VIDEO CAMERA 1994

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

SONY SIDE UP

 

INTRO

Is this the shape of camcorders to come, and will all camcorders have LCD screens one day? We have some thoughts on the matter, now that we’ve had a chance to put the new Sony Vision camcorders through their paces

 

COPY

You’ve got to hand it to Sony, on paper the SC5 and SC7 Vision Handycams look like the last thing video movie-makers would want or need, but we wouldn’t be at all surprised if they sold like hot-cakes! Sony have taken the view that there’s a huge untapped market for camcorders that do not look as though they’ve fallen off the Starship Enterprise, or require degrees in cinematography and computer science to use. They’re right of course, you only have to look at the photographic market where the top-selling cameras are point and shoot 35mm compact, not fancy SLRs.

 

But hasn’t it all been done before, what about those video ‘instamatics’ from Amstrad, JVC and Sony, and more recently Panasonic? True, there have been a number of attempts to distil video movie-making into it’s simplest form, but so far all we’ve seen are over-priced and under-specified record-only machines. The SC5 and SC7 are both very basic and incredibly easy to use, but you can playback on the spot and see (and hear) what you’ve just shot on a 3-inch LCD screen and built-in speaker; they’re instant crowd-pullers, and if nothing else they get full marks for poser value...

 

Clearly it’s unfair to judge the SC5 and SC7 on the same basis as other camcorders, though some reference to the rest of the market is unavoidable, and the logical starting point has to be price. The SC5 is an 8mm machine with mono sound, a little smaller and lighter than a typical compact palmcorders, and it sells for just under £900. The SC7 is very slightly larger, it has a Hi8 recording system, stereo sound and it costs just £1000. On the face of it the SC5 looks like fairly poor value, whilst its stablemate seems to be an unusually good deal, however, there’s more to these two than meets the eye. The real competition comes from Sharp’s Viewcams, which Sony have obviously set their sights upon. Using the Sharp VL-E31 and VL-H400 as benchmarks a pattern emerges; the E31 also costs £900 but it has a more sophisticated lens and more features, on the other hand the Sharp machine is slightly larger and not so easy to use as its Sony rival. The H400 is some £400 dearer than the SC7, though in this case the few additional features do not seem to warrant such a large price differential. Round one to Sony.

 

Sony have pared the features on both machines to the bone. They have fixed-focus lenses with switchable wide/telephoto settings, there’s no manual exposure or white balance controls, in fact the only decisions that have to be taken are what lens setting to use, whether to use the optical viewfinder or LCD screen, and when to start and stop recording; adventurous users can also choose to use the time/date superimposer, or not, as the case may be. The optical viewfinder is preferable, not only is it easier to use, it saves power too, though because of parallax errors it can’t always be relied upon to show the exact picture area, especially at close range. The optical viewfinder has other advantages though, it frees the user from having to hold the machine in both hands, and that’s a big plus point, compared with the Viewcams, though the Vision machines are not without their ergonomic foibles, as we shall see.

 

The SC5 and 7 are powered by Lithium Ion batteries, they take longer to charge than nicads of equivalent capacity -- around 2-hours -- but they’re smaller and lighter, do not suffer from cell-imbalance or memory effects, and can be ‘topped-up’ between charges. Two batteries can be charged at the same time, with one inside the machine and the other clipped to the charger unit, in which case charging time goes up to to around 5 hours. In normal use, with the LCD screen switched off it’s possible to get around 45 minutes recording time per charge, that falls to less than half an hour when using the LCD screen.

 

HANDLING AND LAYOUT

Such controls as there are have been grouped into four areas, the on/off mode, stop/start and tele/wide controls are on the top right side of the case and operable by the fingers on the right hand, the transport buttons are hidden behind a hinged flap on the left side of the machine; there’s a set of buttons below the viewfinder screen to set time and date and switch the screen on or off;  on the underside there’s switches for a bleeper, remote control enable and start/stop mode (toggle action or record only whilst button is depressed). A set of contacts on the base of the machine, (protected by a sliding cover), mate with a contact plate linked to the charger or optional RF converter. The machine can also be docked with an optional AC-HS1 Handycam station (supplied as standard with the CCD-TR3, see June issue), this centralises all of the AV connections and provides the machine with a Control L interface, so it can be used with an edit controller. The AC-HS1 sells for around £120.

