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Forget all those wacky digital effects, one of the most useful features,  you can have on a camcorder is an external microphone socket. Sadly not many machines have them any more, though we have noticed a slight resurgence of interest. The point is, if youíve got one on your machine, youíre not tied to the camcorderís on-board microphone. Better still, you can use an external mike like the IQ SDX800.


This is not just another accessory mike, far from it. Not only does it have a switchable tele/wide facility, it has an on-board 3-channel mixer as well. This means you can mix sounds from the main mike, with those coming from a tie-clip narration mike, or an external music source, such as a personal stereo. A tie-clip mike is included in the kit, along with croc-clip holder, jack adaptor plug, stereo audio lead (to connect the mike to a personal stereo), and a battery. Everything fits neatly into a hard carry-case.


The main microphones -- there are two of them -- are built inside a short barrel protruding from the front of the mixer module, and covered by a screw-on foam wind-muffler. Switching and combining the outputs from the two mikes changes the sensitivity pattern, between increased forward directionality and wide-angle coverage. The microphone can be mounted on a tripod or attached to the camcorderís accessory shoe, though it has to be said that not many machines have them these days. Itís not a big problem, though, adaptor brackets that bolt on to the camcorderís tripod mount, or fit between the battery and the camcorder body (on machines with rear-mounted battery packs) are readily available for just a few pounds.


The supplied tie-clip microphone connects to one of the three sockets on the mixer body, the other two are for hooking the mixer up to a line-level music source, (personal stereo etc.), and an earphone, or headphones, for monitoring the sound output. A curly lead coming out of the back of the mike plugs into to the camcorderís external microphone socket.


There are only three controls: on the top thereís a three-position switch for power on/off and setting the tele/wide sensitivity pattern. On the side there are two thumbwheels, the one at the front is for adjusting the mix between the main microphone and the narration mike, the other one controls the balance of the microphone output and the external music source. Power is provided by a single AA size battery, in normal use this should last up to a year.


Itís worth pointing out that this is a mono microphone, though it is fitted with stereo jacks, so it can be used with stereo machines, you just end up with the same sounds on both channels. Audio quality is really good, the frequency response of the main mikes exceeds that of most 8mm and VHS-C recording systems, producing a clean, slightly trebly sound; the tele/wide modes work well, though donít expect too much, itís not in the shotgun league, but it does help if the subject is a little way from the mike, or youíre trying to catch sounds from a small group in front and to the side of the mike. The tie-clip microphone strikes a good compromise between sensitivity and directionality and the mixer has a smooth, progressive action.


Disadvantages? Well, there has to be one, and thatís the problem of trying to mix sounds live, whilst recording. It can be done, but it needs planning, a little practice, and some foresight. If youíre well organised it can make a tremendous difference to your video movies -- just adding background music can transform an otherwise boring sequence --  and it can greatly simplify post production. Well worth considering.



Make/model                   IQ SDX800

Guide Price                     £46.00

Features                          3-channel mono mixing facility, switchable tele/wide setting, tieclip mike included

Accessories                  jack adaptor, tieclip mike holder, lead for personal stereo

Microphone type            unidirectional electret

Power source                1 x AA cell (supplied)

Frequency response            70Hz-18kHz

Impedance                    1k ohms

Sockets                            ext. mic in, music in, earphone/monitor out (minijack)

Connections                   mike output (stereo minijack)

Mounting                       standard accessory shoe fitting with 1/4-inch Whitworth thread for tripod mount

Cord length                    1.0 metre curly

Dimensions                     42 x 48 x 153mm

Weight                            90 grams

Distributor                       JESSOPS, Jessops House, Scudamore Road, Leicester LE3 1TZ. Telephone (01533) 320033



A boon for organised movie-makers



Sooner or later most camcorder owners discover the limitations of their machineís lens; the good news is that on all but a handful of machines there is something you can do about it, whether itís increasing the power of the zoom, widening the angle of view, or helping you to get in closer to your subject. The usual solution is to buy an adaptor lens, thereís one to suit just about every possible application, and quite a few dual-purpose tele/wide angle adaptors on the market, but as far as we can recall the Aico 3-in-1 is the first and only lens to combine the functions of a teconverter with a wide-angle lens, semi-fisheye lens and macro lens.


