VIDEO CAMERA 1994

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

CLASH OF THE TITANS

 

INTRO

Canon and Sony camcorders have always been popular with advanced video movie makers but how do their latest Hi8  machine compare? We take a close look at the EX2 and VX1 to find out

 

COPY

Over two and a half thousand pounds for a camcorder, who's kidding who? Canon and Sony are perfectly serious about the EX2 Hi and VX-1 Pro, and if you think that's a lot of money consider this, camcorders on the next rung up the performance ladder, could easily set you back ten times as much!

 

These two Hi8 screamers from Canon and Sony are the last stop before professional and broadcast video, they manage to squeeze the last ounce of picture quality out of the format and are about as far removed from the average family palmcorder as it is possible to get. So who would want such a machine? They're a bit too bulky to take on holiday, though you could just about lug the Sony machine around on family days out, but portability is not that important to serious and semi-professional video movie-makers who's main concerns are, in order of priority, image and sound quality, flexibility and editing facilities. That's where these two machines really score, and part of the reason they cost so much.

 

Canon and Sony have approached this small and highly specialised market from quite different directions. Canon, are one of the world's leading camera manufacturers and have concentrated their fire on advanced optics; Sony's expertise lies in electronic imaging and signal processing, so it's not surprising that the two machines have very different characters.

 

The Canon EX2 Hi is the most recent arrival, though it is derived from the EX1 Hi, which first saw light of day over four years ago. The EX1 was in turn based on the A1 and A2 which were briefly famous for looking and handling like SLR cameras. However, it was the EX1 that took the cross-fertilisation between still and video technologies to its logical conclusion by having an interchangeable lens system called VL-Mount; this enables the EX2 to be fitted with a range of specialist lenses, including lenses designed for Canon's EOS SLR cameras, (using a special adaptor). The basic EX2 outfit comes with a 15x zoom lens and costs 2,700.

 

The VX-1 is the latest in Sony's 'PRO' series of Hi8 camcorders and was launched last Summer. The dramatic shape and silver livery caused quite a stir, and it was notable for being the very first domestic camcorder to have three CCD image sensor chips, one for each primary colour; Sony borrowed the idea from their broadcast division where triple-CCD cameras are the norm, and are a  key element in generating broadcast-quality pictures. The VX-1 now retails for just under 2,500.

 

NEW FEATURES

The EX2 Hi looks almost identical to the old EX1 but there have been some significant changes inside. The most important one is the addition of RC time-code facilities, to bring it into line with Sony's top-end machines for  professional-standard, frame-accurate editing.  Other new features include an AV line input, so the EX2 can record from an external source; the remote control now sports a jog/shuttle dial for better control of the machines trick-play facilities -- it's the first camcorder to have one -- and it records date and data codes which can be helpful when searching for a particular recording. Incidentally, the EX2 can also add RC time codes to previously recorded tapes.

 

Those are just the improvements, the EX2 is undeniably one of the most sophisticated camcorders on the market with an impressive range of camera controls (manual exposure control, correlated/peak metering, high-speed shutter), digital effects (wipe, split, cinema, freeze, art, zoom, slow shutter, overlap), stereo hi-fi sound with automatic and manual recording level control, and the all-important Control L or LANC socket, for connection to an automated assemble edit controller.  

 

Are three image sensors better than one? That's a question a lot of people were asking when the VX-1 was launched last year. The off-camera picture is definitely close to broadcast quality, as far as colour fidelity and noise levels are concerned, but the Hi8 recording system cannot fully process all of the information from the sensors, which imposes a practical limit on recorded picture quality. The VX-1 also has rather more in the way of manual camera controls than the Canon machine, they include a full-range exposure system, manual video gain and white balance controls and four program AE modes (portrait, sport, aperture priority and shutter priority), and like the EX2 settings are clearly shown on the viewfinder display. The VX1 has two other spin-offs from the broadcasting field, they are a switchable neutral-density filter and a 'zebra-pattern' generator, which highlights areas of over-exposure with a striped overlay. Sony have resisted the temptation to load the VX1 down with digital effects but it does have a number of creative facilities, such as interval/time-lapse recording and custom presets, which allow the user to store settings for colour saturation and balance, though unlike the EX2 (and previous 'Pro' models) it doesn't have an AV line input.

