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Canon turn the clock back -- in more ways than one -- with their latest budget palmcorder, the UC100



If you canít beat íem, join íem. That seems to be the thinking behind Canonís latest 8mm palmcorder, the UC100, launched later this month. From a distance it could be any one of half a dozen palmcorders past and present. Canon have always dared to be different but for every would-be movie-maker lured by their unique designs, a couple more were probably frightened off. The UC100 is a clear attempt to win back their share of the newcomer market with an unthreatening not to say conventional-looking machine, but more importantly, it heralds their return to the budget end of the market.


The UC100 has a lot of useful features, all of which weíve seen before, but rarely together in such abundance. It could just be coincidence but Canon appear to have been greatly inspired by Fujiís FF60, which first appeared in Autumn 1991, and itís successor, the FF120 that followed a year later. These machines have an unusually large number of important features in common, including a switchable 0.7x wide-angle adaptor lens, 12x optical zoom, sliding lens cover, inner-focus lens, Control L edit terminal, mono sound system and stranger still, they all cost £700 at launch.


There are strong reminders of other machines too, like the Sharp VL-M4, which had a chunky function switch over the lens, and a built-in video light, though the light housing on the UC100 is more akin to the ones used by JVC on their AX machines. The sideways zoom control harks back to the Panasonic R50 and the relatively normal top-opening, side-loading deck makes a welcome change from the every-which-way systems theyíve used in the past.  The rest is pure Canon, though, and the UC100 takes us back to the good old days when their camcorders consistently beat the opposition with more features per pound than almost any other brand. For a £700 machine the UC100 looks like excellent value, in addition to the wide angle lens, light and edit terminal it has:

* 4-mode program AE system (portrait, sports, spotlight, sand & snow)

* built-in title generator (1 page, 2-lines/16 characters)

* IR remote control

* fader and backlight facility

* 7-speed shutter


Under the bonnet thereís a newly developed autofocus system, digital image processing for improved exposure and colour balance, plus a new mains charger with built-in refresh circuit. As far as we can see the only thing missing from this very well-considered package is an external microphone socket, and thatís more annoying than usual, as we shall see in a moment.


Talking of sockets, we mentioned the UC100ís Control L edit terminal in passing a few moments ago but we would be failing in our duty if we didnít remind you just how important that feature is. Control L is the now the most widely used edit control protocol on domestic camcorders and it enables this machine to be used with the vast majority of edit controllers on the market. Even if you donít plan to get involved in editing right now weíd be prepared to be you will, once youíve shot a few tapes. Previously Canon have only fitted Control L to their more expensive machines; weíve grumbled about Canonís apparent indifference to editing on their family-oriented machines for as long as we care to remember, maybe someone out there is listening, well done Canon, better late than never, and letís hope you make a habit of it! 



It looks quite chunky; itís no featherweight and a far cry from their skinny UC-series machines, but it feels comfy enough, and the controls are reasonably accessible. The Program AE selector is at a rather unusual angle but you quickly get used to it. Some of the controls, including the manual focus thumbwheel and tape transport keys might be difficult to use with gloves on, and the latter are almost unusable in the dark; whoís bright idea was it to have black buttons with black labelling on a black panel in a dark recess?


The battery fits into a recess on the back panel but it was a rather loose fit on our sample and it rattled about if touched, with the noise being picked up by the microphone. The battery release catch is also right next to the zoom lever and on one occasion a straying finger pressed the wrong button by accident, and the battery fell out! The AV output sockets are right next to the battery , nothing wrong with that, but we noticed a couple of blanked-off panels which would be just the right size for a second audio socket, and an S-Video connector, signs that they may be a stereo and Hi8 models in the pipeline?



Maybe our sample was a little under the weather but definition was rather average, between 230 and  240-lines. Nevertheless, the picture actually looked quite reasonable with very little noise and good all-round colour accuracy. The auto exposure system was quite responsive, without being too jumpy. The backlight button didnít seem make much difference but the programmed AE system worked well, and itís good to see a machine with a manual shutter once again.


The wide-angle lens facility is excellent, it makes all the difference on indoor shots, no more standing outside and shooting through the window to get everyone into shot. Inevitably thereís some barrel distortion but itís only really noticeable when door frames or other vertical edges come into the picture. However, itís at its best with panoramas, giving a real feeling of space on longshots and landscapes. The only slight drawback to this kind of arrangement is that thereís no way of attaching any other kind of special effect lens or filters to the front of the machine.


The video light is fairly puny, itís okay for close-up shots but it doesnít have much effect more than a few feet from the lens, and itís probably not a good idea to use it in the wide-angle mode as the beamwidth is considerably narrower than the lensís field of view.


Itís all been fairly routine until this point, but now we come to the UC100ís Achilles heel, and the surprise is that itís the sound system. The FM soundtrack works well enough, a little too well possibly, because the microphone picks all manner of unwanted noises. There's a continual background whine from the transport motors, but the worst offender is the zoom servo which can be heard whenever itís used, even when the noise from the capstan motor is drowned out by background sounds. The UC100 doesnít have an external microphone socket, so thereís absolutely nothing you can do about it..



Canon couldnít design an ordinary camcorder if they tried; in its own way the UC100 is as distinctive as any of their other machines, though not always for the best of reasons. No complaints about the price, features and general design. Picture quality is okay but weíre not happy about the noisy soundtrack. In spite of this we rather like the UC100, itís full of character and just what the rather dull budget market needs right now to get things moving again.



The £700 sector has looking a little more interesting lately and weíre still quite smitten by the Panasonic R30, which would be our first choice for a capable edit-friendly machine, but the UC100 is definitely a close runner-up. However, we would suggest that anyone serious about video movie-making finds an extra £100 for the excellent Panasonic NV-S70 which brings S-VHS-C recording quality and stereo hi-fi sound into the equation.



Make/model                               Canon UC100

Recording format                          8mm

Guide price                              £700



Lens                             f/1.8, 5.2-62.4mm (normal); f/2.8, 3.6-7.2mm (wide)

Zoom                           x12

Filter diameter            n/a 

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min. illum. (lux)     2



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                              

Programmed AE                    yes (4-modes)

Fader                                       yes                  

Manual white balance            no       

Auto white balance                       yes                                          

Manual zoom                           no       

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                no       

Character generator                     yes                  

Digital Superimposer            no       

Image stabiliser                      no                   

Video light                               yes      

Battery refresh                         yes                                      

Accessory shoe                 no       




time/date recording, high-speed shutter (7-speed up to 1/10,000th sec), record review, tally lamp, dual trigger, built-in lens cover, backlight compensation



Viewfinder                       0.5n monochrome

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



Stereo                            no       

Audio dub                        no                           

Wind noise filter         no               

Mic socket                        no               

Headphone socket         no

Microphone                   unidirectional electret



Sockets                           AV out (phono), LANC (minijack)

Size (mm)                       118 x 117 x 199

Weight                            1.1kg inc. tape and battery)



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

AV lead                        yes      

video light?                 yes                  

remote control?            yes      

cassette adaptor?            n/a                  

RF Converter?             no       

SCART adaptor?            yes                  



Resolution                     230-lines

Colour fidelity               good

Picture stability             good

Colour bleed                  none

White balance                good

Exposure                       good

Autofocus                      good

Audio performance       fair

Insert edit                      manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor  n/a



Value for money         9

Ease of use                  8

Performance               8

Features                      8



R Maybury 1994 0706





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