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The Sanyo EX30 is one of this year's most exciting and innovative new camcorders, could this the shape of things to come?



To be honest Sanyo's EX30 is a fairly-run-of-the-mill 8mm palmcorder; it's an agreeable enough machine that performs adequately well but what really makes it special is a small black box that comes with it, called the VRM-30P.


The VRM-30 serves three functions: the first and most obvious one is a detachable LCD monitor with a 2.2-inch screen. It shows the same picture as the machine's own viewfinder display, but in colour. Secondly, it's a dual-mode (infra-red and wired), multi-function remote control for the EX30, a VCR and an optional motorised pan/tilt head (more about that later). Lastly it's an automatic assembly edit controller that can designate up to five scenes, in any order, and instruct the EX30 to replay them, so they can be re-recorded on a VCR, also controlled by the VRM-30.


None of this is new, but combining all these features together into one package is! It's all the more remarkable considering that the EX30 outfit costs just 800; that's a good deal less than buying comparable components separately,  as well as being  a lot more convenient and easy to use. For the first three months after its July launch it will be an even better deal because Sanyo are throwing in a free accessory pack comprising a carry-all bag, tripod and video light, together worth almost 100.



The logical place to begin is with the EX30. It's a modestly-equipped 8mm palmcorder with a 10x zoom lens. It's an inner-focus design with a small thumbwheel at the front of the machine for manual focus. The camera section has a 6-option programmed auto-exposure system -- Sanyo call them 'Director modes' --  controlled from a selector knob on the left side of the machine. In addition to a full auto mode there is:


* sports -- variable shutter speed and de-sensitised auto-focus for tracking fast action

* twilight  -- white balance biased towards the red light  in sunsets etc.

* low-light -- gain-up, to increase camera sensitivity

* auto high-speed shutter -- fast shutter speeds, up to 1/10,000th sec for improved slomo reproduction of fast-moving subjects

* close-up -- macro mode, locks zoom to wide setting

* flickerless -- fixes shutter to 1/120th sec, for shooting under florescent lighting.


The EX30 has a Control L or LANC socket, so it can be used with most of the current generation of aftermarket edit controllers. In normal circumstances that would rate as one of the machine's most outstanding features but it is overshadowed, somewhat,  by its own editing features. Nevertheless, we are still delighted to see it and it is worth bearing in mind that this is one of the few non-Sony camcorders to have this facility which is  invaluable for serious editing work, involving stringing together more than just a handful of scenes.


Before we move on, other features worth a brief  mention include an AV fader (to and from  white), an accessory shoe, with built-in contacts for a video light, a pop-up infra-red sensor, external microphone socket, nickel-hydride compatible charger with refresh facility and fuzzy-logic controlled auto-focus, exposure and white balance systems.



On its own the EX30 is an uncontroversial machine, it wouldn't stand out in a crowd and could easily pass for one of the clutch of sub-compacts launched within the last year or so. It seems to be fairly well put together, though some of the panels feel a little on the thin side;  it doesn't feel as solid as a  Sony machine, say, but we've rarely had cause to complain about the durability of Sanyo products. The five (six if you count full auto) director modes are not quite as sophisticated as a full-blown program AE system but the options available are reasonably effective. A backlight control wouldn't go amiss, though, even so the fuzzy logic system does its best. We have a couple ergonomic niggles; the manual focus thumbwheel is fiddly, and a bit too close to the mike for comfort, so if you're not careful scuffing noises can be heard on the soundtrack. The on-board transport controls are located beneath the viewfinder module, several of the keys are quite along way back and not very accessible. The viewfinder extension tube, which has to be pulled out before it can be used, could do with a more positive lock as it has a tendency to slip back to the storage position if pressed. Apart from that it's been quite well thought-out and the lack of secondary features (no titler or manual exposure controls etc.) means it looks unthreatening, ideal for beginners and the technologically challenged, in fact.



And so we come to the VRM-30. Ironically this little unassuming little box is the hardest part of the outfit to describe, not least because of it's numerous functions and configurations, and the fact that there's nothing to compare it with, at the moment...


The simplest application is a colour monitor, mounted on the machine's accessory shoe, facing the user. It connects to the EX30 by a short lead which plugs into a socket on the side of the machine. This carries remote control commands to the EX30, for all of its transport functions, and the zoom  lens. That's in addition to power, audio and video signals/on-screen displays, so you can hear, (as well as see what is being recorded, or replayed), on a tiny loudspeaker built into the unit.