 

HANDLING AND LAYOUT

Handling is not necessarily a major consideration with either machine as under normal circumstances they will spend most or their working lives on top of a tripod. Nevertheless, there are times when they will be hand-held, and Sony come out best, the VX-1 is lighter and more manageable than the EX2. The problem with the Canon machine is mostly concerned with balance, the larger lenses make it nose-heavy. Holding it by the rear hand-grip helps but then it has to be supported with the other hand as well. The EX2 could do with a top-mounted carry handle, there's a great temptation to pick it up by the microphone or viewfinder, which could damage either.

 

Control layout on both machines is reasonable, the VX-1 is slightly more approachable as the EX2 has buttons, knobs and flaps all over the place. Both manual exposure controls could be better, the one on the EX1, in particular is awkward to get at, and the VX-1's thumbwheel has a 'ratchety' feels to it. The EX2's microphone is detachable, which is helpful, and there's a second accessory shoe behind it.  The VX-1 has a shoe on the odd-looking handle. Manual focus and zoom on both machines is a delight, big, easy to grip rings that feel smooth and responsive. The focus ring on the VX-1 is not, in fact, mechanically linked to the optics, instead it controls a servo mechanism deep inside the inner-focus lens assembly, but you wouldn't know it.

 

PERFORMANCE

The big surprise is that the off-camera resolution is slightly higher on the single-chip EX2, though the VX1 has a definite edge when it comes to noise levels, colours look crisper, and subtle shades, like skin tones appear more natural. When it comes to off-tape picture quality there's less in it, in fact it would be hard to tell the two pictures apart on the basis of resolution alone. The lower noise levels and colour accuracy of the VX1 do, however, show up on recordings and the picture seems just that little bit sharper.

 

Both machines have exceptionally stable (for 8mm/Hi8) trick-play facilities and they would make very capable edit decks. We tried the two machines with a number of RCTC compatible edit controllers and found both to be within a single frame of the designated edit points.

 

The EX2 wins hands down when it comes to the sound recording. The actual differences in audio quality between the VX1 and EX2 are not that great, but the degree of control and flexibility of the EX2's sound system gives it a big advantage. The detachable zoom microphone also counts in its favour.

 

VERDICT

If we had between 2,500 and 2,700 to spend on a top end camcorder which model would we choose? In the end it would largely depend on what we were going to use it for. For those involved in a lot of outdoors recording, wildlife, sports etc., then the EX2's flexible lens system, superior sound recording facilities and line-input would tip the balance in its favour; why. The VX-1 is more of a general-purpose machine, the sophisticated exposure controls and smaller size are big plus points and it could have a useful secondary role as a studio camera; if only Sony had give it a line-input facility, then it really would have been something special. If pressed we would have to say that the VX-1 is marginally more adept, and on a subjective level it looks a lot neater; the EX2 is getting on a bit, it's still one

 machine but it's getting on a bit now and we suspect it won't be long before there's something even more interesting to replace it.

 

THE RIVALS

The only machine that comes remotely close -- this side of 10,000 -- is the Sony V6000 PRO which has since been discontinued. Rumours of a V7000 abound, and we wouldn't mind betting we see something this Summer, but until then these two machines have this exclusive section of the market all to themselves.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                   CANON EX2 Hi

Recording format           Hi8/8mm

Guide price                     2,700

 

OPTICS

Lens                               interchangeable -- see text

Zoom                              see text

Filter diameter               see text 

Pick-up device                0.5in CCD

Min. illum. (lux)              0.5 (gain up/slow shutter)

 

