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Samsung keep up the pressure at the budget end of the market, this time with two attractively-priced 8mm palmcorders, the VP-J50 and VP-J52



So far Samsung have hardly put a foot wrong. In the past four or five years their compact 8mm camcorders have steadily improved, to the point where theyíre now on a par with similarly specified Japanese products in nearly every respect, except one. The price. The Korean companyís aggressive pricing strategy has earned them a healthy slice of the budget compact camcorder market, but can they do the same with their latest palmcorders?


Samsungís first 8mm palmcorder, the VP-E405 -- launched toward the end of 1993 -- remains one of our favourite budget machines, and it is still the cheapest stereo camcorder to date, so the new VP-J50 and J52 have a lot to live up to. The E405 was clearly inspired by the Sony TR-camcorders of the early 90ís, the stylistic origins of the J50 and J52 are less obvious, indeed, they might even indicate the company is developing a style of their own, and apart from looking a little Ďbusyí, the shape and proportions are in keeping with current trends. The two machines have an almost identical basic specification:


* 3-mode program AE (sports, portrait and high-speed shutter)

* SP/LP recording

* credit-card remote control

* backlight control and fader

* 2-lux minimum illumination


The key difference between the two machines, and the reason for the £30 price difference (the J50 costs £600, the J52 £630), is the J52ís manual focus lens and 12x zoom (the J50 has auto-only focus and a 8x lens). Manual focus on the J52 is controlled by a ring on the lens barrel. All of the other controls, with the exception of the SP/LP speed selector, sideways zoom lever and stop/start button, are grouped together on the left side of the machine. Itís a bit crowded, to say the least, but the ten or so buttons and switches are reasonably well spaced. It could have been a lot worse, Samsung have made several of the buttons dual function, unfortunately some of them are not very well labelled, if at all! The play and stop on the J52 have near-invisible moulded symbols on the top of each  button. To be fair routine operations are not too bad, though selecting manual focus on the J52 could be better as it involves pressing two buttons simultaneously, which induces a fair amount of camera shake, if you press them whilst recording.



In general the two machines feel light and well-balanced; the NP-style battery pack clips into the handgrip and, depending on the time of year, makes a useful hand-warmer or gives you a sweaty palm, if itís used immediately after charging. Thatís the good news. The bad news is the lens. We have three main concerns: the zoom, is painfully slow, taking around nine seconds to go from end to end; manual focus is disabled when zooming, so you cannot zoom and focus at the same time; and the autofocus systems on both cameras are indecisive and loose lock with little or no provocation. To make matters worse, the manual focus control on the J52 is unexpectedly coarse, making it hard to find the correct position. We suspect these problems are related; the zoom speed is deliberately slow to allow the sluggish AF system to keep up, and the coarse focusing action contributes to the systems inability to maintain a lock.


The loading mechanism on our J52 sample made some very worrying grinding noises and failed to complete the unload cycle on several occasions, leaving the tape stuck inside the machine. Helping it along gently resolved the problem, but there was clearly something amiss. It seems to be confined to this one machine though our J50 sample made similar noises, but at a much lower volume.


The latch on the cassette door isnít very positive and sometimes itís necessary to pinch the carrier and the holder together to get it to engage. This entails touching a printed circuit board and exposed metal parts on the back of the deck mechanism. They could be damaged, if, for example the users fingers were sweaty, or worst of all, damp with acidic fruit juice which could promote corrosion.



Once again weíll begin with the good news; picture noise levels on both machines are below average, colours appear clean and natural looking. That makes up for the somewhat disappointing resolution figures, which in both cases was just below 230-lines. So, while the picture looks reasonably bright and lively from a distance, important detail is lost and when you get closer thereís no mistaking the soft, fuzzy texture. Itís tolerable on a first generation master but recordings copied or editing from this machine look very woolly.


No complaints about the mono sound system, it strikes a good balance between directionality and sensitivity; an external mic socket would have made it even better but we rarely expect to see them on machines in this price bracket.



Sad to say Samsung havenít repeated the successes of previous years, or improved on their previous palmcorder, the E405. The J50 is hampered by an unreliable autofocus, and without a manual override itís going to result in a lot of fuzzy footage, especially indoors or in poor light. Unfortunately the manual focus control on the J52 can be awkward to use and that, combined with less than dazzling picture performance means both machines rate as only average.



Ironically one of the best budget machines on the market right now is their own VP-U12, but the one weíd go for, unless we were inextricably wedded to the 8mm format, would be the Panasonic NV-R10. Failing that another Samsung machine, the E405, also has a lot to offer, including stereo sound.



Make/model                               Samsung VP-J52 (VP-J50)

Recording format              8mm

Guide price                              £630 (VP-J50 £600)



Lens                             f/1.8, 5.4-64.8mm (VP-J50 6-48mm)

Zoom                           x 12 (VP-J50 x8)

Filter diameter            37mm  

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum                     2lux    



Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        240mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        no


MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                               yes                                          

Manual focus               yes (no VP-J50)           

Auto exposure             no                               

Programmed AE                    yes (3-mode)

Fader                                       yes                  

Manual white balance            no       

Auto white balance                       yes                                          

Manual zoom                           no       

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                no       

Audio dub                                yes

Character generator                     no                   

Digital superimposer               no       

Image stabiliser                                  no                                           

Video light                               no       

Battery refresh                         no                                       

Accessory shoe                 no       




time/date recording, record review, tally lamp, backlight compensation, Sportsfinder eyepiece (VP-J50 only)



Viewfinder                       0.6in monochrome

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



Stereo                                      no       

Wind noise filter                                         no                   

Mic socket                                no                   

Headphone socket              no       

Mic                                           unidirectional electret



Sockets                                    AV out (phono)

Dimensions                              87 x 110 x 243mm                      

Weight                         0.85kg (inc. tape and battery)



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

AV lead                        yes      

video light                   no                   

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor               n/a                  

RF Converter             no       

Scart adaptor               yes                  



Resolution                               230-lines

Colour fidelity                           very good

Picture stability                         fair

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            good

Exposure                                   fair

Auto focus                                  indecisive

Audio performance                   good

Insert edit                                  n/a

Playback thru adaptor              n/a



Value for money         8

Ease of use                  8

Performance               8

Features                      8



R Maybury 1994 2111





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