The picture on the 2.2-inch LCD screen is about par for the course, the image is quite coarse, colours only approximate to the real thing --  what you'll see when it's connected to a proper TV -- but it frees the user from the tiny monochrome viewfinder, and it is just large enough for a couple of people to watch. The screen has a hinged cover, this can be used as a shield, to prevent reflections or bright lights washing out the picture, or it can be folded out of the way, behind the unit


Two small grumbles at this point, the screen has an unusually narrow viewing angle and it needs a fair amount of fiddling with the controls  to get an acceptable picture. The lead isn't quite long enough to comfortably allow the screen to be faced the other way, so you can watch yourself. It can be done, just, but it puts quite a strain on the plug and socket, which we fear might eventually fail, especially if it were to be accidentally knocked. 


The connecting lead and its plug stows away beneath a hinged cover, which doubles up as a table stand. The outfit includes a 2.5 metre extension cable, so the monitor can be held or placed away from the camcorder. Sanyo tell us that it is possible to add further extension leads, up to 10 metres in length, so it could have some interesting applications in wildlife videography, for example, especially if used in conjunction with the VAH-30 pan/tilt head.


Using VRM-30 as a monitor does have some impact on battery running times, we estimate it results in a reduction of between a third and quarter. In practice this means a drop from around thirty minutes, to twenty minutes or so, with normal stop-start recording.


Now we come to the really clever part; the VRM-30 incorporates an infra-red remote control transmitter, powered by its own on-board lithium battery, so it can operate independently of the machine, though obviously there will be no picture on the screen, withou tthe hard-wire interconnect. The control codes cover three main applications; the first is the camcorder's transport and zoom functions, it's just like a conventional camcorder remote handset in that respect, but bigger. The second set of commands are for the optional VAH-30 pan/tilt head; the third group are multi-brand VCR controls, to engage and release the record-pause mode on a VCR when the EX30 is being used in an editing set-up. The codes cover 26 different control protocols, used by most of the major brands, though we found it was not capable of working with at least one recent Philips 'Turbodrive' VCR, and we suspect a few more besides. Sanyo also warn that it may not work with older VCRs, so it's important to check first with the dealer, before you buy, to make sure your machine is on the approved list.



Up to five scenes at a time can be selected, and transferred to the record VCR. The first task is to set the correct IR codes  for the VCR, these are selected by pressing a recessed button on the unit, which then runs through it's library of commands until one is found that operates the machines record-pause function. A list of the most popular brands is included in the instruction book for reference.


Editing couldn't be much simpler; the selected scenes are first found using the remote monitor's transport controls, it has still-frame, frame-advance and a useful scene search facility, so the edit in and out points can be defined with a fair degree of accuracy, though the small buttons require a certain amount of dexterity. Each edit point is flagged using the 'memo' button, this puts a small numbered clapperboard icon on the display screen. When the selections have been made they can be previewed, or committed to tape by putting the VCR into the record-pause mode, pointing the remote monitor at it and pressing the run button. It's not possible to modify any of the segments, other than by cancelling the relevant program number, and re-entering a new scene.


The first question has to be how accurate is it? Not very, is the short answer, but that deserves some qualification. The controller uses the EX30's linear tape counter for reference, and this is calibrated seconds, so in theory it will be able to get to within plus or minus one second, or 25 frames of the designated point. Add to that the timing characteristics of the destination VCR and errors could increase to a couple of seconds or more either way. Unfortunately it is not possible to modify post or pre-roll times, though once you know what they are it is a relatively simple matter to compensate manually. Even in an ideal setup it is not possible to reliably edit scenes lasting less than a couple of seconds. Whilst all that may sound fairly crude, compared with a proper edit controller, it's quite sufficient for most home videos, where the primary need is to cut out the mistakes and boring bits, and maybe tidy up the running order or slot in some new scenes. In that context it's excellent, and just right for the majority of  home video movie-makers where anything more complicated or demanding might be off-putting.


If accuracy, consistency and greater capacity are important then the EX30 is still a strong contender as a source machine, thanks to it's LANC terminal. We tested our sample using two different types of edit controller and it was able to make cuts to within half a second  (+/-a 12 frames or so) of the designated points, but that was mainly as a result of being able to adjust for the VCRs timings.



