

VIDEO DECK

Long Play (LP)                          yes

Max. rec. time                                          90mins (LP mode)

IR remote control ?                                    no (optional)

Edit terminal?                                              yes (see text)

           

MAIN FACILITIES               

Manual iris                                            no

Programmed AE?                              yes (6-mode)  

Manual white balance?                       yes

Manual zoom?                           no

Backlight compensation                yes

Insert edit?                                            yes (see text)

Character generator?                     no

Digital Superimposer?              no

Video light?                                           no/yes (see text)

Fader?                                      yes

 

AUDIO

Audio Dub?                               yes (see text)

Stereo?                                     no

Mic socket?                              no

           

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                     240-lines

Colour fidelity               good

Picture stability             good

Colour bleed                  none

White balance               very good 

Exposure                       good 

Autofocus                      average

Audio performance       average

Insert edit                      see text

Playback thru adaptor   good

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money                  9/8   

Ease of use                        8     

Performance                      9     

Features                       7    

 

 

PANASONIC NV-R50, VHS-C, 900

As if to demonstrate that Panasonic can still design and build top-notch camcorders the NV-R50 almost makes up for the horrible little CS1 record-only machine. In fact the two look quite similar, however, the only possible thing they have in common is a colour viewfinder. The CS1 has an optical system, the R50 uses a tiny LCD colour display, built into a hinged podule at the back of the machine. The feature list is most impressive, it has a 3-mode program AE and six digital effects. They include gain-up, strobe, zoom, image stabiliser, wipe and mix, the last two being a very eye-catching way of easing the transition, from one scene to another. In addition it has a still or 'snapshot recording mode, and best of all, an RMC or '5-pin' editing terminal, so it can be used as a source deck with a wide range of edit controllers and VCRs.

 

The R50 was one of the first machines to use the new quarter-inch CCD image sensors, this has enabled the designers to save weight by using smaller, more compact lens assemblies. The R50 is powered by a 4.8-volt battery, instead of the larger and heavier 6-volt pack. Neither innovation has any significant impact on running times or performance, though low-light sensitivity is 10 lux. which is the upper end of the range for most of today's machines. Horizontal resolution at 240 lines is approaching the limits of the VHS-C system, and colour accuracy is also very good. The LCD viewfinder is an acquired taste, and manual focusing can be difficult, especially in poor light, but they're comparatively small niggles and this is a most agreeable machine that you definitely won't want to leave at home.

 

SPECIFICATION

OPTICS

Zoom/lens                     10x optical/15x digital, f/1.8, 4.6-46mm

Filter diameter             37mm  

CCD                             0.25in

Min. illum. (lux)           10

Size (mm)                     76 x 118 x 233        

Weight                          0.9kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

VIDEO DECK

Long Play (LP)                          yes

Max. rec. time                                          90mins (LP mode)

IR remote control ?                                    no

Edit terminal?                                              yes (5-pin RMC)

           

MAIN FACILITIES               

Manual iris                                            no

Programmed AE?                              yes (3-mode)  

Manual white balance?                       yes

Manual zoom?                           no

Backlight compensation                yes

Insert edit?                                            no

Character generator?                     no

Digital Superimposer?              no

Video light?                                           no

Fader?                                      yes

 

AUDIO

Audio Dub?                               no

Stereo?                                     no

Mic socket?                              yes

           

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                     >240-lines

Colour fidelity               very good

Picture stability             very good

Colour bleed                  none

White balance                good

Exposure                        good

Autofocus                       good

Audio performance       average

Insert edit                      manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor   good

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money                  8

Ease of use                       9      

Performance                     9      

Features                            9      

 

 

SAMSUNG VP-405, 8mm, 700

This Korean-made machine has broken through a number of  important barriers, not least the fact that it is now the cheapest 8mm machine with stereo sound; that's all the more remarkable at a time when camcorder prices have been steadily rising. Although at first glance the design appears a little dated -- it resembles palmcorders of a year or two ago -- the specification wouldn't shame most recent mid-market sub-compacts. It has a 5-mode program AE system, title superimposer, manual shutter, self/interval timers and inner-focus lens, though the manual focus control is nothing to write home about. Fortunately the rest of the controls are fairly well placed, and easy to get at.

