VIDEO CAMERA 1995

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THE CRYSTAL MAZE...

 

INTRO

Is this the shape of camcorders to come? We investigate the growing trend towards simple-to-use machines with built-in liquid crystal (LCD) monitor screens

 

COPY

Following an extensive trawl through the archives we’re still not exactly sure who first came up with the idea of combining a portable video outfit with an LCD colour monitor. One of the earliest recorded attempts was back in the Summer of 1986, when Sony marketed the first 8mm Video Walkman, with a companion CCD colour camera as an optional extra. Panasonic showed something similar in 1987, when they launched  ‘AV Gear’ in Japan. It was a portable S-VHS-C deck, with an LCD screen, and it came with a miniature video camera, worn on an elasticated headband. A year later Panasonic bundled a 3-inch LCD colour monitor in with their MS1 camcorder, all yours for just £1700! In 1989 Panasonic (again) showed a prototype underwater camcorder, with a built-in LCD screen.

 

However, credit where it’s due, Sharp have been the driving force behind this technology and deserve full recognition for putting the whole thing into practice. They showed a prototype VHS-C camcorder, with an LCD screen mounted on the side, in 1988, sadly it  never went into production. In 1990 they were the first manufacturer to market a camcorder (VL-C7950) with an LCD colour viewfinder, in place of a monochrome CRT, but the real turning point was the HL1 ‘View Cam’, which went on sale in Japan in Summer 1992. View Cam broke all the rules, in essence it was a 8mm deck with a 4-inch LCD colour monitor on the back, and a camera bolted on the side. It was big, clumsy, expensive and an instant hit!  The first PAL version, an updated Mk II model called the VL-E400, arrived in the UK just over a year later; since then Sony and JVC have followed suite with variations on the theme.

 

View Cams and their ilk fly in the face of conventional wisdom; they are dearer than conventional machines, have very basic specifications, few gadgets and consequently limited appeal for enthusiasts or those wanting to develop their video movie-making skills. So what’s going on? The reasoning goes something like this. Following spectacular growth in the late 80’s, world-wide camcorder sales began to slow down in the early 1990s. Market research confirmed what we already knew, namely that there was a world recession, but it also indicated that many of the people who wanted a camcorder had by then brought one; it appeared that most of the rest quite liked the idea of making home movies, but were put off by the apparent complexity and unfriendliness of the technology. The solution was to design a machine that was unthreatening, and could be used and enjoyed by everyone, not just the person behind the lens, View Cam was born.

 

In spite of the increased competition Sharp still have by far the largest slice of the market. But whatever happens they can’t loose; they’re also the world’s largest manufacturer of colour LCD and supply colour display screens to all of their rivals. The irony of that is that the picture quality on the actual LCD screen is much of a muchness. Resolution in all cases is fairly low, typically less than 200 lines, so you’re not going to see a lot of detail. Colour reproduction is poor -- compared with a normal television screen -- and variable, so they’re no use for judging white balance, not that any of the LCD cams have manual WB systems. The image tends to be washed out in direct sunlight, though all of them come with sun shields, so you can still just about see what’s going on, some models have optical viewfinders as well, so you can’t get completely stuck. Last, but not least, the anti-reflective coatings on the screens smudges easily and they’re swines to keep clean. Apart from that...

 

We have to admit to being ever so slightly sceptical about the concept, and warn anyone thinking about buying one of these machines that they have little to offer over and above basic point and shoot recording. That could be frustrating if you get bitten by the video movie-making bug. Nevertheless we acknowledge their virtues, notably simplicity, on the spot playback that several people can watch, and listen to, plus the undoubted fun element, moreover we applaud the success they’re having in broadening the camcorder market. We also welcome the many newcomers to video, who are enjoying themselves and are perfectly content with their machines.

 

We have copllected together all of the LCD camcorders currently on sale in the UK, we’ve also included two unusual hybrids; they’re both compact ‘shoe-shape’ machines with black and white viewfinders, but with colour LCD monitors as well, so if  you haven’t made your mind up yet here’s what’s on offer

 

JVC SV3 ‘INFO CAM’

Info Cam from JVC is the most recent arrival; they have worked long and hard to make it different from the others, it’s also the only VHS-C machine in this roundup. Info Cam has a 3-inch screen, mounted on the front of the deck. This arrangement means the subject can see themselves, whilst recording. It certainly gets some interesting reactions.  JVC have capitalised on the fact that it’s easy to make self recordings with this machine. They’ve come up with a facility called Video Message, so the machine can be used as a kind of visual memo pad. Just place it on a firm surface, (a fold-away stand on the underside tips it at the right angle), the user then records a message by looking into the lens and pressing a single button. When the recording is finished the machine reverts to standby mode. A flashing indicator lamp on the front of the alerts the recipient that there’s a message waiting for them. All they have to do is press a second button and the recording is automatically rewound and played.

