VIDEO CAMERA 1994

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REVIEW

 

HEAD TO HEAD

JVC  GR-SZ1 vs PANASONIC NV-S85

 

INTRO

The VHS-C format is making a comeback with some very impressive machines, especially at the top end of the market. We've been comapring two of the latest high-band palmcorders from JVC and Panasonic

 

COPY

At first glance the similarities between the JVC SZ1 and Panasonic S85 seem to outnumber the differences. They're both Super VHS-C palmcorders with stereo hi-fi sound systems, program auto-exposure, electronic image stabilisers low light sensitivty of 1 lux, size and weight are within a few millimetres and grams of each other, and both machines have a range of digital effects.

 

Look a little closer, though, and there are some significant differences. First the price, the the SZ1 is the more expensive of the two, selling for just under 1500, whilst the S85 is some 300 cheaper, at 1200. The price disparity can largely be attritubuted to two high-profile features on the SZ1: it has a colour viewfinder; and a multi-function lens. We'll still not convinced about the need for colour viewfinders, they're simply not good enough to replace mono viewfinders in critical applications like manual focusing and exposure control. The lens, on the other hand, is definitely worth having. In normal operation it's a switchable 8x or 11x zoom; removing the front element changes it into a 0.6x wideangle lens, and fitting a short extention tube into the front of the machine turns the lens into a powerful microscope with a magnification of 188x (on a 21-inch TV screen).

 

The S85's secondary facilities are not quite so elaborate, though they're no less useful for that. They include an assortment of interesting digital effects which ease scene transitions by mixing or wiping to and from a frozen image. Panasonic have also come up with a neat way to conserve battery power on the S85. An infra-red sensor on the viewfinder detects whether or not the machine is being held in the shooting position (it can be disabled for tripod operation), if it decides the machine is not being used it shuts down the autofocus systems and viewfinder. Typically this can extend running time by between five and ten minutes.

 

EDITING FACILITIES

Although both machines have advanced editing capabilities they differ widely in scope and method of operation. The SZ1 uses JVCs RAE or rando m assemble edit system, effectively it comes with its own 8-scene edit controller which also operates the record-pause function of a VCR. The S85 is more conventional, it is fitted with Panasonics standard 5-pin or RMC edit terminal, so it can be connected to a range of external editing controllers; it also has a VITC timecode generator, for enhanced accuracy (with suitable controllers). Uniquely the S85 can also read timecodes, though it's of limited use as far as we can see.

 

The SZ1's RAE system is ingeniously simple. The handset, which stores the control codes for the destination VCR, connects to the SZ1 by a single lead. The camcorder's AV output plugs into the VCRs AV input. Once the handset has been programmed with the appropriate control code (most makes of VCR are included) the system is ready for use. Edit points are set using the in/out button on the handset, and shown on the camcorder's viewfinder display. Press the edit start button and the two machines get on with the job of transferring the selected segments. The RAE system uses the camcorders tape counter as a reference, so accuracy is not that wonderful. In practice if you get to within a second or so (+/- 25 frames) of the edit points you're doing quite well. Edit accurtacy on the S85 is potentially much higher, though a lot depends on the type of controller used, and the characteristics of the VCR. It's certainly possible to consistently get cuts to within +/- 5 frames.

 

Other important post-production features common to both machines include audio dub and insert edt, though they have been included as standard on the S85, in order to use them on the SZ1 it's necessary to purchase an optional remote control handset, costing a further 52, this seems extraordinary mean in view of the cost of the machine. Ironically a new remote handset, which can access these features is now supplied as standard with their latest VHS-C palmcorder. 

 

THE RIGHT EXPOSURE

Exposure control is an important feature on these two machines, in addition to full auto modes both machines have manual iris's; of the two the one on the S85 is a slightly more effective as exposure values are clearly shown in the viewfinder display, the SZ1 makes do with a simple bargraph. Operationally the SZ1's iris is a little easier to use, the control on the S85 is awkwardly placed and the same thumbwheel is also used to vary the shutter speed. The program AE system on the SZ1 is the more comprehensive of the two, with no less than eight shooting modes; these include the obligatory portrait and sports options, settings for front and back-lit scenes, slow-speed shutter, twilight mode, strobe and classic film effect, the latter giving the recording the characteristic jerky appearance of old silent movies. In addition there is a cineam mode, with black bars superimposed at the toip and bottom of the screen, and a16:9 squeeze mode, which electronically compresses the picture so that when it is replayed on a widescreen TV it fill s the whole screen area.