In fact the 3-in-one is a system of three lenses, when theyíre all screwed together itís a 0.42x ultra-wide-angle, ideal for special effects, or squeezing big group shots or panoramas into the frame, though thereís a fair amount of barrelling at the sides. The central element is a reversible 0.6x wide-angle/1.5x teleconverter, depending which way round itís mounted on the camcorderís lens. Lastly thereís a single-element macro lens, for extreme close-ups. The outfit is supplied with a 37-42mm adaptor ring, so it will fit a broad range of popular machines, including most Sony TR models. Also supplied are two protective end-caps (one of which just wonít stay on...) and a soft carry pouch.


The standard of construction and quality of the optics are both very good, the three sections fit together well, though the threads felt a bit stiff at first, due to their newness; fortunately they quickly freed up with use. The fisheye gives the most dramatic effect, and it needs to be used sparingly, especially those Ďgoldfish bowlí shots with a face up close to the lens. The camcorderís zoom needs to be carefully adjusted when using the teleconverter and wide-angle lenses, to avoid the usual problems with vignetting and shadows in the corners of the image.


Taking into account the cost of buying these lenses separately, and the undoubted convenience of having them all together in one neat package the 3-in-1 is one of those accessories itís hard to imagine how you ever managed without.



Make/model       Aico 3-In-One Video Lens

Guide Price         £66

Features              1.5x telephoto, 0.6x wide-angle, 0.42x semi-fisheye/macro

Fitting                    42mm, 37mm adaptor supplied              

Weight                100, 40 or 15 grams (depending on configuration)

Distributor          AICO INTERNATIONAL, Aico House, Faraday Rd, London Road Ind Est, Newbury, Berks RG13 2AD, Telephone  (01635) 49797  



Versatile and cost-effective multi-function lens



Itís easy to see why the Slik U800 picked up a Good Design award from MITI (thatís the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry), its one of those rare products that simply look and feel right, add to that the very reasonable price of just under £60 and itís well on the way to becoming a must-have accessory. Oddly enough the U800 doesnít incorporate any fancy features, itís not made of any new wonder materials, and itís not especially small or light, but there has been tremendous attention to detail, and all of the actions, from extending the legs, to panning the head, are super-smooth.


The main features are the ergonomically designed head, with itís short tilt arm. The top platform pivots through 90 degrees, thatís normally a give-away that the tripod was originally designed for still cameras, though the U800 was actually developed from the ground up for both video and photo applications, and itís equally capable of supporting a SLR, or hefty full-size VHS machine. The mounting plate is detachable, itís held in place by a quick-release lever on the side of the head, and it can be turned through 90 degrees, so the camcorder can face in any direction, with respect to the head pivot. The pan/tilt action is well damped, with independently adjustable friction in both planes. The cranked centre column extends a full 300 mm and twisting the column cover increases or decreases the cranking tension.


The three section legs are locked by side-acting lock levers, and held rigidly in position by a leg brace that snaps into position when the legs are opened. At the end of each foot thereís a rubber tip, which gives good grip on both polished and uneven surfaces. No fancy tricks or gimmicks, just a sturdy, well designed tripod that will probably be the only one youíll ever need to buy.



Make/model                     Slik U 8000

Guide Price                   £60

Features                       pan/tilt head, quick-release detachable mount, vertical tilt, locking centre column, centre leg brace

Min height                     590mm (23.25 inches)

Max height                    1500mm (59.5 inches)

Weight              1.5kg              

Distributor                     AICO INTERNATIONAL, Aico House, Faraday Rd, London Road Ind Est, Newbury, Berks RG13 2AD. Telephone  (01635) 49797



A winning combination




R.Maybury 1995 1204



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