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Canon are on a roll, the UC9 Hi looks like being another high-band winner



It’s just like the old days. During the late 80s and early 90s Canon kept us busy with a succession of keenly priced, feature-laden camcorders, that set the pace for the rest of the market. Now they’re at it again, over the past few months they’ve launched some real crackers, culminating this month with the UC9 Hi, their latest Hi8 machine, selling for just under £800.  


The shape is immediately recognisable as a development of the UC900. The feature list is broadly the same, and it has the same, well-upholstered, dare we say portly profile, with the large lens barrel housing one of Canon’s most excellent optical image stabiliser modules. The primary differences include the Hi8 recording system, an electronic zoom that takes the 20X optical zoom up to a magnification of 40X, and there’s a set of digital effects, for an instant close-up on any specified section of the picture, solarisation or art (increased colour contrast), 16:9 anamorphic or ‘squeeze’ and negative picture mode.


Almost everything else stays the same, which means it has a simple title facility, Flexizone AF system, 4-mode program auto exposure, programmable controls and, best of all, a built-in 8-scene edit controller. The edit controller is a great idea; unlike other machines with edit-control facilities, that rely on an external control module, the UC9 only needs a simple AV connection to the record VCR. The machine operates the VCR’s record-pause function on the deck using its own on-board infra-red controller. Commands are transmitted from an IR emitter diode set into the back of the machine. It’s programmed with control codes for more than 40 different VCR brands, covering virtually all of the machines on the market. In case eight scenes are not enough, the UC9 Hi also has a Control L/LANC editing terminal, so it can be used in conjunction with a stand-alone or PC-based edit controller.


We’ve covered Flexizone in some detail in previous Canon reviews, but it won’t hurt to go over the salient points again,  look briefly at what it can do, and how it does it. The ‘zone’ or target is a small rectangle that appears on the viewfinder display. It can be moved to any part of the screen using a tiny thumb-operated joystick on the back panel. The machine will automatically adjust focus or lock exposure to whatever is covered by the target, so it’s possible to compensate for some quite tricky lighting situations and cluttered scenes. You can, for example, lock focus on a subject that is close to the edge of the screen, overriding the AF system’s tendency to focus on whatever is in the centre of the picture. Likewise, with Flexizone set up for exposure control, the camcorder will adjust scene brightness to whatever is in the zone, and ignore the rest of the scene.


The four program AE modes cover the usual range of options, they are: portrait, sports, spotlight and sand and snow. Additional exposure control facilities include a manual high-speed shutter (7 speeds, up to 1/10,000 th second), backlight compensation and fader. The Custom Key system is another feature borrowed from the UC900. Two buttons on the right side of the machine can each be programmed with one of 18 different functions. It means some facilities can be accessed quickly, though there’s no other way of accessing several options, like the fader, manual focus and backlight compensation, which could make life difficult if you need to use them at the same time.



The Custom Key buttons are a little too close to the microphone grille for comfort and the on/standby lock switch can be awkward to use. The main function dial on the front was a bit stiff on our sample, and sometimes needed two hands to operate. The Felexizone joystick can be configured for thumb movement, which is a good idea, and most of the other controls fall readily to hand.



The deck is a little touchy and doesn’t take kindly to rapid tilting movements. It’s also quite sensitive to knocks and taps, so it needs careful handling. Operationally it’s mostly good news. Resolution tailed off at just over 380-lines, which is about average for a high-band camcorder in this price bracket. Picture noise levels are reasonably low, colours are clean and flesh tones look natural. The automatic white balance system has been optimised for natural light but it manages to do a pretty good job in artificial light as well, though tube lighting gives the image a slightly yellowish tinge. Image stabilisation is effective in countering  small, relatively slow movements, the sort of thing you get when walking and shooting.


The edit controller is truly wonderful; okay, so there’s only eight scenes, but that’s plenty for tidying up most home movies. Edit in and out points can be changed, it’s a little cumbersome but the on-screen edit decision list and total time displays are very useful. Edit accuracy is good and timings can be adjusted to suit the characteristics of the VCRs its used with.


The stereo hi-fi system gives a clean, evenly balanced sound with minimal background hiss. The forward-mounted microphone is quite sensitive; it will pick up some handling noises but you can always use an external microphone.  



Canon can’t put a foot wrong at the moment. The UC9 Hi is another well thought out machine, that will suit movie-makers of all abilities. Picture and sound quality are both good, but the long list of convenience features, headed by the built-in edit controller, image stabiliser and exposure options, puts it ahead of the pack.



Canon need to keep an eye on what Panasonic are up to, their latest S-VHS-C machine, the NV-SX3, could turn a few heads. Samsung’s Hi8 prices are also very aggressive, though their machines are fairly basic by comparison. The only other contender in the £800 price bracket is the Hitachi VM-H520, which has a couple of useful convenience features, but few creative facilities.



Make/model                               Canon UC9 Hi

Recording format               Hi8/8mm

Guide price                                £800



Lens                             f/1.6, 4-80mm

Zoom                            20X optical, 40X digital

Filter diameter            46mm  

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum                       3 lux    



Long play (LP)                        no                   

Max rec time                        90mins

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes (Control L)


MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                                          

Manual focus                 yes      

Auto exposure               yes                              

Programmed AE                          yes (4-modes)

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                                 no        

Battery refresh               yes                                      

Accessory shoe             no        




time/date recording, self-timer,  high-speed shutter (7-speed up to 1/10,000th sec), record review, Flexizone AF, tally lamp, backlight compensation, custom key operation, auto editing, digital effects (40x zoom, close-up, art, 16:9, negative)



Viewfinder                       0.5in monochrome

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, shutter speed, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, title, Flexizone target, edit control functions



Stereo                                       yes

Wind noise filter                         no                   

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           single-point stereo electret



Sockets                                    AV output (phono), S-Video out (mini DIN), Control L,

headphone and microphone (minijack)

Dimensions                               105 x 112 x 206 mm                      

Weight                          0.85 kg (inc tape and battery)



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

AV lead             yes      

video light                      no                    

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor n/a                   

RF Converter             no        

Scart adaptor                 yes                  



Resolution                                 >380-lines

Colour fidelity                           good

Picture stability                         average

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            average

Exposure                                   good

Auto focus                                  good

Audio performance                   average

Insert edit                                  n/a (manual inserts clean)

Playback thru adaptor              n/a



Value for money         9

Ease of use                  8

Performance               8

Features                      9



R Maybury 1996 2907





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