 

The screen can be used as an alternative to the optical viewfinder, it simply flips up to face the user (the image is automatically inverted). The screen has other uses too, an optional tuner module costing around £130 turns Infocam into a portable TV, and sound is heard through a tiny built-in speaker.

 

There’s only a couple of controls to bother about, just one large mode selector knob on the top, a record stop/start button on the back, and two more buttons on the front, to operate the simple 3x zoom lens. The remaining  deck controls are hidden under a little flap on the top of the machine. It’s quite large and has to be held with both hands; handling is good, though care is needed, to avoid fingers straying into the shot without the user knowing it. We’re most impressed by the five-second record mode feature, it really helps liven up video movie, moving the action along at a brisk pace; it can be disabled so the stop/start button reverts to a normal toggle action.

 

Everything is automatic, all the user has to do is frame the shot and press the go button. In spite of that picture quality can be quite reasonable, even in tricky conditions. It likes a lot of light though, and indoor shots in dimly-lit surroundings can look quite grainy. The mono soundtrack is a mite hissy, and the microphone has trouble picking out sounds more than few metres away.

 

The price is fair, it’s incredibly easy to use and above all it’s enormous fun. To be brutally honest the message facility is a bit of a gimmick and we can’t see it being used much, once the novelty has worn off but it’s definitely worth considering if you’re terrified by conventional camcorders.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               JVC GR-SV3

Recording format              VHS-C

Guide price                              £800

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/2.8

Zoom                           x3

Min illum                     8 lux   

 

VIDEO DECK

Max rec time                        90 mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                        no

Edit terminal                        no

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Focus                                       fixed                                       

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    no       

Fader                                       no                   

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Image stabiliser                                  no                                           

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, message recording, self-timer, auto indexing, 5-second record mode

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       optical and 2.5in colour LCD

Viewfinder info                none

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                      no       

Mic socket                                no                   

Mic                                           unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Dimensions                              172 x 120 x 82mm                      

Weight                         1kg (inc tape and battery)

 

VC RATINGS

Resolution                   240-lines

Value for money 7         

Ease of use                10

Performance              8

Features                     7

 

SHARP VL-E31  

The E31 is a recent upgrade of the E30, one of the original View Cams launched at the end of 1993. In fact the differences are mostly cosmetic, the basic specification remains the same. The 3-inch colour screen is fixed to the back of the video deck, the camera module is on the side and twists through 180 degrees, so it can point forwards, or backwards at the user, for self recording. It has a proper lens, with an 8x zoom, focus is automatic or manual, controlled by a pair of buttons on the back panel. It has a few creative facilities, including a four-mode program AE system. The options are:  Party -- reduces flaring from bright lights; Sport -- shutter speed and white balance optimised for fast moving subjects (in good daylight); Snow & Sand -- exposure corrected for subjects seen against a bright background; and Twilight -- where the machine’s automatic white balance system emphasises the deep reds of sunrise and sunset. The machine also has manual backlight compensation, gain-up and pseudo widescreen (black borders at the top and bottom of the screen) as well. A clip-on TV tuner module is available as an optional extra. Sadly, due to restrictions imposed by EC import tariffs View Cams sold in the UK cannot record from the tuner.

 

Sharp make good use of the LCD, there’s a simple on-screen display system, to select various options, and it doubles up as a control indicator for the row of buttons below the screen. Like the other View Cams, and the JVC Info Cam, it’s quite bulky and needs to held two-handed, to keep it steady, and prevent the picture appearing lop-sided. It can be held in one hand, but this puts quite a strain on the wrist. The twisting camera is a great idea, though, making it easy to get over-head, or waist-level shots

 

Picture quality is fair to middling, resolution is a little down on many machines in the same price bracket but overall the image doesn’t look too bad. It fares better than some of the other machines in semi-dark conditions, and it copes well with different types of light. Sound quality is reasonable, background hiss is muted and the microphone is quite sensitive.  The E31 is a little more refined than its rivals and it has a fair number of facilities, enough to interest the slightly more adventurous movie-maker, in particular those who are still wary of mainstream designs and want’s the facility to watch what they’ve just recorded.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Sharp VL-E31H

