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Canon have always had a knack of building well-specified, value for money camcorders, but they’ve excelled themselves this time, with the outstanding UC8Hi



Following a couple of relatively uneventful years Canon are back, with a vengeance! Their latest Hi8 palmcorder, the UC8Hi,  is one of the most exciting new machines we’ve seen in quite a while. It has all the makings of a classic, and has already been nominated for a number of prestigious awards only a few weeks after its launch. So what makes it so special?


First the price, it’s only the second Hi8 camcorder to sell for less than £800 at launch, and that’s at a time when camcorder prices are still jittery, and look set to remain so for the foreseeable future, following the unfavourable exchange rate fluctuations with the yen. If Canon had pitched the UC8Hi in the £1,000 to £1200 price bracket no-one would have raised an eyebrow.  It’s the first camcorder to have a 20x optical zoom lens, and that’s a real breakthrough. Zooms that powerful are not unusual, but until now they’ve relied on digital processing, to electronically enlarge the image. This technique results in a noticeable reduction in picture quality as the image becomes increasingly ‘pixellated’. That’s simply not an issue with an optical zoom, though like their electronic counterparts camera shake is magnified, but Canon have that one licked as well. The UC8Hi has an optical image stabiliser, but unlike rival electronic stabilisation systems there’s no deterioration in picture quality when it’s in use.


Canon have incorporated a number of enhancements to the stabiliser fitted to this machine. Optical stabilisers employ a device called a vari-angle prism. Basically it’s a sandwich of two glass plates with a sac of transparent gel in between. On the earlier systems both glass plates were moved, by miniature servo motors, responding to motion of the machine. The changing shape of the prism alters the path of light passing through it, ensuring the image always remains centred on the face of the CCD image sensor. On the Mark II version only one glass plate moves, and this has simplified the mechanism, with consequent size, weight and presumably cost savings as well.


Finally there’s the Flexizone focus and exposure system. Flexizone is a development of Canon’s ‘Eye Control’, featured on the UCX1Hi, where a cursor on the viewfinder screen, controlled by movement of the user’s eye, precisely defines the area or subject for the auto focus and exposure systems to work on. Flexizone

works on a similar principle though this time the moving cursor is controlled manually, from a miniature joypad mounted on the rear of the machine.


So much for the headline grabbers, but the rest of the features are no less impressive. For basic day to day shooting it has fully automatic focus and exposure systems, plus a four-mode program auto-exposure system. The options are:


* sports -- high-speed shutter to reduce blur of fast movement on playback

* portrait -- reduced depth of field, to make subject stand out against soft-focus background

* spotlight -- over-exposure prevention for brightly lit subject

* sand and snow -- prevents underexposure when subject is viewed against brightly lit background


Additional exposure aids include a 7-mode high-speed shutter (up to 1/10,000th sec), backlight compensation, and the Flexizone system, which we’ll look at in more detail in a moment. There’s plenty of creative facilities for more adventurous movie-makers. It has a fader (to and from black), backlight compensation, a two-line title generator, manual focus and, best of all, a Control L/LANC socket, so the machine can be coupled up to an edit controller, and used to create professional-looking productions.


Flexizone is one of the options on the program AE dial. Once selected a white square appears in the viewfinder and this can be moved to any point on the screen using the joypad. The focus or exposure system will adjust itself accordingly to the area defined by the square. This has a number of uses, including maintaining focus and exposure lock on awkwardly-lit subjects, or areas close to the edge of the screen. It has creative, not to say dramatic possibilities too, such as a rapid focus shift between two subjects, useful for highlighting the speaker when recording an interview or conversation.


Layout and styling are fairly conventional, though, unusually for Canon, the battery is on the left side of the machine, which means it will be easier to fit larger high-capacity battery packs. This doesn’t affect handling unduly, though it’s a fairly chunky machine, and a large battery would tend to shift the centre of balance further to the left, which could make it tiresome to use hand-held for long periods. Most of the important controls fall readily to hand, though the manual focus thumbwheel is on the small side and the action is quite coarse. The placement of the Flexizone joypad isn’t quite right and the thumb has to travel just a little too far for comfort.