Technically the EX30 slots easily into its role as a middle-market palmcorder. Resolution on our sample nudged above 230 lines in the SP mode, which we consider to be a good average. Colour noise was well within acceptable limits, though it prefers good natural light. Indoors, under artificial light picture noise increases noticeably, more so in the low-light director mode which is really only a last resort as the picture looks very grainy indeed. Colour accuracy was fine in daylight but the WB system had difficulty with most forms of artificial light, producing some quite distinct green and yellow colour castes, a good case for a white balance lock perhaps? The only manual WB override is in the twilight director mode, which biases the picture towards the red end of the spectrum, giving sunsets added impact, and this can look very effective.


The EX30's has a mono soundtrack but unlike most VHS-C camcorders it uses an FM recording system, which results in a clean, well-defined sound, with very low levels of background noise. The mike isn't particularly directional, and it picks up sound from all around, including the users voice, which can be useful for adding narration to a recording, (or not, if you're an asthmatic...).



The remote monitor concept is a genuine innovation, we can only wonder why it hasn't been done before, but one thing we are certain of is that it won't be the last; other manufacturers will be bound to follow suit, if they want to stay in the game.  The EX30 represents a landmark in camcorder design  and we have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who has ever been put off by the thought of editing video recording and wants a fuss-free way of getting  the best from their home video movies.


SIDEBAR -- VAH-30 Pan/Tilt head

If, after you've brought an EX30 you've got a further 130 or so to spare we'd suggest  you  take a close look at the VAH-30 motorised pan/tilt head. It bolts to the underside of the EX30, and there's a mounting boss on the base, to attach it to a tripod. Power comes from a 6-volt nicad pack, the same NP style battery used by the camcorder, but it is not supplied as standard. A fully charged battery will keep it running for around ten hours.


There's only a simple on-off switch, everything else is controlled from a credit-card sized remote handset. This has four direction buttons, two for panning through an angle of 90 degrees, and the others for tilting the head, 10 degrees either side of horizontal. Additionally there is an auto-pan mode which moves the head from side to side at a speed of four degrees per second, precisely half the speed of manual panning. The handset also operates the EX30's zoom and stop/start functions. The pan and tilt controls are duplicated on the EX30's remote monitor.


In the centre of the moving pan/tilt platform there is an illuminated cross; this is used to help aim or direct the head from the front, when the cross is evenly-lit it's pointed directly at the subject. The motors in the head are barely audible, which is important when shooting in quiet surroundings, noises won't  be recorded on the video soundtrack, or scare skittish subjects, when it's used out in the wild.


We have only a couple of comments. It's not advisable to use the unit free-standing as at the extremes of it's travel the weight of the camcorder is enough to make it topple over. There's no mention of this in the instruction book, though  the padded feet on the underside suggest it could be used on a table-top. The IR receptor is at the front of the unit, which isn't much use if you're operating it from behind. It is possible to mount the camcorder back to front, but this disables the locking pin next to the mounting bolt, which ensures the machine is squarely seated on the moving platform. Fortunately the pop-up IR sensor on the EX30 can be turned through 360 degrees, so it can be controlled at the same time from one position.



Excellent! Maybe a touch pricey as accessories go, and we would probably think about buying a spare battery and maybe a set of filters first, but the VAH-30 would definitely be high on our list of acquisitions if we had any interest in recording wildlife, or were keen -- for whatever reason -- to record ourselves.



Make/model                   SANYO VM-EX30

Recording format            8mm

Guide price                     800



Lens                               f1.18, 5.8-58mm

Zoom                              10x

Filter diameter               37mm  

Pick-up device                0.3in CCD

Min. illum. (lux)             2 (low light mode)



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

Max. rec. time                120mins (LP mode)

Remote control               full-function IR, LANC/Control L  (see text)

Main facilities                 auto/manual focus, 5-mode programmed auto exposure, auto white balance, fader, time/date recording,  record search, tally lamp, 5-segment auto assemble editing



Viewfinder                       0.6in monochrome and 2.2in colour LCD (see text)

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



System                            mono FM

Microphone                    omnidirectional electret



Sockets                          video and audio out (phono), edit control (8-pin mini DIN),

external mic and Control L (minijack) , DC in

Size (mm)                       119 x 111 x 205                    

Weight                           1.1 kg (inc. tape and battery)



Batteries, (nicad and lithium), straps, AC charger/power supply, AV lead and adaptor,  colour monitor/remote control, extension lead, RF converter



Resolution                    >230-lines

Colour fidelity               average

Picture stability             average

Colour bleed                 none

White balance               average 

Exposure                       average

Autofocus                      average

Audio performance       average

Insert edit                      manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor  N/A



Value for money          9

Ease of use                  8

Performance                8

Features                      9



(c) R Maybury 1993 0406




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