Recording format                          8mm

Guide price                              £900

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.8, 4.5-36mm

Zoom                           x8

Min illum                     4 lux (gain up mode)           

 

VIDEO DECK

Max rec time                  120mins

IR remote control                   yes

Edit terminal                            yes

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Focus                                       auto and manual                

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    yes (4-mode) 

Fader                                       no                   

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Audio dub                                yes

Image stabiliser                      no                   

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, pseudo widescreen recording, backlight compensation, built in stand,  record review

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       3-inch colour LCD

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, focus mode, tape end, time/date, AE preset

 

AUDIO

Stereo                            no       

Mic socket                        yes              

Mic                                  unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Size                                  199 x 123 x 85.4 (mm)                      

Weight                            1.1 kg (inc tape and battery)

 

VC RATINGS

Resolution                     230-lines

Value for money            7

Ease of use                    8

Performance                  7

Features                         7

 

SHARP VL-E40

The E40 is the E31’s big brother and the good news is that until the end of March it comes with a clip-on TV tuner module, free, gratis and for nothing. The main difference between this and the E31 is the size of the screen, it measures 4-inches across (well, diagonally actually, but that’s the way TV screens are measured...). Larger doesn’t necessarily mean a brighter and sharper image, in fact there’s not a lot in it, though it does mean more people can gather round the screen to watch the replay. 

 

The basic specification is similar to the E31, though in some respects it’s more closely related to its stablemate the E400, the Hi8 View Cam. Additional facilities include a range of digital effects (still, snapshot and strobe recording) as well as an electronic image stabiliser. In theory it shouldn’t need one; the machine has to be held-two handed,  in any case it’s not terribly efficient, and there’s a marked reduction in picture quality when it’s switched on. Another extra is a nickel metal-hydride battery, which should have a longer, more trouble-free life than a nickel cadmium battery. Like the E31 it has a twisting camera section, great for self recording, it has a 4-mode program AE system and assortment of creative facilities.  

 

Picture performance is similar too; resolution on samples we’ve seen is below 240-lines, less than we would hope for on a machine with a list price of more than £1000.  Fortunately noise levels are below average, so the picture ends up looking quite reasonable, though we found it prefers relatively simple, well-lit scenes. The auto-exposure system can be fazed by sudden changes in lighting levels. Sound quality is much the same as the E31, it picks up sounds within a few metres of the microphone without any problems, and in very quiet surroundings it may even pick up motor whine as well, though overall it’s not too bad. Even with the TV tuner thrown in the E400 is still quite expensive for what it is; the slightly larger LCD screen -- compared with the E31 -- makes viewing easier, but at the expense of making the machine larger and more cumbersome. On balance we think we’d prefer the E31, unless stereo sound and high-band performance video were priorities.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                     SHARP VL-E40H   

Recording format           8mm

Guide price                     £1,100

 

OPTICS

Lens                               f1.8, 4.5-36mm

Zoom                             x8

Min. illum. (lux)             6

 

VIDEO DECK

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

IR remote control                                     yes

Edit terminal?                                              no

           

MAIN FACILITIES               

Focus                                       auto and manual

Auto exposure             yes      

Programmed AE                    yes (4-mode) 

Fader                                       no

Power zoom                            yes      

Image stabiliser                      yes

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, record review, pseudo widescreen recording, still/strobe/snapshot recording, self recording, index search, built-in lens cover

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       4-in colour LCD

Viewfinder info.               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, focus mode, tape end, time/date, dew, AE preset mode, digital FX,

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       no

Mic socket                                yes

Microphone                                      omnidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Dimensions                           211 x 124 x 81mm

Weight                                  1.2kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

VC RATINGS

Resolution                   230-lines

Value for money          7

Ease of use                   8

Performance                7

Features                       8

 

SHARP VL-H400

This is the one that started the ball rolling. Sharp chose to launch View Cam in Europe with this machine. Then, as now it’s rather expensive and £1400 buys some very sophisticated video machinery these days. Maybe that’s missing the point, let’s look at what it can do. At the top of the features list is the 4-inch screen, Hi8 recording system and stereo sound. The layout is different to the other two machines as well, the battery is in the hand-grip, giving it a quite chunky appearance, it really is quite a hand full, or should that be hands-full?

