TOMORROW? -- SONY SC5 PREVIEW
concept in camcorder design, or a re-hash of old ideas? The Sony SC5 'Vision'
is definitely going to be one of 1994's most controversial new arrivals
The SC5 has a switchable wide/telephoto fixed-focus lens, equivalent to
a 3x zoom; it is controlled by a small switch (immediately in front of the
stop/start button), which also changes the viewfinder optics. In the wide-angle
setting the minimum focusing distance is 35cm (1 foot), this increases to 130cm
(4 foot) on the tele setting.
The newly-developed quarter-inch CCD is one of the key design elements
that has made the SC5 possible. The new image sensor chips have comparable
resolution to their third-inch cousins, (320,000 pixels in the case of the one
used on the SC5), but they are significantly smaller, which has enabled the
designers to scale down the optics, without compromising picture quality to any
great extent. In fact the only notable difference in performance is a slightly
higher than average low-light sensitivity, which on the SC5 is around 6 lux.
The mono electret microphone is most sensitive to sounds coming from in
front and to the side of the machine, so it can pick up the user's voice, for a
commentary. Be warned, it also picks up heavy breathing; it can sound rather
menacing, especially when recording little Johnny in the back garden...
What! No Control L. That's right, the SC5 is the first Sony camcorder
ever not to have a Control L editing terminal. They call it cost-cutting, we
call it a major oversight. Aside from that there's a full set of sockets,
including minijacks for an external microphone, earphone, video and audio
output. There's a set of connectors on the base of the machine, normally
protected by a sliding cover, which carry power and AV signals to the charger
and RF converter.
Most of the SC5's controls are on the left side of the machine. The
transport keys, counter reset, display and screen brightness buttons live
behind a little door; the volume control for the speaker is on the side of the
machine, and the colour and hue presets for the LCD screen are normally hidden
beneath a rubber bung, in the side of the screen module. On the back side,
below the screen, there's buttons for setting the time/date display, record
review and an on/off switch for the LCD screen. On the underside are switches
for turning the bleeper and IR remote facility on and off, and a mode switch
for the record/standby function, for one-shot or toggle operation. The main
on/function switch is on the top, immediately behind the red start/stop button.
The 3-inch (measured diagonally) LCD screen, uses twisted
nematic/thin-film transistor construction. The display is made up of a matrix
of 75,816 pixels (324 x 234), and is backlit by a miniature fluorescent tube.
The screen pivots upwards, to allow for different shooting positions. Collectors
of camcorder trivia might like to know that the display module is manufactured
for Sony by Sharp, but unlike the screens fitted to the Viewcams the backlight
tube is not user-replaceable. The screen has a non-reflective coating, to make
it easier to see in bright daylight, even so it's a good idea to keep the
detachable sun-hood on all the time as the screen gets very dirty, very
quickly, and is constantly exposed to the user's hot warm breath, when using
the optical viewfinder.
The vertical tape deck makes up the bulk of the SC5, sliding the
open/eject switch on the side releases the back cover and ejects the tape.
Oddly enough the deck cover hasn't got an interlock and the machine will work
quite happily with the door open. This means you can get a good view of the works, in motion; it also means dirt
and gunge could get in, if the cover was inadvertently left open.
The SC5 comes with an NP-500 lithium-ion re-chargeable battery (7.2v,
1Ah), which fits inside a compartment behind the handgrip. The battery takes
around two and a half hours to fully charge, this type of battery should be
immune to memory and imbalance effects and enjoy a long a healthy life. Quoted
running times with the LCD screen on and off are approximately 40 and 75
minutes respectively. In practice you can knock 10-15 minutes off, for
intermittent stop/start operation. The battery will last for around 45 minutes
when used for playback.
The SC5 comes with a detachable sunshade, IR remote control handset,
clip-on stand, AC charger/adaptor, RF adaptor, connecting leads, batteries and
wrist strap. There's also a special cleaning cloth for the LCD screen, which is
just as well as it smears very easily.