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                              

Programmed AE                    no       

Fader                                       no                   

Manual white balance            yes      

Auto white balance                       yes                                          

Manual zoom                           yes (see text)         

Power zoom                            yes                                                                  

Insert edit                                no       

Character generator                     yes                  

Digital Superimposer            no       

Image stabiliser                      no                   

Video light                               no       

Battery refresh                         no                                       

Accessory shoe                 yes      

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording,  high-speed shutter (7-speed up to 1/10,000th sec), record review, retake, tally lamp, digital effects (wipe, cinema, split, overlap, freeze, art freeze, close-up, gain-up/slow shutter), VL interchangeable lens system, 2-moder metering system, manual iris, still and slomo replay

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.7in monochrome

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

 

AUDIO

Stereo                             yes      

Audio dub                        no                           

Wind noise filter         no               

Mic socket                        yes              

Headphone socket         yes      

Microphone                    single point stereo (detachable)

 

GENERAL

Sockets                           S-Video in and out (mini DIN), Control L, headphones, microphone (minijack), audio and video in and out (phono), 

Size (mm)                       149 x 150 x 274

Weight                            1.4 kg (body, ex. tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

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

AV lead                        yes      

video light?                 no                   

remote control?            yes      

cassette adaptor?            N/A                  

RF Converter?             yes      

SCART adaptor?            yes                  

 

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                     >400-lines

Colour fidelity               excellent

Picture stability             excellent

Colour bleed                  none

White balance                very good

Exposure                       excellent

Autofocus                      accurate but slow

Audio performance       excellent

Insert edit                      very good

Playback thru adaptor  N/A

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money          7

Ease of use                  8

Performance                9

Features                      9

 

 

 

BOX COPY 2

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                      SONY CCD-VX1E                                

Recording format            Hi 8/8mm

Guide price                      2,500

 

OPTICS

Lens                                4-48mm, f/1.6-1.8

Zoom                               x12, two-speed

Filter diameter               37/43/49/52mm  

Pick-up device                3 x 0.3in CCD

Min. illum. (lux)              4

 

VIDEO DECK

Long Play (LP)                 yes                  

Max. rec. time                 240mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                   yes, Control L

Edit terminal                            yes

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto Focus                               yes                  

Manual focus               yes      

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    yes      

Fader                                       yes      

Manual white balance            yes      

Auto white balance                       yes                                          

Manual zoom                           yes      

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                no       

Character generator                     no                   

Digital Superimposer            yes      

Image stabiliser                      no                   

Video light                               no       

Battery refresh                         no                                       

Accessory shoe                 yes      

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording,  high-speed shutter (16-speed up to 1/10,000th sec), record review, retake, tally lamp, auto head cleaner, gain-up, still and slomo, 'zebra' pattern exposure indicator, index marker, intro scan, auto/man ND filter, RCTC recording, data code recording, interval recording, animation effect, custom presets, colour noise reduction

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.7in monochrome

Viewfinder info.               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, shutter speed, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, title, exposure value, RC timecode data, index mark, program AE mode

 

AUDIO

Stereo                             yes      

Audio dub                        no                           

Wind noise filter         no               

Mic socket                        yes              

Headphone socket         yes      

Microphone                    single-point stereo

 

GENERAL

Sockets                           S-Video out (mini DIN), video and stereo audio out (phono), headphones, ext. mic. DC out and Control L (minijack)

Size (mm)                       116 x 148 x 352

Weight                            2.0 kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

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

AV lead                        yes      

video light?                 no                   

remote control?            yes      

cassette adaptor?            no                   

RF Converter?             no       

SCART adaptor?            yes                  

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                     >400-lines

Colour fidelity               very good

Picture stability             good

Colour bleed                  slight

White balance                very good

Exposure                       very good

Autofocus                      good

Audio performance       very good

Insert edit                      manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor  N/A

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money          8

Ease of use                  7

Performance                7

Features                      9

 

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R.Maybury 1994 0702

 

 

 

 

 

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