The 20x optical zoom is a delight. Press the sideways zoom lever and it doesn’t want to stop, the subject just keeps on getting bigger and bigger, but with absolutely no reduction in picture quality or change in noise levels. Resolution on our sample was spot on the 400-line benchmark for Hi8 equipment; recordings made using normal 8mm tape were also well up to spec, at a tad under 250-lines. Picture noise levels are very low, they’re even lower on good quality ME grade tapes, which this machine definitely uses to its best advantage. The auto white balance system copes well with a wide range of lighting conditions, including sometimes troublesome mixed natural and artificial light. Colour registration is generally good, some slight spillage was evident on highly saturated reds, though not enough to be concerned about.


Flexizone focus is very fast , and accurate but surprisingly normal manual focus proved to be a little lively  and sometimes lost lock for no apparent reason. It may well be that the system is optimised for Flexizone, but in any case it needs a little extra damping. In contrast the automatic and Flexizone exposure systems behaved impeccably, they’re fast, and compensate smoothly for sudden changes in lighting levels.


The optical image stabiliser didn’t seem to be noticeably more responsive than its predecessors; it copes well with a steady walking motion, it’s less happy with rapid movement, the sort you would get when shooting from a moving car.


Audio performance is good. The single-point microphone doesn’t produce much of a stereo image, but it is reasonably well insulated against handling noises, and although the stabiliser, zoom and focus servos are in close proximity to the microphone, motor noise is only apparent in very quiet surroundings, when the audio system’s automatic gain control is fully wound up. Under typical shooting conditions, any noises they make are swamped by background noise.



This machine succeeds on all levels. Novices will find it forgiving and easy to use, there’s more than enough creative facilities and flexibility to suit family users, serious video movie makers will appreciate the advanced exposure and editing features, and everyone will like the price. No ifs or buts, the Canon UC8Hi is a superb machine and Canon should have a real winner on their hands



The only real competition for the UC8Hi comes from old or discontinued models, now selling well below their list price, even so none of them can quite match this machines outstanding range of facilities. The only machine that comes close is the Panasonic NV-S70 which has, until now, been our favourite low-cost high-band camcorder. One other machine that might be worth considering is the JVC GR-SX1, which is another high-band camcorder with across the board appeal, but in the end, if you’ve got £800 to spend on a camcorder, take a look at this one first!



Make/model                               Canon UC8 Hi

Recording format              Hi8/8mm

Guide price                              £800



Lens                             f/1.6, 4-80mm

Zoom                           x20 

Filter diameter            46mm  

Pick-up device            0.25in CCD

Min illum                     3 lux   



Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        240mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes


MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                               yes                                          

Manual focus               yes

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    yes (5 mode) 

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                 no       




Flexizone exposure and focus control, time/date recording, record review, tally lamp, high-speed shutter (7-speeds up to 1/10,000 sec)



Viewfinder                       0.6in monochrome

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



Stereo                                      yes      

Wind noise filter                                         no                   

Mic socket                                yes/no             

Headphone socket              yes/no 

Mic                                           single point stereo



Sockets                                    headphone, ext. mic. & Control L (minijacks),

composite video & stereo line audio out (phone) S-Video (mini DIN)

Dimensions                              106 x 106 x 203 mm                      

Weight                         1kg (inc tape and battery)



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                  



Resolution                               400-lines

Colour fidelity                           good

Picture stability                         very good

Colour bleed                              slight

White balance                            very good

Exposure                                   very good

Auto focus                                  average

Audio performance                   average

Insert edit                                  n/a (manual inserts clean)

Playback thru adaptor              n/a



Value for money 10

Ease of use                 8         

Performance                9

Features                      9



R Maybury 1995 0707





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