HomeSoftwareArchiveTop TipsGlossaryOther Stuff




Thereís no point pussyfooting around, this microphone is bloody expensive. We double checked it with Sony, just in case, but no, the ECM-S959 will set you back one penny short of £200. Now thereís no denying this is a quality item, you only have to pick it up to tell, itís unexpectedly heavy, mainly due to the all metal construction. It feels like a pro mike, and it even comes in its own fitted box, along with a microphone stand holder, accessory shoe adapter and clip-on wind shield. Needless to say itís stereo, and the microphone has two directional settings; 90 degrees, for maximum forward sensitivity, and 120 degrees for a wider stereo effect, this is controlled by a ring on the column, which also switches the mike on and off. Power-on is confirmed by a brief flash from a LED indicator on the handle.


The microphone has a short 40cm lead with a stereo minijack on the end, power comes from a single AA battery which fits inside the case. At the business end, inside the metal grille, thereís two microphone capsules, one facing to the left, the other facing forward, this is called a mid-side layout, and surprisingly enough it works very well, with both right and left channels clearly defined and evenly balanced.


So it sounds pretty good, right? Yes it does, itís one of the cleanest sounding stereo microphones weíve heard, delivering a detailed, full-bodied sound with no trace of coloration, but it has to be said thereís only one or two domestic camcorders that could do any kind of justice to a mike of this quality. The fact is there are quite a few cheaper microphones around that can easily outperform the audio systems on the vast majority of stereo camcorders, that sound almost as good as this one. As a Sony spokesperson put it, this is an example of diminishing returns, and if you want that last ounce of performance, youíre going to have to pay for it...



Make/model                    Sony ECM S959C

Guide Price                     £200

What is it?                      stereo electret condenser microphone

Style                                 hand held or on-camera

Features                          variable sensitivity angle (90 or 120 degrees), clip-on wind shield

Frequency response            50-18kHz

Power source              internal, 1 x AA

Fittings             stand and accessory shoe attachments

Lead/plug                    40cm/stereo minijack               

Dimensions                     30 x 175mm

Weight                            213g

Distributor                       SONY UK LTD

The Heights, Brooklands, Weybridge, Surrey KT13 0XW

Telephone (0932) 816000



Great sound, but what a price!




Hahnelís Composer V200 appears to be a determined attempt to take the sting out of entry-level post production. Itís a one-box solution with a 3-channel audio mixer, video fader and simple video processor; a fairly routine combination of features but Hahnel have managed to reduce the number of controls to just five. Theyíve concentrated their fire on the audio mixer; normally we would expect to see up to four sliders on a 3-channel unit, one for each channel, and one master fader. Hahnel have managed to get away with only two. The right hand one acts as a master fader, or mixer if an external music source or microphone is connected. Alternatively, the second channel can be used to mix music and speech, controlled from the left hand slider. Itís not as complicated as it sounds, and most users should be able to figure it out pretty quickly.


Thereís three video options, an auto-fader, video enhancer, and bypass control.  The fader is controlled by a simple slide switch, this fades the video to black, (along with the audio), in around 3-seconds. The large dial controls the video enhancer, itís actually a variable gain control that sharpens or softens detail in the image. Enhancers have limited use in our opinion, and the one on the V200 does little to change our minds; the mid position seems to have the least damaging effect on the picture. Finally thereís a by-pass switch, which cuts out the fader and enhancer, so you can judge the effect the enhancer is having


The AV fader is reasonably smooth, and the audio mixer is works well enough. The controls take only a minute or two to master and youíll probably wonder why other mixers need no many knobs buttons and sliders. An interesting design, though in the end it doesnít break any new ground, unless you count the simplified controls. The price is fair, give it a look if youíve been put off by some of the more elaborate designs on the market.



Make/model        Hahnel Composer V200

Guide Price         £74

Features              2-channel stereo and 1 channel microphone audio mixing, video fader, video gain (enhancement)

Sockets                8 x gold-plated phono (AV in/out), 2 x minijack (microphone and earphone)

Power supply        12v DC, mains adapter supplied

Dimensions         180 x 135 x 40mm

Distributor          HAHNEL INTERNATIONAL, Aico House, Faraday Rd, London Road Ind Est, Newbury, Berks RG13 2AD

Telephone  (0635) 49797



Approachable post-production




Itís easy to forget just how delicate camcorders are, it only takes one nasty knock, or tumble onto a hard surface to cause several hundred pounds worth of damage. Most soft camcorder cases offer a fair degree of protection, but there are times when something a little more rigid is needed when youíre transporting your machine. Professional photographers favour the traditional hard aluminium case, but good ones cost a small fortune, as much as some camcorders in fact, but there are cheaper alternatives, like the Vanguard VGC-11 which looks like a pro-style case, but costs a fraction as much. In fact it is largely made from plastic, the only bits of aluminium we could see find were a couple of strips on the front edge which act as mounting plates for the locks and catches...


Thereís nothing wrong with plastic, the tough polymers on this case provides a high degree of protection for itís valuable contents. Inside the top section thereís a thick cushion of ribbed foam, and a second foam layer in the bottom, though this is only around a centimetre thick. In between thereís a 7cm thick wodge of diced foam, so you can make customised holes for your equipment. The case also comes with rigid partitions, these slip into sectioned channels around the edges of the case interior. Security is nominal, the flimsy  locks could easily be forced with a screwdriver, theyíre as good as most suitcase locks, in other words only just better than nothing at all. A rather thin shoulder strap is supplied, itís not very comfortable, especially when the case is filled up with a couple of kilos of camcorder and accessories.


