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A bargain or is the Chinon VC-1700 too cheap to be true?  We've been testing this Dixon's exclusive which has just gone on sale for under 500



Two years ago a camcorder costing less than 500 would hardly have raised an eyebrow, these days the first question we're inclined to ask when we see one -- and that's not very often lately -- is what's wrong with it? In the case of the last sub 500 machine we saw, the Panasonic CS1, it was the lack of a replay facility. The Chinon VC-1700s shortcomings  are not quite so obvious. It's a rather boxy-looking VHS-C palmcorder, reasonably light and adequately if unimaginatively styled, but we won't hold that against it. It has a 10x zoom, a basic but workmanlike assortment of shooting aids which includes a 7-speed shutter, backlight compensation, fader, gain-up and auto/preset white balance system. So far so good...


Closer inspection of the box reveals the first evidence of serious cost cutting. The accompanying accessory pack is unusually spartan; being a VHS-C machine it's imperative that it contains a cassette adaptor and preferably an RF converter as well, the VC-1700 has neither, so anyone with an older television, without a SCART AV socket won't be able to watch their recordings on TV without buying an optional converter or adaptor. In the past we've been concerned about the general quality of construction of ultra low cost machines, in this case it is passable, the mouldings feel reasonably resilient but the zoom rocker feels tacky and the control layout could have been better thought out.



Getting the machine up and running is simple enough, though our sample made some strange noises and displayed an error message the first time a tape was loaded; switching it off and on again a couple of times seemed to clear the problem. The first thing we noticed was the unusually noisy deck mechanism, there's a constant whine when it is recording, which is picked up on the soundtrack. The camera controls are on the small side, and hard to discriminate between when the shooting. The buttons for manually operating the inner-focus lens are a case in point, they're the same shape as, and too close to the counter reset and memory buttons. The transport controls on the top panel are rather exposed and holding or picking the machine up carelessly can cause problems. 



Quite simply the VC-1700 sample we tried produced the worst picture we've seen in a long while. Picture resolution was less than 200-lines, that's below what we'd expect from a budget machine recording in LP mode. Pictures were noisy and jittery, about the only good thing you can say about it is that colour fidelity was fairly good,  even under normally troublesome tube lighting. LP recordings were almost unwatchable with serious distortion on the soundtrack. 


The autofocus system was highly unreliable, it would loose lock for no apparent reason and hunt around, even if the subject was static, in the centre of the screen. The problem got worse indoors, even though there was enough light to form a watchable image.


Sound quality was poor, the recording system actually performed reasonably well, for VHS-C, but the constant whine from the deck was audible in all but the noisiest conditions.



We've said it a hundred times before but you get what you pay for. If you expect to get a worthwhile camcorder for between 100 and 200 less than the current going rate then think again. The VC-1700 is a poor buy, sound and picture quality are well below average, the accessory pack is inadequate and if the worrying grunting and grinding noises our sample made is anything to go by, there must be a question-mark over its long-term reliability.



Currently there are no camcorders with manufacturers list prices of less than 500 that we feel are worth mentioning, apart from the Panasonic NV-CS1, which as we have already pointed out is a record-only machine. However, if you're prepared to shop around, and are not worried about buying last year's model, then there's plenty of good camcorders to be found. Clearly it's impossible to list what's available as these kinds of reductions and special deals are changing all the time -- the best advice we can give is to check out past reviews in Video Camera if you find a machine that you like the look of.



Make/model                   CHINON VC-1700

Recording format           VHS-C

Guide price                     500



Lens                               f/1.8, 5.8-58mm

Zoom                              10x

Filter diameter               37mm  

Pick-up device                0.3in CCD

Min. illum. (lux)              4



Long Play (LP)                 yes                  

Max. rec. time                 90mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                   no

Edit terminal                            no


MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto Focus                               yes                  

Manual focus               yes      

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    no       

Fader                                       yes                  

Manual white balance            yes      

Auto white balance                       yes                                          

Manual zoom                           no       

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                no       

Character generator                     no                   

Digital Superimposer            no       

Image stabiliser                      no                   

Video light                               no       

Battery refresh                         yes                                      

Accessory shoe                 yes      




high-speed shutter (7-speed up to 1/10,000th sec), record check, index marker, backlight compensation, time/date recording, gain up



Viewfinder                       0.6in monochrome

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



Stereo                             no       

Audio dub                        no                           

Wind noise filter         no               

Mic socket                        no               

Headphone socket         no

Microphone                    unidirectional electret



Sockets                           AV out (mini DIN), DC in

Size (mm)                       110 x 119.5 x 171.5

Weight                            0.8 kg (inc. tape and battery)



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

AV lead                        yes

video light?                 no                   

remote control?            no       

cassette adaptor?            no                   

RF Converter?             no       

SCART adaptor?            yes                  




Resolution                   <200-lines-lines

Colour fidelity              fair

Picture stability            fair

Colour bleed                 slight (blue)

White balance               good

Exposure                       average

Autofocus                      jumpy

Audio performance       average

Insert edit                      N/A

Playback thru adaptor  N/A



Value for money          **

Ease of use                  ***

Performance                **

Features                      ***



R Maybury 1994 0303





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