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The electronic and optical image stabilisation systems fitted to some top-end camcorders now work very well, the technology has come a long way in the past few years. However,  no matter how efficient image stabilisers become it is impossible for them to damp out all hand and body movements. The human eye is actually very good at detecting movement and it is immediately obvious when a video recording has been made using a hand-held camera, but unless it has been done deliberately for effect it tends to look rather amateurish.  


If you want to achieve professional-looking results there simply is no substitute for a tripod. There’s plenty to choose from, including rather a lot of skinny lightweight jobbies, that are sold as suitable for camcorders though in truth they were originally designed for lightweight stills cameras. That’s not necessarily a problem though,  the Slik U9000 has its origins in the photographic market, but it is quite capable of supporting small and mid-sized machines, weighing up to a kilogram or so, without any difficulty. The give-away feature is the camera mounting plate on the pan/tilt head, it can be tilted through 90 degrees, for quickly changing the shot from a landscape to portrait layout, that’s not something you need to do very often with a camcorder...


The pan/tilt head has a ‘fluid’ type action, it’s well damped with easily controllable friction settings. The pan handle is quite fat but it’s easy to grip and comfortable to hold. It has a removable mounting plate, held in place by a spring lever; it can be turned though 90 degrees, which can come in handy for lining up awkward shots. Mounted just below the head there’s a small bubble-level, a great help when adjusting leg height, especially on uneven ground. The geared centre column extends some 310mm; the crank handle folds away neatly when the tripod is collapsed for transport. It feels very smooth but it doesn’t have much of a turning radius, and unless you’re careful it tends to return to the stowage position whilst cranking.  


The legs are made of square-section alloy, they’re set into position using oversized single-action locks. When the legs are in the open position they’re held rigidly in place by three bracing struts, giving the structure a very rigid feel. At the base of each leg there’s a rubber pad, which can be screwed in to reveal a ground spike. There’s nothing particularly innovative or radical about the U9000, it’s just a solid, well designed tripod, that’s unusually light for its size, and very fairly priced.



Make/model                  Slik U9000

Guide Price                   £70

Features                       ‘fluid action’ head, central locking brace, quick-release mount, bubble level, quick-release leg clips, rubber/spike feet  

Minimum height            590mm

Maximum height            1.5 metres             

Weight              1.6kg

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



Low-tech image stabiliser, and it works great!




It seems that every piece of AV equipment you buy these days comes with a small bag full of leads and cables, yet Sod’s Law says there’s always one missing, or one doesn’t fit. Take our advice, invest in AV lead manufacturing companies, it’s going to get much worse now that home cinema is taking off! Vivanco are probably a good bet, they’ve got a plug and socket for every occasion, and they’ve just introduced a new range, called ‘Home Cinema’. Altogether they have five lead sets, all with gold-plated contacts and connectors plus heavy-duty low-loss cables. They’re mostly general-purpose leads, though at least one of them is designed for a specific application.


That’s the HCL1G. It’s a 7-metre long SCART-to-phono cable costing £17. Note that ‘phono’ is in the singular, the single solitary phono plug is wired to the composite video output pin on the distant SCART socket, but what’s the use of that? It’s for connecting TVs and VCRs to LCD video projectors, presumably models without any kind of audio monitoring, though at the moment we can’t think of any that do not have that facility. A 7-metre SCART to AV phono would probably be a lot more useful.


We’re on more familiar ground with the HCL2G which costs £25. This is a 5-metre long switched SCART to 3-phono cable. The switch on the SCART plug changes the composite video and stereo audio connections from input to output. This is actually one of the most versatile type of AV lead there is,  for AV connections between camcorders and TVs, VCRs, or AV components, and it comes in very handy for editing, copying and post production. This lead follows the normal convention of a yellow coloured plug for the video feed, but there’s no way of distinguishing the stereo audio leads as they’re both red. Mixing the right and left channels on AV equipment can lead to all sorts of difficulties.