 

Aside from improved picture and sound quality it has quite a lot in common with the E400, including the digital effects system, though it doesn’t have a program AE option; instead there’s a 5-speed electronic shutter and a fader. It’s a good deal bulkier but it feels and handles pretty much the same as the other View Cams, and is most comfortable when held two-handed. The stereo sound system is a bit of a curiosity, the microphone is mounted on the side of the camera module, so it differentiates sound coming from above and below, rather than right and left.  

 

The Hi8 recording system produces a noticeably sharper, more clearly-defined picture, though it really needs to be seen on a TV equipped with an S-Video input to get the full impact; the picture looks only marginally sharper on a normal TV. High-band resolution is just under 380-lines, that’s below the Hi8 benchmark of 400-lines, readily attainable on most other machines in this price bracket, but the difference is comparatively small and mainly of significance to enthusiasts, or if the recordings are to be copied or edited. The stereo soundtrack has a spatial feel to it, though the channel separation is confined, and in this case would have difficulty conveying any sense of movements if, for example the subject traverses the field of view. The main thing going for the H400 is improved picture and sound quality, the downside is cost, size and -- for the price -- somewhat rudimentary facilities, but maybe for some people that’s worth paying for?

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                   Sharp VL-H400S 'View Cam'

Recording format           Hi 8/8mm

Guide price                     £1400

 

OPTICS

Lens                               f2.0, 5.8-46.4mm

Zoom                             8x

Min. illum.                     6 lux

 

VIDEO DECK

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

IR remote control                                     yes

Edit terminal?                                              no

           

MAIN FACILITIES               

Focus                                       auto and manual           

Auto exposure             yes      

Programmed AE                    no       

Fader?                         yes

Power zoom                            yes      

Image stabiliser                      yes      

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording,  high-speed shutter (5-speed up to 1/1000th sec), record review, index search, 'snapshot' recording, still record, strobe record, 'cinema' recording, self recording

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       4-inch colour LCD

Viewfinder info.               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, shutter speed, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, zoom position, dew, lamp failure, self record

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       yes

Mic socket                                yes

Microphone                                      single-point stereo

 

GENERAL

Size                                         201 x 155 x 91mm

Weight                                   1.3kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

VC RATINGS

Resolution                   380-lines

Value for money          7

Ease of use                   8

Performance                8

Features                       7

 

 

SANYO VM-EX33

This is the first of those hybrids we were telling you about. The EX33, is an upgrade of the EX31, launched in 1993, it’s basically a fairly average 8mm compact, with an extra added ingredient, more about that in a moment! It has mono sound, a 12x zoom and six preset ‘shooting’ modes. They’re an unusual mixture of facilities that come somewhere between a program AE system, and semi automatic exposure. They include a flickerless mode, for recording under 60Hz (US) tube light; sports mode with the electronic shutter speed automatically set between 1/50th and 1/250th second; twilight mode -- white balance optimised for sunrise and sunset; low-light or gain-up, for shooting in dimly-lit surroundings, auto high-speed shutter, for reducing blur when recording fast action; and close-up, which switches the lens to macro mode. The only other creative facility is a fader.

 

What makes the EX33 so special is the combined 2.2-inch colour LCD monitor and remote control module, which clips on to the machines accessory shoe. It has several uses; it can be used as a monitor, for recording or replay, it has a full set of camera controls, that operate by infra-red commands, or via a connecting lead, and best of all, it has a built-in 8-scene edit controller. The EX33 has a Control L/LANC editing terminal, which the monitor/remote uses to replay selected scenes, and at the same time control the pause-record mode on a VCR, (via a library of stored IR commands). It’s not as flexible as an accessory edit controllers but it is very easy to use, and quite capable of tidying up holiday recordings, maybe even putting together simple video movies. Having the Control L terminal means the EX33 can be used with more advanced edit controllers.

 

The design and layout are straightforward, when the monitor is attached it feels a bit top heavy but it can be taken off and only used when needed. Performance is good, resolution hovers around the 240-line mark, noise levels are only average, so there’s some deterioration evident in edited recordings. Audio quality is fine, with good forward sensitivity which avoids handling and motor noises

 

The EX33 is not a direct competitor to the other LCD cams we’ve been looking at, and it’s not going to do much to allay the fears of the techno-wary, though it is actually a doddle to use. However, it manages to combine the many of the best features of an LCD cam, such as the facility for several people to watch (and hear) the replay on the spot. The feature which caught out eye, though, is the edit controller facility which opens up a whole new world of video movie-making.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                             SANYO VM-EX33                  