The VGC-11 is reasonably well designed, fairly strong and very good value. Itís quite a lumpy thing, and maybe a bit over the top for a small palmcorder, perhaps, but if youíve got a lot of bits and pieces to lug around with you itís ideal. It looks pretty convincing, which is good and bad, it has much of the kudos of a pro-case, but be warned that ally cases are tempting targets for villains...



Make/model       Vanguard VGC-11

Guide Price         £35

Construction      aluminium strengthened frame with ABS plastic panels and protective corners

Internals              diced foam insert and dividers

Security              two single lever locks and carry strap

Dimensions         425 x 290 x 155mm


Distributor         Guardforce UK, Unit 13 Thame business Centre, Wenman Road, Thame, Oxon OX9 3XA  Telephone (0844) 213667



Case of mistaken identity




Multi-standard VCRs were all the rage around ten years ago but have since become quite rare. The reason weíre telling you this is because Grundig have just brought one out, the GV-469, which can record and playback in any of the three most common colour TV standards (PAL, NTSC and SECAM). Itís important to say straight away that itís not capable of standards conversion, normally it will be used with multi-system TVs, though it can replay NTSC coded tapes on PAL TVs, in the same way as a good number of single standard machines do nowadays. That, incidentally was one of the reasons for the demise of multi-standard VCRs, in Europe at least, where there is a limited market for such facilities.


So who would want such a machine? The obvious answer would be people who move around a lot, diplomats, military personelle etc., but more significantly, those who live in parts of the world where there are either a variety of TV transmission systems -- the Pacific Basin for example -- or countries with large ex-patriot communities from places with differing TV standards, where there can be a huge two-way traffic in video tapes, to and from the home country. Itís not a market you would normally associate with Grundig, though a look around the back shows this to be a Japanese made product, so we suspect their technical involvement will have been relatively modest.


The 469 is a well specified design, with stereo hi-fi sound, and NICAM, for the benefit of UK owners. System selection on replay is automatic, the recording mode has to be selected manually. Other features include VISS index marking , a surprisingly limited multi-lingual on-screen display (English Spanish and Italian), a front AV terminal and remote with jog/shuttle dial, these last two features could  be of interest to globe-trotting camcorder owners.


Operation is fairly straightforward, another strong indication that Grundig had little to do with the design, their VCRs are notoriously difficult to use. Sound and picture quality is good; on PAL material our sample managed 250-lines, not bad for any VCR, and trick-frame replay is very steady. Overall a very competent machine but itís main feature -- multi-standard operation -- will appeal to only a small and fairly specialised audience, willing to pay the premium of £200 or so for what would otherwise be a rather ordinary stereo VCR.



Make/model        Grundig GV-469

Guide Price         £630

System      VHS hi-fi, NICAM

Features              multi-standard replay (PAL/MESCAM, SECAM L and NTSC)

index search, quick view, multi-speed replay

Sockets                2 x SCART AV, front AV terminal

Dimensions         435 x 93 x 300

Weight                6.5kg

Distributor GRUNDIG INTERNATIONAL Mill Road, Rugby, Warwickshire, CV21 1PR. Telephone (0788) 577155



VCR for those with itchy-feet




We might as well get this over with; the keyboard on the new Vivanco VCR-4090 title generator is horrible, no fun at all to use if youíre a typist, and even worse if youíre not. Thereís plenty of exotic foreign characters and graphics shapes, but no pound sign, and it uses dreaded SCART connectors instead of industry-standard phonos. Nevertheless, itís still an improvement over itís predecessor, the 4099, which had an even nastier character entry system (we hesitate to call it a keyboard); at £220 itís reasonably priced, and little effort is needed to produce stable, clean-looking titles. The specification isnít all that different from the 4099; the choice of characters and effects are limited, thereís just one font available in four sizes, and text can only be made to do simple things, like scroll, crawl and zoom (the latter being a rapid shuffle through the four character sizes). Without an external video input thereís a choice of 8 background colours, so it could easily double up as a simple presenter, sequencing through its 20-page memory as an information or point of sale display.


If you want to get creative thereís a set of 20 graphics shapes to play around with, which can be used to build up simple pictures and borders. Thereís a variety of effects, including flashing characters or words and solid or transparent backgrounds. The 4094 is Y/C compatible, our sample was able to pass S-Video signals without let or hindrance, confirming the quoted bandwidth of 430 lines. Thereís provision for external control -- to start and stop title sequences --  though this requires a special lead.


Itís basic, and that keyboard would drive us mad, but against that you have to weigh value for money, general ease of use and the wedge-shaped design, which blends in with other Vivanco post-production products. Worth considering if youíre looking for basic titling facilities, and not feeling too ambitious.



Make/model        Vivanco VCR 4090

Guide Price         £220

What is it?          Colour video title generator

Pages                   20

Font/sizes              1/4 plus graphics

Max page              12 lines x 24 characters

Colours                8 background

Effects                  text scroll, crawl and zoom

Sockets                3 x SCART, DC power in

Power source      plug-in mains adapter (supplied)

Dimensions         165 x 70 x 280mm

Distributor        VIVANCO, Unit C, ATA House, Boundary  Way, Hemel Hempstead HP2 7SS. Telephone (0442) 231616



Cheap, simple and reasonably effective



R. Maybury 1994 1208



[Home][Software][Archive][Top Tips][Glossary][Other Stuff]

Copyright (c) 2005 Rick Maybury Ltd.