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Have camcorders become too complicated and too expensive? Sanyo obviously think so, theyíre hoping to redress the balance with the remarkably cheap and simple VM-PS12



Since the first domestic camcorders appeared in 1984 every two or three years someone has had a go at launching an ultra-basic machine, usually designed to counter the image that theyíre complicated and woo the techno-wary into video movie-making. Sony were first with the CCD-M8 in 1986, JVC tried their luck in 1988 with the GR-A1, Amstradís Videomatic appeared in 1990, and the Panasonic NV-CS1 made its debut in 1993. Apart from the fact they were all very cheap and simple to use these camcorders had two other things in common; they were all record-only machines, and they never sold very well, except when the manufacturer was obliged to reduce prices, to clear unwanted stock...


At first glance Sanyo would seem to be treading a dangerous path with the VM-PS12. It has much in common with the M8, Videomatic et al;  at just under £400 itís now the cheapest camcorder on the market, and like the others it has no provision to replay recordings on the spot, through the viewfinder, but -- and this is the crucial difference -- itís not a record-only machine. VHS-C record-only machines can just about be justified on the grounds that most people have a VHS video recorder at home, but an 8mm record-only camcorder would be almost impossible to sell without a companion deck (as Sony discovered in 1986...), which together costs more than a proper camcorder. However, Sanyo have been very clever, theyíve designed what amounts to the first record-only camcorder, with a replay facility.


To get the price down to £400 (originally it was going to cost £450) it has been given an optical viewfinder and a simple lens; but without an electronic viewfinder how can it replay recordings? It canít, at least not on the spot, but it does have a play mode, and a set of AV sockets, so it can be connected up to a TV. There are no creative facilities, or anything that could be remotely described as a gadget, and itís the first machine we can recall not to have a time/date recording facility. Normally camcorders of this type have very basic lenses. The one on the PS12 is no exception, itís a fixed focus design, but it is unusual in that it has a zoom facility, albeit a rudimentary one, with only 3x magnification. From the design point of view the difficulty is matching the image in the viewfinder to whatís going through the camcorder lens, Sanyoís solution is to have the viewfinder and CCD lens stacked on top of one another -- this also eliminates the worst parallax errors -- and a cunningly contrived sideways control lever located on the top right of the body. Itís a purely mechanical arrangement that controls the optics of both lenses simultaneously, and has the added benefit of looking like a trendy sideways power-zoom lever.


The cosmetic trickery extends to the overall design which bears an uncanny resemblance to the Sony TR4 and TR8. Theyíve even gone to the trouble of hiding the NP-type nicad battery away inside a compartment on the side of the machine to maintain the illusion. The handful of controls are clustered in two places, the hinged flap on the top conceals a set of tape transport buttons, blank search and eject controls, and on the back panel thereís the record/pause button and a slide on/off switch. The play/record mode selector button is on the top, next to the zoom lever. A small LCD panel on the back shows tape count, battery charge plus head clog and dew warning indicators. Red and yellow LEDs in the eye cup show record/pause and warning indications.



As you might expect itís not exactly difficult to use, you donít even have to set the clock before you start, just pop in a charged battery, slot in a tape and youíre ready to go. If the tape has been previously recorded press the blank-search button to find the start of the unrecorded section. What you see through the viewfinder is more or less what you get, and itís in colour too! We found the eyepiece had a rather shallow viewing angle, compared with most electronic viewfinders, but itís not a problem unless you wear glasses when it can be a little difficult to see. As a matter of interest the viewfinder does have a dioptre adjustment for spectacle wearers.


Itís light and well balanced, maybe a little on the plump side -- a touch too big for a jacket pocket -- but small enough to take with you, wherever you go. The sideways zoom lever probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but the short travel and coarse action makes it quite difficult to use. In fact itís almost impossible to do a smooth zoom, zooming whilst recording can look very untidy.


