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The ink had hardly dried on our review of the E30 View Cam when Sharp announced its replacement,  weíve now had a chance to see if the changes were worthwhile



The E30 View Cam seems to have come and gone with indecent haste, rarely has a camcorder been so rapidly replaced, so was there something wrong with it? The E30 was a fairly rapid response to widespread criticism that the first two View Cams (H400 and E40) were expensive and out of reach of most family users, and thereís no doubt it had a few rough edges.


At £900 the E31 costs as much as the E30 so no change there. However, Sharp appear to have addressed at least some of our other concerns by redesigning the zoom and stop/start buttons, which we felt were too small and close together. The zoom buttons were also used for manual focus adjustment, this is now controlled from two of the buttons below the viewfinder screen, so you can now focus and zoom at the same time. We also commented on the fairly mediocre low-light sensitivity, this has now been increased to 4 lux, and the on-screen display systems seems a little easier to use, though maybe weíve just got used to it. Thereís been a number of other important changes, some for the better, but not all of them. We thought the E30ís built-in lens cover was a good idea but for some strange reason thatís been dropped, in fact the E31 doesnít come with any sort of lens protection, and thatís just asking for trouble; come on Sharp, a simple lens cap only costs a few pence!


The E31 has quite different AV output arrangements; the E30 came with a rather clumsy clip-on AV adaptor, thatís now an optional accessory, in its place thereís a dedicated AV output jack on the back panel and a lead set is supplied with the accessory pack. Around the front thereís simple fold-out rest -- like the one on the H400 -- so the machine can be tilted forward, at a suitable angle for table-top viewing. Finally, the two handgrips have been redesigned, to make them more comfortable. We have also notice some subtle changes in performance, which weíll come to in a moment.


Most of the rest of the features remain the same, exposure options are limited to a 4-mode program AE system:


* party -- reduces flaring when subject is lit by a single bright light, against a predominantly dark background

* sport  -- shutter speed set to 1/500th sec, white balance optimised for natural light

* snow & sand -- exposure optimised for bright backgrounds and natural light

* twilight -- white balance set to enhance sunset reds, low light sensitivity increased


Thereís also a separate backlight compensation facility and gain-up for low light conditions. A pseudo widescreen mode superimposes black borders at the top and bottom of the screen for those feel the urge to play movie directors.



Operationally the E30 and 31 are two peas in a pod; the swivelling handgrip-cum-camera can be tilted to all sort of interesting angles, allowing the user to see over the tops of peoples heads, or shoot from a very low angle whilst watching the viewfinder screen. The main unit can also be turned upside down, so the camera and screen face the same way, for self-portrait shots. Thereís no change to the weight distribution, so although it can be used one handed it becomes quite a strain after a while.


The LCD screen has two brightness levels, and it copes surprisingly well in bright sunlight, though in direct light the image can be washed out completely. There is a purpose designed sun shield but itís an optional extra. Speaking of which, the E31 can also be fitted with a tuner module, so it can be used as a TV, but like its predecessor thereís no provision to record TV programmes, which is a big disappointment. Sharp have also come up with a series of splashproof and waterproof housings, including one that looks like a miniature submarine, which can be submerged to a depth of 50 metres.



Horizontal resolution at just over 230 lines is the same as the E30 but there are changes. The most noticeable one concerns colour reproduction; reds and blues on our sample were noticeably under saturated and the picture tended to look a little wishy-washy. White balance was generally good, even in tube light. Noise levels were pretty much the same in good light but the reduction in low light sensitivity, in the gain up mode seems to be at the expense of extra grain.


Trick frame performance on 8mm camcorders is usually dire but the still frame on the E31 is actually still, no noise bars and minimal instability. At least itís stable when viewed on the LCD screen, it turns out the monitor has some sort of noise suppression system, play the recording back on a TV and still pictures are as wobbly as ever.


We rated sound quality on the E30 as being fairly average but we noticed that the E31 soundtrack was quite bassy, at times to the point of sounding muffled. The microphone is quite sensitive though, and it will pick up handling noises and motor whine when background noise levels are low, but itís fine the rest of the time.



Thereís no doubt the E30 needed tidying up, and most of the changes that have appeared on the E31 have been worthwhile, but itís still very expensive, and performance remains unexciting. To be fair View Cam is not a mainstream product; itís aimed at wary newcomers, and in that respect it scores well, but for those get hooked and want to explore movie-making further it might be a bit of a dead end.



Since the E31 first appeared the Sony SC5 has come on to the market and although it has  less sophisticated optics itís a more practical alternative with easier one-handed shooting, optical viewfinder and more advanced editing facilities. The Sanyo E30 and its soon to be launched replacement might be worth considering if the LCD monitor is your main reason for wanting the E31. The Sanyo machine is a fairly conventional 8mm palmcorder, the LCD monitor is a clip-on module that also functions as an edit controller and remote control handset. If you can wait a few months we predict there will be quite a few machines with this kind of LCD screen on the market. On the other hand, if youíve got £900 burning a hole in your pocket, and youíre not wedded to the 8mm format, then take a close look at Panasonic NV-S70, donít be put off by the knobs and buttons, itís every bit as easy to use as the View Cam in the full auto mode.  Whatís more it costs £100 less, produces a significantly sharper clearer picture, has stereo sound and thereís a host of creative facilities to play around with, once youíve progressed beyond the basics.



Make/model                               Sharp VL-E31H

Recording format                          8mm

Guide price                              £900



Lens                             f/1.8, 4.5-36mm

Zoom                           x8

Filter diameter            37mm  

Pick-up device            0.25in CCD

Min illum                     4 lux (gain up mode)           



Long play (LP)               no                   

Max rec time                  120mins

IR remote control                   yes

Edit terminal                            yes


MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                  

Manual focus               yes      

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    yes (4-mode) 

Fader                                       no                   

Manual white balance            no       

Auto white balance                       yes                              

Manual zoom                           no       

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                no       

Audio dub                                yes

Character generator                     no                   

Digital superimposer               no       

Image stabiliser                      no                   

Video light                               no       

Battery refresh                         yes                                      

Accessory shoe                 no       




time/date recording, pseudo widescreen recording, backlight compensation, built in stand,  record review



Viewfinder                       3-inch colour LCD

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, focus mode, tape end, time/date, AE preset



Stereo                            no       

Wind noise filter         no               

Mic socket                        yes              

Headphone socket         yes      

Mic                                  unidirectional electret



Sockets                           AV out, earphone external mic (phono)                                        

Size                                  199 x 123 x 85.4 (mm)                      

Weight                            1.1 kg (inc tape and battery)



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

AV lead                        yes      

video light                   no                   

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor            n/a                  

RF Converter             no       

SCART adaptor                        no                   



Resolution                     230-lines

Colour fidelity               fair

Picture stability             good

Colour bleed                  none

White balance                good

Exposure                        fair

Auto focus                      average

Audio performance       average

Insert edit                      manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor  n/a



Value for money          7

Ease of use                    8

Performance                7

Features                       7



R Maybury 1994 1407





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