 

Although the E405 isn't especially small it is very light. We suspect this may,  in part at least, be a result of the thinner panels and less rigid construction, compared with some other palmcorders, though we have to say that as far as we're aware this hasn't affected the machine's reliability or survivability. Compared with rival machines, costing between 700 and 900 the E405 gives a very good account of itself and there's little or no sign of cost-cutting when it comes to picture quality. The program AE system isn't especially effective, and one or two modes didn't seem to do much at all, however, with horizontal resolution approaching 240 lines recorded images look crisp and detailed, with natural-looking colours.

 

 

SPECIFICATION

OPTICS

Zoom/lens                     8x, f/1.8, 6-48mm

Filter diameter             37mm  

CCD                             0.3in

Min. illum. (lux)           3

Size (mm)                     106 x 109 x 175        

Weight                          0.9kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

VIDEO DECK

Long Play (LP)                          yes

Max. rec. time                                          240mins (LP mode)

IR remote control ?                                    yes

Edit terminal?                                              no

           

MAIN FACILITIES               

Manual iris                                            no

Programmed AE?                              yes (5-mode)  

Manual white balance?                       yes

Manual zoom?                           no

Backlight compensation                yes

Insert edit?                                            no

Character generator?                     no

Digital Superimposer?              yes

Video light?                                           no        

Fader?                                      yes

 

AUDIO

Audio Dub?                               no

Stereo?                                     yes

Mic socket?                              yes

           

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                     240-lines

Colour fidelity               good

Picture stability             average

Colour bleed                  none

White balance               good 

Exposure                       average 

Autofocus                      fair

Audio performance       fair

Insert edit                      good

Playback thru adaptor   N/A

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money                   9

Ease of use                        8

Performance                      7

Features                          9 

 

 

SONY CCD-TR1 Hi8, 1200

This is the colour viewfinder version of the mould-breaking, and recently discontinued, Sony TR8. One of the reasons this camcorder is so small and light is its compact but high-power lithium-ion battery, which fits inside the body of the machine, it can also be charged in-situ. Lithium-ion batteries are immune to energy-sapping effects such as cell imbalance and charge memory, which means they should have a significantly longer life. In addition to the Hi8 recording system, and stereo sound, the TR1 has both manual and programmed (3-mode) exposure controls, a half-decent colour LCD viewfinder and a Control L editing terminal. Altogether a very well thought out design with its clever 'Handycam Station' power adaptor/charger and AV converter. The machine 'docks' with the station, cutting out the need for extra cables and boxes.

 

In spite of its very small size and shape the controls are all reasonably accessible and very easy to use. A most attractive looking machine in its unusual sliver-grey livery, it's unmistakably Sony. Picture quality is very good with horizontal resolution a little over 380-lines, making it one of the top performers in its class. We noted some slight intolerance to knocks and bumps on one of our samples but in normal use it delivers crisp, bright picture with lifelike colours. The smallest machine in this selection by quite a margin, and that, combined with better than average performance and facilities, puts it at the top of our list. Recommended.

 

SPECIFICATION

OPTICS

Zoom/lens                     8x, f/1.4, 5.9-47.2mm

Filter diameter             37mm  

CCD                             0.3in

Min. illum. (lux)           3

Size (mm)                     92 x 102 x 173        

Weight                         0.86 kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

VIDEO DECK

Long Play (LP)                          yes

Max. rec. time                                          240mins (LP mode)

IR remote control ?                                    yes

Edit terminal?                                              yes (Control L)

           

MAIN FACILITIES

Manual iris                                        yes

Programmed AE?                              yes (3-mode)  

Manual white balance?                       no

Manual zoom?                           no

Backlight compensation                no

Insert edit?                                            no

Character generator?                     no

Digital Superimposer?              no

Video light?                                           no        

Fader?                                      no

 

AUDIO

Audio Dub?                               no

Stereo?                                     yes

Mic socket?                              yes

           

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                     380-lines

Colour fidelity               very good

Picture stability             average

Colour bleed                  none 

White balance               fair 

Exposure                       very good 

Autofocus                      good

Audio performance       good

Insert edit                      manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor   N/A

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money                  8

Ease of use                          8

Performance                      9

Features                               8

 

 

 

 

---end---

R. Maybury 19930312

 

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