VIDEO CAMERA 1993

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

THE FAMILY WAY

 

INTRO

It's back to basics with Sony's latest budget family machine, the super compact FX200

 

COPY

Let's get it over with. The Sony FX200 lacks any form of manual focus, not even a focus lock, and that bothers us. For most family users, most of the time it shouldn't be a problem but when the FX200's autofocus system cannot cope -- and it does happen -- there's not a thing you can do about it.

 

Don't let that put you off, especially if what you're looking for is a smart-looking, no-fuss compact camcorder, with an unthreatening price tag.  The Sony name counts for something too, and build quality is up to their usual high standard. The FX200 has arrived at a difficult time for the UK camcorder market. As recently as six months ago there were at least a dozen machines costing less than 600; following Black Wednesday prices have risen and the choice is nowhere near as broad. Those price rises pushed the FX300 up to 650 and out of the budget category. The FX200 has taken its place, it is essentially a stripped-down version of the FX300 with an 8x zoom instead of a 10x, and the fader, backlight compensation and age/event recording features have been omitted. They've also left out the infra-red remote control, though we're relieved to see Sony haven't dropped the Control L socket as well, which means the FX200 can still serve a useful role as a source deck, when connected to a suitable edit controller.

 

Nevertheless, Sony have managed to retain at least one of the FX300's more up-market features, a 3-mode auto-exposure system with settings for portrait shots, sports action, and high-speed shutter. In the portrait mode the subject stands out against a softened background as shutter speed varies automatically between 1/50th and 1/200th of a second. The Sports mode is intended to reduce blur when recording fast-moving subjects, or when shooting from a moving vehicle, shutter speed is automatically adjusted from 1/50th sec to 1/500th sec. In the high speed shutter mode the speed is fixed at 1/4000th sec, this helps improve replay of fast-movement (golf swings etc.), when the recording is viewed on a deck with slow motion or still frame facilities. (That normally entails dubbing or editing the original recording onto VHS).

 

The FX200 is deceptively small, not much larger than most palmcorders in fact, and that means it's relatively light and very easy to handle. And so it should, with only one major camera control! The general layout is similar to previous FX machines, with the deck controls on the right side of the body. This is an unusual place to have them, but they're no less accessible or difficult to use for that. Another oddity is the sportsfinder eyepiece, which allows the viewfinder screen to be seen at a distance. Sony appear to have modified the optics of a conventional viewfinder by slotting in a concave lens between the objective lens, and the screen. In the normal setting it produces a very noticeable barrelling of the viewfinder image, which can be a little off-putting, until you get used to it.

 

PERFORMANCE

The FX200's close relationship with the FX300 is clear to see, and we got an almost identical set of test results. Our best estimation of  horizontal resolution is a shade over 230 lines, it has to be a guesstimate because the focus cannot be locked off or adjusted manually. Slight colour spillage is another characteristic of this design and once again it is prevalent on saturated reds. Colour accuracy is quite good, even indoors under artificial light, though it is best to avoid tube lighting as this can also cause problems with reds, in particular, which tend to appear weak. Colour and luminance noise levels are below average, and the picture looks quite clean.

 

The on-board microphone has good directional properties and the FM soundtrack is very crisp. The FX200 has an external mic. socket and headphone monitor sockets, they're becoming a rarity these days, so well-done Sony!

 

VERDICT

Providing you're aware of its limitations and avoid the obvious pitfalls, like shooting in poor light, highly patterned subjects, through bars or glass, or highly-reflective objects, the AF system is fairly dependable. Sony also warn about shooting stationary objects when the machine is mounted on a tripod, or using marine packs and rain hoods, you'll have to decide how important those are for yourself. The FX200 is a likeable little machine that can be a real pleasure to use -- videophobes take note -- though we suspect it may be a little too basic, even for those with only a mild interest in the subject.

 

BOX 1 -- WHAT ELSE IS AVAILABLE?

Six hundred pounds just happens to be the price of the dreaded Panasonic CS1 record-only VHS-C camcorder. Given a choice between that and the FX200 we know which one we'd go for! Looking a little further afield there's the Canon E200, a good machine that's worth considering, though it lacks character; we reckon it's worth spending another 30 on its stablemate, the  E400. We quite like the Samsung 807 and 808  which are now very good value for money. The Hitachi E31 is a perennial favourite; it is beginning to look its age but its difficult to beat on a features per pound basis. Sanyo's RZ1 hasn't a lot to offer but we'd still keep it in mind. Apart from the CS1 there's only a couple of VHS-C machines below 600; they are the JVC GR-AX5 which is getting on a bit, and  the Dixons/Curry's exclusive GR-M3, both are competent, though unexciting. If editing is a priority the FX200 is just about the cheapest camcorder with an editing terminal, if not we'd certainly think twice about any machine with manual focus.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                   SONY CCD-FX200

Recording format            8mm

Guide price                     600

 

OPTICS

Lens                               f1.6

Zoom                              8x (two speed)

Filter diameter               37mm  

Pick-up device                0.3in CCD

Min. illum. (lux)              4

 

VIDEO DECK

Long Play (LP)                          yes

Max. rec. time                                          240mins (LP mode)

IR remote control ?                                    no

Edit terminal?                                              yes/Control L

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto Focus?                              yes        Manual focus?               no

Auto exposure?             yes             Programmed AE?                    yes

Auto white balance                          yes             Manual white balance?            no

Power zoom                              yes            Manual zoom?              no

Backlight compensation            no            Insert edit?                             no

Character generator?            no            Digital Superimposer?            no

Image stabiliser?                     no            Video light?                            no

Battery refresh?                            no         Accessory shoe?               yes

Record review                yes            Fader?                          no

Digital effects                             no            Digital zoom?                          no

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, tally lamp

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.6in monochrome

Sportsfinder eyepiece?   yes

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

 

AUDIO

Stereo?                                       no

Audio dub?                                no

Wind noise filter?                no

Mic socket?                              yes

Headphone socket?             yes

Microphone                                      omnidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Sockets                           video and audio out (phono), external mic., headphone and Control L  (minijack)

Size (mm)                        118 x 108 x 265    

Weight                             1kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

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

 

video light?                    no            remote control? no

cassette adaptor?            N/A            RF Converter?             yes

SCART adaptor?            no        

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                     >230-lines

Colour fidelity               average

Picture stability             good

Colour bleed                  slight (reds)

White balance               average

Exposure                       good

Autofocus                      average

Audio performance       good

Insert edit                      manual inserts fair

Playback thru adaptor  N/A

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money          8

Ease of use                  9

Performance                7

Features                      7

 

---end---

(c) R Maybury 1993 0507

 

 

 

 

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