 

The LCD screen is hinged, and can be tilted upwards, to improve visibility, though the image is all but washed out in direct sunlight. Fortunately both machines come equipped with a neat clip-on sun shield. Even so, using the screen as a viewfinder is hard work -- it forces the user to hold the machine with two hands --  we suspect most owners will end up using the optical viewfinder after a while.

 

PERFORMANCE

The specification might be basic but Sony haven’t made any significant compromises on picture quality and the resolution figures for these two machines are within the 8mm and Hi8 ballparks. The SC5, with it’s quarter-inch CCD, managed a respectable 240-lines, the SC7 picture at 360-lines was little below the industry average (380-400) lines but we doubt most users would notice, or be overly concerned, in both cases the picture looks clean and sharp with very little noise.

 

We’re naturally suspicious of any camcorder that has no manual controls but our fears proved unfounded in this case. There’s nothing to go wrong with the fixed focus lenses, provided you remember not to get closer than a half a metre or so (2 feet) to your subject, or 1.5 metres in the ‘tele’ position. The exposure systems on the SC5 and SC7 are agile and responsive and can cope with a wide range of lighting situations, including strongly backlit subjects, or poor light, so you’re virtually assured a watchable picture under all but the most adverse conditions. White balance is not a problem either, colours remain reasonably true to life, even under tube light.

 

The picture on the LCD screen is quite good, provided the ambient lighting is not too strong. Oddly enough the biggest problem is dirty fingermarks, the anti-reflective coating shows up every smudge and smear and looks really dreadful after just a few minutes handling; it’s just as well Sony include a cleaning cloth in with the accessories.

 

The on-board speaker is not very loud but it’s fine for monitoring. The stereo sound system on the SC7 is fairly subdued, in fact you have to listen quite hard to hear any stereo effect at all. The microphones are not very directional and the two channels tend to merge together. Nevertheless, sound quality is surprisingly good on both machines, crisp and with very little background noise, though the SC7 is more prone to wind roar and handling noises.

 

VERDICT

The SC5 has fewer rough edges than the SC7 but the price doesn’t stack up well against the competition, either the similarly priced Viewcam, or the rest of the market, even so, of the two this is the one we prefer. The SC7 is a real curate’s egg of a camcorder; the good parts include the price and high-band specification, on the debit side there’s a problem with control accessibility and the positioning of the image sensor. It’s difficult for us not to relate the SC5 and SC7 to the rest of the camcorder market but it must be obvious by now that these are not the sort of machines that will appeal to experienced video movie-makers or enthusiasts. They’ve been designed for anyone who has, until now, been put off the idea of camcorders by their apparent complexity and the ‘teccy’ image they’ve acquired. From that standpoint they’re bang on target and should do well.

 

THE RIVALS

The SC5 is head to head with the Sharp EC31 and although the Viewcam has more features the SC5 is an altogether neater package. There’s plenty of other camcorders on the market for £900, including a couple of high-band machines and several highly specified palmcorders but none of them come close to the SC5 if ease of use is the overriding consideration.

 

With only £100 seperating the two machines they’re virtually competing with each other, the SC7’s nearest rival -- as far as high-band recording, stereo sound and the LCD screen are concerned -- is the Sharp VL-H400 which sells for £1400. Again, there’s no shortage of better equipped camcorders on the market for the same amount of money but if it’s convenience and simplicity you’re after it is in a class of its own.

 

SIDEBAR -- DIFFERENCES

Cosmetically the bottom halves of the two machines are pretty much the same, the top sections look similar but there are important differences. The SC5 uses a quarter-inch CCD whereas the SC7 has a more conventional third-inch imaging chip, so although the two lenses have the same focal lengths the field of view on the SC7 is about 25% wider. The positions of the viewfinder optics and imaging chips are transposed on the two machines, so the CCD is on the left side of the SC5 body, it’s the other way around on the SC7, putting it right next to the stop/start button. The consequence is that it’s all too easy for the operator’s finger to stray into the picture, and if you’re using the optical viewfinder there’s no way of knowing it has happened. The position of the tele/wide switches is also different. It’s below the stop/start button on the SC5 and can be comfortably operated by the index finder; on the SC7 it is above the button, and almost impossible to get at, especially if the machine is fitted with the wrist strap. Lastly the stop/start buttons on both machines have a very light action and they stand proud of the casing so it’s far too easy to set the machine recording by mistake when picking it up, or setting it down. Of the two the SC5 is the easier to use, and far less accident prone.