Recording format                          8mm

Guide price                              £800

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.8, 5.5-66mm

Zoom                           x12

Min illum                     2 lux (low light mode) 

 

VIDEO DECK

Max rec time                   120mins (SP mode only)

IR remote control                   yes

Edit terminal                            yes (Control L)

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Focus                                       auto and manual                

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    no       

Fader                                       yes                  

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Image stabiliser                      no                   

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording,  record review,  tally lamp, LCD colour monitor, built-in edit controller

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.6in monochrome/ 2.2in colour LCD

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, edit mode and status, IR code, dew

 

AUDIO

Stereo                             no       

Mic socket                        yes              

Mic                                   unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Size                                  119 x 111 x 208 (mm)                      

Weight                             1.1kg (inc tape and battery)

 

VC RATINGS

Resolution                    240-lines

Value for money          8

Ease of use                   8

Performance                8

Features                       9

 

 

SONY CCD-SC5

This is the low-band version of the Sony Vision camcorder, first announced early last year, it went on sale in the Summer of 1994. The most striking features are the unusual upright design, and the 3-inch LCD screen, mounted on the back. It also has an optical viewfinder, next to the lens, this is a fixed-focus design with a switchable wide/telephoto feature. The display screen is hinged so it can be tilted upwards, to face the viewer, for tabletop viewing, however, unlike the other LCD camcorders it doesn’t have any self-record options.

 

Power is supplied by a lithium-ion rechargeable battery, which lives inside a compartment behind the hand-grip. This type of battery is smaller and lighter than a nicad of equivalent capacity, and it doesn’t suffer from any cell-imbalance or memory effects. It takes rather a long time to charge -- around 2-hours -- though it gives up to 45-minutes recording time -- with the screen switched off -- or a little over 20 minutes with it on.

 

Although the machine has no creative facilities to speak of it does have a Control L/LANC terminal, though it can only be accessed via an optional ‘docking station’ which costs a further £120. In fact facilities of any kind are thin on the ground, there’s a time/date recording function, a tally lamp, and a built in speaker, but that’s it. The exposure system is fully automatic, the tele-wide lens give some scope to change the shot, though it should only be used when the machine is in the pause mode, as the changeover is very distracting, not to say quite noisy. Needless to say it  will take most users about thirty seconds to figure out how to use it, and it’s a real crowd-puller.

 

Image quality is very reasonable, colours are sharp and there’s very little noise to be seen in brightly-lit scenes. Low light performance is fairly average  but the exposure systems do well under the circumstances. The SC5 has a mono soundtrack, background hiss is subdued and directionality is good. The on board speaker is small and not very loud but it’s okay for on the spot monitoring.

 

It’s very basic -- even compared with the other LCD camcorders -- but in this context that has to be a selling point. The other one is the price, which is still dear by normal standards, but a good deal less than the competition. This is the one to go for if View Cam and Info Cam look complicated!

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                                    SONY CCD-SC5      

Recording format                          8mm

Guide price                              £900

 

OPTICS

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

Zoom                           none

Min. illum.                   5 lux

 

VIDEO DECK

Max. rec. time                 120mins (LP playback only)

IR remote control                   yes

Edit terminal                            no (see text)

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Focus                                       fixed               

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    no       

Fader                                       no                   

Power zoom                            no                                                                               

Image stabiliser                      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       

Mic socket                        yes              

Microphone                   unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Size                               105 x 141 x 84 mm

Weight                           0.79kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

VC RATINGS

Resolution                    240-lines

Value for money          8

Ease of use                   9

Performance                8

Features                       7

 

SONY CCD-SC7

The SC7 is a bit of an odd-bod, it combines the simplicity and ease of use of the SC5 with high-band picture performance and stereo sound, in other words just the job for a fussy technophobe. Apart from improved sound and picture quality there are a few other differences, though they’re mainly concerned with the shape and layout. The SC7 is a little heavier, and a bit bigger all round, though in general it’s no harder to use than the SC5, with one exception. The position of the tele/wide control is quite difficult to get to when the machine is fitted with the wrist strap. There are differences in the lens and image sensor assembly as well, and the SC7 has a noticeably wider field of view.

 

The price is quite significant, or rather it was. When it was launched last Summer the SC7 was one of the cheapest high-band camcorders on the market. Since then prices have fallen generally and new machines have been launched so now there are quite a few very well-specified S-VHS-C and Hi8 camcorders costing around £1,000.