 

The S85 has only three preset modes, for sports, portrtait and low-light shots but these are supplemented by the assortment of digital effects that in addition to wipe and mix include strobe, digital gain-up and digital zoom, a feature also fitted to the SZ1. The eletcronic zoom on the S85 extends the optical zoom from 10x to 20x whilst the one on the SZ1 doubles the 8x and 11x optical zoom to 16x and 22x respectively. 

 

CONTROLS AND HANDLING

There's not a lot to choose between the two machines, maybe Panasonic have put just a tad more emphasis on style, as opposed to ergonomics, making some of the controls awkward to use, but both machines have easy to use manual focussing systems, and feel comformatble to use. Once you've got used to it the sideways zoom lever on the S85 feels more precise and responsive than a rocker; the only real gripe with the SZ1 is the bank of secondary controls which is situated beneath the viewfinder module, and the rather fiddly power on/mode selector knob. The image stabilisers work satisfactorily it's a moot point whether they're needed or not as with all-up weights of over a kilogramme they effectively damp out most sorts of involountary hand movement.

 

PERFORMANCE

There is almost nothing to choose between the two machines when it comes to resolution, both samples managed to get to within a whisker of the 400-line banchmark for S-VHS equipment. There was, however, a small but noticeable difference in nosie levels and colour accuracy, with the SZ1 couming out on top in both counts. Panasonic have put a lot of work into digital processing circuitry at the front end of the machine, and it seems to have paid off, resulting in unusually vivid colours and a clean, sharp picture. JVC certainly have nothing to be ashamed about, the SZ1 picture alsohas lower than average noise levels but we did note some slight colour spillage on our test sample, on saturated reds, which cost it a few points.

 

Sound quality in both cases was very good, with the stereo hi-fi soundtrack sproducing a clean, sharp sound, though neithjer machine produces much of a soundstage when recording through the built-in microphones.

 

THE VERDICT

It's clear JVC and Panasonic have targetted slightly different sectors of the market, though both manufacturers assume that potential owners want, and are prepared to pay for top picture and sound quality. We suspect the SZ1 owner is more likely to be enthusiastic family user, someone who wants to make professional-looking home movies, but doesn't necessarily want to get involved too deeply in the technical side of things. We can also see a lot of interest in this machine in schools and commercial organisations where its most impressive microscope facility can be put to good use. The S85, on the other hand, is pitched at the enthusiast and maybe overlaps the semi-pro market with its high-performance editing capabilities. It's a more businesslike, less gadget-oriented machine, and the lower price is another major plus point in its favour, though the gap would be narrowed somwhat if an edit controller is brought into the equation.

 

SPEC BOX 1

 

SPECIFICATIONS

JVC GR-SZ1  S-VHS-C/VHS-C 1500

 

OPTICS

Lens                               f/1.8, 6.4-52mm (8x zoom)

                                       f/1.8, 6.8 - 71mm  (11x zoom)

                                       f/1.8, 4mm (ultra wide)

                                       f/15.0, focusing distance = 92+/-2mm

 

Zoom                              8x, 11x (optical) 22x electronic

Filter diameter              46mm 

Pick-up device               0.3in CCD (470 k pixel)

Min. illum. (lux)             1 (slow shutter)

 

VIDEO DECK

Long Play (LP)                yes

Max. rec. time                 90 mins (LP mode)

IR remote control            yes (see text)

Edit terminal                    yes (see test)

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto Focus?                             yes

Manual focus?             yes

Auto exposure?                   yes      

Manual iris?                             yes

Programmed AE?                  yes (8-mode) 

Auto white balance                          yes

Manual white balance?            yes

Power zoom                            yes      

Manual zoom?             no

Backlight compensation            no

Insert edit?                              yes (see text)