 

During our tests condensation formed inside the SC7 lens assembly on several occasions, resulting in a blurred picture. This only seemed to affect the CCD optics, and only became apparent during replay as it didn’t show up on the optical viewfinder or LCD screen.

 

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                                    SONY CCD-SC7      

Recording format                          Hi 8/8mm

Guide price                              £1000

 

OPTICS

Lens                             4mm, f/1.2/12mm, f/1.4

Zoom                           none

Filter diameter            N/A 

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min. illum. (lux)     5

 

VIDEO DECK

Long Play (LP)               yes (playback only)               

Max. rec. time                 120mins

IR remote control                   yes

Edit terminal                            no (see text)

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto Focus                               no                   

Manual focus               no       

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    no       

Fader                                       no                   

Manual white balance            no       

Auto white balance                       yes                                          

Manual zoom                           no       

Power zoom                            no                                                                               

Insert edit                                no       

Character generator                     no                   

Digital Superimposer            no       

Image stabiliser                      no                   

Video light                               no       

Battery refresh                         no                                       

Accessory shoe                 no       

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, tally lamp, built-in LCD screen and speaker

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       optical/3-inch colour LCD

Viewfinder info.               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, tape remain, time/date, dew, head clog

 

AUDIO

Stereo                             yes      

Audio dub                        no                           

Wind noise filter         no               

Mic socket                        yes              

Headphone socket         yes

Microphone                   twin unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Sockets                          S-video out (mini DIN), AV out, microphone & headphone                              (minijacks), AV/power/control (20-pin slide connector on base)

Size (mm)                      105 x 153 x 85

Weight                           0.88kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

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

AV lead                        yes      

video light?                 no                   

remote control?            yes      

cassette adaptor?            n/a                  

RF Converter?             no       

SCART adaptor?            yes                  

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                     360-lines

Colour fidelity               good

Picture stability             good

Colour bleed                  negligible

White balance                good

Exposure                       good

Autofocus                      n/a

Audio performance       average

Insert edit                      n/a

Playback thru adaptor  n/a

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money          8

Ease of use                   8

Performance                8

Features                       7

 

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                                    SONY CCD-SC5      

Recording format                          8mm

Guide price                              £900

 

OPTICS

Lens                             4mm, f/1.2/12mm, f/1.4

Zoom                           none

Filter diameter            N/A 

Pick-up device            0.25in CCD

Min. illum. (lux)     5

 

VIDEO DECK

Long Play (LP)               yes (playback only)               

Max. rec. time                 120mins

IR remote control                   yes

Edit terminal                            no (see text)

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto Focus                               no                   

Manual focus               no       

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    no       

Fader                                       no                   

Manual white balance            no       

Auto white balance                       yes                                          

Manual zoom                           no       

Power zoom                            no                                                                               

Insert edit                                no       

Character generator                     no                   

Digital Superimposer            no       

Image stabiliser                      no                   

Video light                               no       

Battery refresh                         no                                       

Accessory shoe                 no       

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, tally lamp, built-in LCD screen and speaker

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       optical/3-inch colour LCD

Viewfinder info.               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, tape remain, time/date, dew, head clog

 

AUDIO

Stereo                             no       

Audio dub                        no                           

Wind noise filter         no               

Mic socket                        yes              

Headphone socket         yes

Microphone                   unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Sockets                          AV out, microphone & headphone (minijacks), AV/power/control (20-pin slide connector on base)

Size (mm)                      105 x 141 x 84

Weight                           0.79kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

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

AV lead                        yes      

video light?                 no                   

remote control?            yes      

cassette adaptor?            n/a                  

RF Converter?             no       

SCART adaptor?            yes                  

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                     240-lines

Colour fidelity               good

Picture stability             good

Colour bleed                  negligible

White balance                good

Exposure                       good

Autofocus                      n/a

Audio performance       average

Insert edit                      n/a

Playback thru adaptor  n/a

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money          8

Ease of use                   9

Performance                8

Features                       7

 

---end---

R Maybury 1994 0206

 

 

 


 

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