VIDEO CAMERA 1995

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

CONFIDENTLY CANON

 

INTRO

This month we look at the third of Canonís UC range of camcorders, the UC600, a well specified stereo machine with an advanced optical image stabiliser.

 

COPY

Talk about peas from the same pod! The only apparent differences between the Canon UC100, UC600 and UC7 Hi are the badges on the side. The price tickets tell another story, though. The UC100 sells for just under £700, whilst the UC7 Hi is priced at £1200. The UC600 is in the middle, around the £900 mark, so how can there be such a large price differential for such similar-looking machines. Surprisingly they share a number of common features, they all have 12x zoom lenses, 4-mode program AE systems, manual shutters, backlight controls, integral video lights and Control L editing terminals, but thatís where it ends. The UC100 has a mono sound system and a switchable wide-angle lens; the UC600 has stereo sound and substitutes the wide angle lens for an optical image stabiliser. The UC7 has all that, plus a Hi8 recording system. Of the three the UC600 is the only one we havenít looked at in detail, so itís time to put that to rights.

 

The star feature, and part of the reason why the UC600 costs the better part of £900 is the image stabiliser. As stabilisers go itís quite good, and thereís no loss of picture quality when it is switched on. Optical stabilisers like this one cope reasonably well with slow movement, walking for instance, but instead of a rigidly fixed picture, motion is heavily damped, giving the picture a viscous feels to it, which is not altogether unpleasant.

 

The four program AE modes cover most eventualities, they are:

*  Sports -- which selects a higher shutter speed, reducing the blur on playback, when shooting fast-moving subjects.

*  Portrait -- here the depth of field is deliberately reduced, so that the subject stands out against a soft-focus background.

*  Spotlight -- this is designed to compensate for a brightly-lit subject against a darkened background.

* Sand and Snow -- prevents underexposure, when the subject is set against a bright, reflective background.

 

In addition the UC600 has a separate backlight compensation facility, activated by a button in the middle of the AE dial. This compensates for a bright light behind the subject. Other creative facilities include a fader (to and from white), manual shutter (7-speeds up to 1/10,000th second), the built-in video light, plus a handy 1-page/2-line title generator. The light is a bit weedy, and it imposes quite a strain on the battery, slicing running times in half -- and itís not that brilliant to start with, especially with the stabiliser switched on -- but itís a useful first-aid measure, for filling in backlit subjects, brightening up dark corners, or, at a pinch, shooting indoors under gloomy artificial light.

 

Manual focus is controlled from a small thumbwheel, just below the stabiliser button. Itís not the best place for it, moreover the one on our sample was quite stiff, the grinding noise it made ended up on the soundtrack; hopefully it will ease up with use.

 

Whilst the stabiliser may be the main attraction, the feature that caught our attention was the Control L or LANC editing terminal. It may not sound especially important but if more camcorders had them, then maybe fewer machines would end up in the bottoms of wardrobes, gathering dust, once the initial novelty has worn off. Canon are to be congratulated for fitting edit terminals to all of their current machines, itís just a shame they forgot to fit an external microphone socket as well.

 

On a more general note handling and balance are both reasonable, but at around 1.2kgs itís no featherweight, and most of the time it a stabiliser is unnecessary as itís own weight damps out most minor movement. Apart from the manual focus knob most of the controls are accessible, though not necessarily easy to identify, in the case of the playback buttons, which live under a little flap on top of the machine. The battery isnít a very good fit in the holder on the back panel and it rattles around if shaken. One last grumble, the tape carrier on our sample was rather tight, making it difficult to get tapes in and out of the machine. We donít recall this problem with other UC machines, so it is probably confined to our sample, even so, check it out if youíre thinking of buying one.

 

PERFORMANCE

When we tested the UC100 last year we noted that resolution was a little down on the average for a mid-priced 8mm machine, sad to say the UC600 isnít much better and our test machine was struggling to reach 240-lines. We had hoped for a little more, that would have put it on an equal footing at least with some of the other camcorders in the same price bracket. On the credit side picture noise was low, and colour accuracy generally good in natural light. We noticed some very slight smearing on reds but you had to look quite hard to spot it. Overall then, the picture that rates as only average to good, though once again weíre pleased to confirm that the stabiliser has no effect on picture quality, apart from a very slight twitch as itís turned off.

 

Audio performance is much the same as the UC7. The stereo mike produces a rather narrow sound field, channel separation tails off quite quickly as you move away from the microphone. Forward sensitivity is quite good, and background noise levels are not too bad at all. An external microphone socket would have been very welcome.

 

VERDICT

Canon have done well to bring this machine in at under £900. Image stabilisers tend to bump up the price, but in this case, if it is removed from the equation, the price would still be on the right side of reasonable. Picture quality is fairly average, but the impressive range of facilities makes up for than, and genuinely useful features, like the Control L socket, means it wonít be easily outgrown when owners want to take their movie-making a stage further. In the end, though, the deciding factor has to be the stabiliser, and if itís the kind of feature you can make use of then this machine is worth considering.

 

THE RIVALS

Thereís a rather motley assortment of machines in the £800-900 price bracket. They include odd-balls, like the Sony SC5 Handycam Vision, Sharp E31 View Cam and JVC Info Cam, for those who are put off by more traditional camcorder designs. The Hitachi VM-H37 is getting on a bit but itís a good deal if you want high-band performance. If stereo sound isnít a priority then the Sony TR323 is worth a look, but once again our favourite mid-market machines has to be the Panasonic NV-S70 which combines high-band recording quality with stereo sound and a really useful assortment of facilities, including an edit terminal.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Canon UC600

Recording format              8mm

Guide price                              £900

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.8, 5.2-62.4mm

Zoom                           x12

Filter diameter            55mm  

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum                     2lux    

 

VIDEO DECK

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 (4-mode) 

Fader                                       yes                  

Manual white balance            no       

Auto white balance                       yes                                          

Manual zoom                           no       

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                no       

Audio dub                                no

Character generator                     yes                  

Digital superimposer               no       

Image stabiliser                                  yes                                          

Video light                               yes      

Battery refresh                         yes                                      

Accessory shoe                 no       

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, high-speed shutter (7-speed up to 1/10,000th sec), record review, retake, tally lamp, backlight compensation

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.5in monochrome

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, shutter speed, fader, AE mode, tape end, time/date, title, zoom position, stabiliser, dew, backlight compensation

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                      yes

Wind noise filter                                         no                   

Mic socket                                no                   

Headphone socket              no       

Mic                                           single-point stereo

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    composite video and line-audio out (phono), Control L  

                                              and DC supply for RF modulator (minijack)

Dimensions                              118 x 117 x 199mm                      

Weight                         1.2kg (inc tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

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

AV lead                        yes      

video light                   yes (built-in)                      

remote control            yes

cassette adaptor            n/a                  

RF Converter             no       

Scart adaptor               yes                  

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                               <240-lines

Colour fidelity                           good

Picture stability                         average

Colour bleed                              slight

White balance                            average

Exposure                                   average

Auto focus                                  average

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                      8

 

---end---

R Maybury 1995 2401

 

 

 


 

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