Audio Dub?                              yes (see text)

Character generator?            no       

Digital Superimposer?          no

Image stabiliser?                    yes

Video light?                             no       

Battery refresh?                            no

Accessory shoe?               no

Record review             yes      

Fader?                         yes/black

Digital effects                           yes

Digital zoom?                          yes

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date/age recording, snapshot recording, 16: squeeze mode, cinema mode, RAE editing, multi-function lens

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.7in colour LCD

Sportsfinder eyepiece?   no

Viewfinder info.               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date/age, head clog, zoom position, edit screen

 

AUDIO

Stereo?                                       yes

Audio dub?                              yes

Wind noise filter?               no

Mic socket?                              yes

Headphone socket?                        no

Microphone                                      single-point stereo

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                  video and audio out (phono), ext. mic.,  S-Video out (4-pin mini DIN)

Size (mm)                               127 x 122 x 214

Weight                                   1.2kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries, (nicad and lithium), straps, AC charger/power supply, cassette adaptor, AV lead, remote control, microscope attachment, lens holder

 

video light?                 no

remote control?            yes

cassette adaptor?            yes      

RF Converter?             no

SCART adaptor?            no       

 

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                     >380-lines (S-Video), >240-lines (composite VHS-C)

Colour fidelity               good

Picture stability             good

Colour bleed                  slight (red)

White balance                average

Exposure                       very good

Autofocus                      average

Audio performance       good

Insert edit                      see text

Playback thru adaptor  very good

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money           6

Ease of use                   8

Performance                 8

Features                        8

 

 

 

SPEC BOX 2

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                     Panasonic NV-S85     

Recording format           S-VHS-C/VHS-C

Guide price                     1,200

 

OPTICS

Lens                               f1.6, 6-60mm

Zoom                              x10 optical, 20x electronic

Filter diameter               37mm  

Pick-up device               0.3in CCD

Min. illum. (lux)             1 (gain up

 

VIDEO DECK

Long Play (LP)                         yes

Max. rec. time                                          45mins (LP mode)

IR remote control ?                                  no

Edit terminal?                                              yes, 5/11pin RMC

           

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto Focus?                             yes

Manual focus?             yes

Auto exposure?                   yes      

Manual iris?                             yes

Programmed AE?                  yes (3-mode) 

Auto white balance                          yes

Manual white balance?            yes

Power zoom                            yes      

Manual zoom?             no

Backlight compensation            no

Insert edit?                              no

Audio Dub?                              yes

Character generator?            no       

Digital Superimposer?          no

Image stabiliser?                    yes

Video light?                             no       

Battery refresh?                            no

Accessory shoe?               no

Record review             yes      

Fader?                         yes/black

Digital effects                           yes

Digital zoom?                          yes

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, record review, VITC/data read and write, digital wipe, mix and gain-up

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.7in monochrome

Sportsfinder eyepiece?   no

Viewfinder info.               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, dew, AE preset mode, digital effects, VITC data, shutter speed, stabiliser, iris value, AE compensation, gain

 

AUDIO

Stereo?                                       yes

Audio dub?                              yes

Wind noise filter?               no

Mic socket?                              yes

Headphone socket?                        yes

Microphone                                      single-point stereo

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                  video and audio out (phono), ext. mic., headphones (minijack), DC power in, S-Video out (4-pin mini DIN). 5/11pin 'new edit' terminal

Size (mm)                               112 x 117 x 216

Weight                                   1.1kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries, (nicad and lithium), straps, AC charger/power supply, cassette adaptor, AV lead

 

video light?                 no

remote control?            no

cassette adaptor?            yes      

RF Converter?             no

SCART adaptor?            yes      

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                    380-lines (S-Video), 340-lines (composite)

Colour fidelity               very good

Picture stability             very good

Colour bleed                  none

White balance                very good

Exposure                       very good

Autofocus                      average

Audio performance       good

Insert edit                      N/A

Playback thru adaptor  very good

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money          8

Ease of use                  9

Performance                9

Features                       9

 

---end---

R.Maybury 1994 1101

 


 

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