Running times are very good, as they should be with no viewfinder, power zoom or autofocus system gobbling up the power. The instruction book reckons it will record for 80 minutes on a charge, we found it was closer to 60 minutes, with normal stop-start recording, even so thatís more than twice as much as you get from most other palmcorders. The charger has a built-in discharger, which should help prolong the batteryís useful life.



Not so good! Our sample struggled to resolve 220 lines, the image definitely looked a little ragged around the edges. Outdoors, in good natural light picture quality was just about passable but low-light performance was dismal and any attempt to record indoors, without plenty of extra light, results in a coarse, grainy and dull-looking picture. The auto exposure and white balance systems are not too bad, considering, but sudden changes in light level should be avoided as it can be quite jumpy. Noise levels are a little above average but colour rendition is reasonable under most types of lighting..


Sound quality wouldnít be too bad but for the noisy zoom control and to some extent the deck, which can sometimes be heard on the soundtrack when background noise levels are low. In fact the deck makes quite a lot of noise, buzzing and grinding when the tape is being ejected, and fast wind sounds as though the tape is made of sandpaper.



The PS12 will probably do quite well, the low price and classy looks almost guarantee that, but we suspect more than few users may be disappointed by the results, and the fact recordings made indoors look so grainy. We rather liked the look of the PS12, the cheeky allusion to expensive Sony models was endearing, but that was before we tried it out. Picture quality is decidedly mediocre; yes, itís very cheap but we feel that Sanyo might have spent a little less time on the shape and styling and a little more on picture performance.



Currently there are no other camcorders on the market with a list price below £400, though thereís probably a few Panasonic CS1ís kicking around but you can safely ignore them. Thereís a few models hovering around the £500 mark, including the Chinon VC100 and the Sony FX200, weíd give the Chinon a wide berth, but if youíre on a really tight budget itís worth finding the extra £100 for the FX200; itís just as easy to use as the PS12, it has a proper zoom lens, you get to see what youíre recorded on the electronic viewfinder and the picture is miles better. If you can raise another £30 or so the Samsung VPU-10 at £530 is our recommended budget buy. In any case shop around, thereís definitely some bargains to be had and machines that just a few months ago cost between £600 and £800 are now selling for less than £500, as theyíre replaced by newer models.



Make/model                               Sanyo VM-PS12

Recording format              8mm

Guide price                              £400



Lens                             f/2.4, 3.6-10.8mm

Zoom                           x3

Filter diameter            n/a 

Pick-up device            0.25in CCD

Min illum                     5 lux   



Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        90 mins

IR remote control                        no

Edit terminal                        no


MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                               no                                           

Manual focus               fixed

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    no       

Fader                                       no                   

Manual white balance            no       

Auto white balance                       yes                                          

Manual zoom                           yes      

Power zoom                            no                                                                               

Insert edit                                no       

Audio dub                                no

Character generator                     no                   

Digital superimposer               no       

Image stabiliser                                  no                                           

Video light                               no       

Battery refresh                         yes                               

Accessory shoe                 no       




blank search



Viewfinder                       optical

Viewfinder info               record/standby

LCD info                              battery condition, tape count, tape run, dew, head clog    



Stereo                                      no       

Wind noise filter                                         no                   

Mic socket                                no                   

Headphone socket              no       

Mic                                           unidirectional electret



Sockets                                    AV out (phono)

Dimensions                              182 x 93 x 105 mm                      

Weight                         0.8kg (inc tape and battery)



Battery, strap, AC charger/power supply,

AV lead                        yes      

video light                   no                   

remote control            no       

cassette adapter            n/a                  

RF Converter             no       

Scart adapter               no                   



Resolution                               220-lines

Colour fidelity                           fair

Picture stability                         average

Colour bleed                              fair

White balance                            fair

Exposure                                   average

Auto focus                                  n/a

Audio performance                   average

Insert edit                                  n/a

Playback thru adapter              n/a



Value for money          7

Ease of use                   10

Performance                7

Features                       6



R Maybury 1994 3110





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