Strangely enough that’s not a problem on the HCL3G lead -- also £25 -- which is a SCART to 6 phono cable, with colour-coded and labelled audio leads. This time both AV inputs and outputs (composite video and line audio) are wired to the SCART, though this makes the cable (in fact it is two cables taped together) rather bulky.


The last two cables are basic hook-up leads, HCL4G is a fully wired (Type U) SCART-to-SCART lead, it’s 1.5 metres long, and it sells for £25; the HCL5G is a high quality 1.2 metre phono-to-phono cable costing £14. A touch pricey in some cases but they’re all well made and the connectors are mostly quality items.



Make/model                  Vivanco Home Cinema Leads

Guide Price                   £14-£25

Features                       gold-plated contacts, heavy-duty low-loss cables 

Distributor                     VIVANCO, Unit C, ATA House, Boundary  Way, Hemel Hempstead HP2 7SS. Telephone (01442) 231616



All the right connections



The rather uninspiringly named 42538 is the third of Hama’s Starterkit post production accessories. Like the other two models in the range (42532 edit controller and 42534 audio mixer) it shares the same cream-coloured, sloping console, with the input and output connections arranged along the top of the back panel, for easy access. However, what really gets this (and the other Starterkits ) noticed is the features, accompanying accessory pack, and very attractive price, which in this instance is just two pence short of £100.


First the features; most of the front-panel controls are concerned with the audio mixer. It has three stereo inputs, two of them tied to a pair of switched video inputs, the third auxiliary audio input can be switched between line-level audio (from a tape or disc player), or a high impedance microphone; a simple mono stick mike is  included in the accessory pack. There’s a slider for each audio input, and a master fader to set the output level, this is shown by a pair of winking LED bargraphs. It also has a set of bass and treble controls, and there’s a headphone output. The outfit comes with a pair of lightweight stereo headphones but they’re really rather nasty and do the audio output no favours whatsoever. Indeed, they’re notable only for a complete lack of sensitivity and very narrow frequency response, that could lead to the level and tone adjustments being incorrectly set.


The video facilities begin with the 2-channel switcher. Note that it is just a switcher, there are no synchronisation facilities, so it’s no use for real-time video switching as whatever the output is connected to (TV VCR etc.) will take a few moments to lock onto the selected signal. As they pass through the unit the video signals can be treated to a black or white fade, and passed through a so-called ‘enhancer’. Enhance probably isn’t the best way to describe what it does to the picture, it’s basically a video amplifier, that boosts the signal above the noise. It has a slight hardening effect on picture, but it doesn’t do anything for quality, and should be used sparingly. The effects of the fade, and any applied enhancement can be checked using the unit’s split screen facility, that shows the before and after effect of any processing.    


It’s powered by a plug-in mains adaptor, and in addition to the microphone (good) and headphones (bad), there’s a stereo phono-to-phono lead, and an AV phono lead, a stand for the microphone, and some half-decent instructions, which do a fair job of explaining what it can do, and how to do it.  


Aside from the headphones it all works very well, the audio mixer is clean, just a trace of background hiss when the sliders are at maximum, otherwise sounds pass through the mixer relatively unscathed. It doesn’t have any S-Video connections, which is a bit of a shame, but it handles composite video inputs very well indeed, with no extra noise on the output. The enhance effect is bit dubious but the fader is very smooth, the slider is clean (give it time, they all go noisy in the end...) and the fade is progressive. Good value, recommended.



Make/model                  Hama 42538 AV Processor

Guide Price                   £100


Features                       3-channel stereo audio mixer/fader, bass and treble tone controls, 2-channel AV input switcher, video fade (black or white) video enhance, split-screen, bargraph audio level indicator

Sockets                        AV inputs and outputs (11 phonos), microphone input and headphone output (minijack), DC input

Dimensions                   320 x 210 x 55mm

Weight              0.8kg

Distributor                     HAMA Unit 4 Cherrywood, Chineham Business Park, Basingstoke, Hants RG24 OWF. Telephone (01256) 708110



Inexpensive entry-level AV post-production





Ó R.Maybury 1995 2111



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