 

It’s just as easy to use as the SC5, though, and there are no creative facilities to worry about, apart from deciding whether to use a wide or telephoto setting, and when to press the record button... Like the SC5 it can be used with the AC-HS1 docking station, which also means it can be connected to an automated edit controller. The clip-on sun shield works well when the LCD screen is difficult to see, though we found most users preferred to use the optical viewfinder when shooting. This also conserves power, doubling recording time from around 20 minutes to over 40 minutes.

 

On-screen results are satisfactory, and like the SC5 the auto exposure systems are able to deal with most commonly encountered lighting situations, it’s suprisingly good with strongly backlit subjects, for example. Colours are sharp and well defined, though resolution at just over 360 lines is down on the high-band norm. Although the SC7 has stereo sound you have to listen quite hard to hear it. Channel separation is limited and the two microphones are not particularly directional.

 

The SC7 is a little harder to justify than the SC5. Picture and sound quality are better but they’re still some way short of what is achievable on other machines at that price point. We suspect that anyone who is concerned enough about the differences between 8mm and Hi8 performance would probably prefer the flexibility and convenience of a conventional palmcorder or sub-compact.

 

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

Min. illum.                   5 lux

 

VIDEO DECK

Max. rec. time                 120mins (LP playback only)

IR remote control                   yes

Edit terminal                            no (see text)

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Focus                                       fixed               

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    no       

Fader                                       no                   

Power zoom                            no                                                                               

Image stabiliser                      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      

Mic socket                        yes              

Microphone                   twin unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Size                               105 x 153 x 85 mm

Weight                           0.88kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

VC RATINGS

Resolution                    360-lines

Value for money          8

Ease of use                   8

Performance                8

Features                      7

 

SONY CCD FX730

It looks like an ordinary compact camcorder, with a black and white viewfinder, but it has an LCD screen as well, though you might not spot it at first. The 3-inch TFT colour monitor is mounted inside a fold-out module, that stows away on the side of the machine.  To save power only one viewfinder can be used at a time; the mono viewfinder switches off as soon as the LCD module is opened out to the shooting position, this also activates a small loudspeaker, built into the side of the machine. The screen can be rotated through 180 degrees, so it can be used for overhead and waist-level shots.

 

Overall it is very easy to use, handling is good and the controls are accessible. It gets a few extra points for the built-in lens cover, this is opened by the main on/mode switch on the side of the lens barrel. The FX730 has a few creative facilities, including a 4-mode program AE system, (portrait, sports, high-speed shutter and twilight) there’s backlight and fader controls as well. There’s also a 12x zoom, plus a Control L/LANC editing terminal. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a manual focus control, which is a nuisance, as the autofocus system can only be relied upon in good light. Indoors, in low-light conditions it can easily loose lock if there’s insufficient contrast between the subject and the background, and there’s nothing you can do about it. 

 

The LCD monitor module makes it a little fatter than most other 8mm compacts, and it is heavier too at 1.4kgs all up. It’s not a big problem when the LCD monitor is in the closed position but when it is open the centre of gravity shifts to the left, making it difficult to keep the machine steady when held with one hand.

 

Resolution  was over 240 lines, it might even be a little higher, but without manual focus it’s difficult to be conclusive. Colours look good, even under artificial light, noise levels are low and the image is very stable. Background hiss on the mono soundtrack is well within acceptable limits and the microphone has good forward sensitivity.

 

The FX730 is an interesting halfway house, between the new generation of LCD camcorders and the more familiar compact style machines. It does both jobs quite well, though its appearance will do little to endear it to those who have been put off by regular camcorders. Our only regret is the lack of manual focus, there are situations when the AF system simply cannot cope, and the user will end up with fuzzy, out of focus footage.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                             Sony CCD-FX730                             

Recording format              8mm

Guide price                              £800

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.8, 5.4 - 64.8mm

Zoom                           x 12

Min illum                     4 lux   

 

VIDEO DECK

Max rec time                        240mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes (Control L)

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Focus                                       auto only

Auto exposure                         yes                              

Programmed AE                    yes (4-mode)

Fader                                       yes                  

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Image stabiliser                                  no                                           

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date/age recording, record review, built-in lens cover, LCD screen and speaker, backlight control

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.6in monochrome and 3-inch colour LCD                       

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

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                      no       

Wind noise filter                                         no                   

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Dimensions                              120 x 111 x 260 mm                      

Weight                                     1.4kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

VC RATINGS

Resolution                   >240-lines

Value for money             8

Ease of use                 8

Performance               8

Features                     8

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1994 2012

 


 

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