VIDEO CAMERA 1995

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE

 

INTRO

Blaupunkt have joined forces with Hitachi to bring the cost of owning a Hi8 camcorder down to below £900, but how does the FC 865 compare with the better known brands?

 

COPY

You donít see the Blaupunkt name (it means Ďblue spot, in case you didnít already know) on these pages very often, thatís because theyíre better known -- in the UK at least -- for their top of the line in-car entertainment systems, but In Germany and other parts of Continental Europe theyíre equally famous for their TVs, VCRs and yes, even camcorders. In fact quite a few of their camcorders are marketed here, but theyíre all badge-engineered machines and we usually only review the originals. The last time we looked at one of their machines was back in September 1993, when they brought out the SCR-750, a clone of the Panasonic NV-T1, an S-VHS-C palmcorder that was never marketed here. Now theyíve got another exclusive, this time itís the FC-865, a Hi8 machine built by Hitachi, and like Panasonic, they have decided not to sell here; the question is why?

 

Itís not going to win any prizes for good looks. The shape and styling are reminiscent of the Hitachi VM-E53, a rather disappointing budget model that we reviewed back in late 1993. We thought it had quietly disappeared but itís been re-incarnated as the E54, sold exclusively in Comet stores, and thatís where weíll leave it... The E54 and the 865 have a lot in common, though the high band specification is probably closer to the Hitachi VM-H70 Weathercam, but without the tough spashproof case.

 

High band or not the 865 is very, very basic. There are no exposure controls, not even a simple program AE system, though like most Hitachi machines it does tell you which shutter speed setting the autoexposure has selected for you. No, we donít know why, you canít do anything about it. White balance is fully automatic as well, and although it has manual focus, itís not very easy to use. To engage the AF mode itís necessary to press both manual focus buttons together; donít try it when shooting, the camera jerks to the side. The two buttons are difficult to use in any case, and itís easy to overshoot. That wouldnít matter too much but for the fact the AF system can be indecisive, indoors itís quite unreliable.

 

Apart from the 3-mode fader (fade, wipe or zoom) thereís only one other creative facility, and thatís instant zoom, which electronically enlarges the image by a factor of x2. Picture quality isnít too bad, though there is a noticeable drop in resolution and an increase in noise, especially in poorly lit scenes. The 865 also has an electronic image stabiliser. Itís the older type, and thereís a reduction in resolution, and the picture Ďinflatesí slightly when it is switched on. To be honest itís not very effective and cannot cope with more than very gentle wobble. Additional facilities, such as AV dub and a simple 2-line title generator are accessed via the remote handset. One other feature worth mentioning is the accessory shoe; donít get too excited, itís not a standard size but it does appear to have a set of recessed contacts, presumably for a video light, however, weíre not certain yet if one is going to be made available.

 

Thereís another question mark over a syncro-edit facility, and possibly an auto assemble edit feature as well.  If, as we suspect the 865 shares the same control system as the H70, it should have a syncro edit capability, the presence of an Ďedití button on the remote handset would seem to support this theory. The one and only reference to it in the instruction book says Ď use this button to activate the syncro edit function for dubbingí; unfortunately the AV lead doesnít have the necessary VCR trigger cable. If the control system is the same it might also work with an optional remote handset sold for use with the Weathercam, this has a built-in 4-scene edit controller, though until we have had the chance to try it, this is pure speculation.

 

PERFORMANCE

Itís all right, but thatís about it. Hi8 resolution was a little under 380-lines, noise levels were very average, even with high-performance ME tapes. Normal 8mm recordings were equally unexciting, our sample was barely able to resolve 240 lines. Colour fidelity was fine, and the auto white balance system did reasonably well in a range of lighting conditions but colours looked rather muddy indoors, and the quoted 3-lux minimum sensitivity figure seems a little optimistic. With no exposure controls to speak of everything hinges on the simple auto system. It works well enough but it doesnít like sudden changes in lighting level, producing a noticeable overshoot in brightness level as the iris and shutter settle down.

 

Sound quality is reasonable, the microphone is fairly directional but it will pick up handling noises when background noise levels are low. Sadly the machine doesnít have an external microphone socket, Hitachi camcorders hardly ever do.

 

VERDICT

The FC-835 is decidedly under-equipped for a high-band machine, giving the user virtually no creative options. As such itís of little or no interest to serious users, and those seeking fuss-free, point-and-shoot models are not usually prepared to pay the premium for high-band performance. At the start of this review we posed the question, why didnít Hitachi bring in this machine themselves? By now the answer must be obvious...

 

THE RIVALS

High band camcorders with ticket prices less than £900 are few and far between, but if superior picture quality is your main criteria than you canít go far wrong with the excellent Panasonic NV-S70, and save yourself £100 into the bargain. The only other Hi8 machine selling for less than £900 is the  ageing Hitachi VM-H37, and we would still prefer that to the 835. Out in the real world of promotions and end of line discounts £900 buys a few more Hi8 and S-VHS-C models, most of the ones weíve seen are getting on a bit, so if you donít mind sacrificing the latest gizmos our advice is to shop around.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Blaupunkt FC-865

Recording format              Hi8/8mm

Guide price                              £900

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.8, 5-60mm

Zoom                           x12 optical, 24x electronic

Filter diameter            46mm  

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum                     3-lux   

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        no                   

Max. rec. time                        120 mins (SP only mode)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        no

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                               yes                                          

Manual focus               yes      

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    no       

Fader                                       yes                  

Manual white balance            no       

Auto white balance                       yes                                          

Manual zoom                           no       

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                yes

Audio dub                                no

Character generator                     yes                  

Digital superimposer               no       

Image stabiliser                                  yes                                          

Video light                               no       

Battery refresh                         yes                                      

Accessory shoe                 yes      

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, record review, tally lamp, instant zoom, wipe/zoom fade

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.6in monochrome

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, title, zoom position

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                      yes/no 

Wind noise filter                                         yes/no             

Mic socket                                yes/no             

Headphone socket              yes/no 

Mic                                           unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    AV/S-Video out (multi-pin)

Dimensions                              91 x 116 x 214mm                      

Weight                         1.1kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries (nicad 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                               380-lines

Colour fidelity                           good

Picture stability                         good

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            average

Exposure                                   average

Auto focus                                  skittish in low light

Audio performance                   average

Insert edit                                  good

Playback thru adaptor              n/a

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money          8

Ease of use                    9               

Performance                8

Features                      7

 

---end---

R Maybury 1994 1411

 

 

 


 

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