VIDEO CAMERA 1996

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INTRO

Sharp are the latest manufacturer to become fully paid-up member of the DVC club with their first digital ViewCam to reach the UK, we’ve been putting the VL-DC1 through its paces

 

COPY

We’ve known about Sharp’s intention to introduce a digital ViewCam for over a year, and we’ve had a fair idea of the specification for at least the past six months, but the VL-DC1, which arrives this month, still managed to provide us with a few surprises.  

 

The biggest one was the screen. It’s a 4-inch colour LCD, using Sharp’s latest COG (chip on glass) technology. This means it’s a lot thinner and lighter than normal, moreover the brightness and viewing angle are noticeably better than its predecessors. However, the feature that bowled us over was ‘fingerprint protection’. It’s virtually smudge-proof. Previous LCD screens have a coating that attracts dirty finger marks, leaving them looking a real mess after just a few minutes, apparently even without them being touched... This one stays clean, and if a mark does appear, it can be easily wiped away. Now that’s what we call progress!

 

Of course, we really should be waxing lyrical about the DVC recording system, and how small the DC1 is, but JVC have rather stolen Sharp’s thunder when it comes to compact DVC machines. The price doesn’t exactly set the blood racing either. At £2000, or thereabouts it’s a lot cheaper than the current batch of Sony and Panasonic DVC camcorders, but it’s still a couple of hundred pounds dearer than the JVC machine, and sad to say, not as generously featured. To be fair the price differential and feature list is about par for the course for an ‘LCD cam’, which after all, are aimed at family users -- well-heeled ones in this case.  

 

Exposure options are confined to an auto-exposure override (12 steps), 5-speed shutter, white balance lock, backlight compensation and gain-up mode; not a programmed auto exposure option, editing facility or digital trick effect in sight, unless you count the single-speed strobe. There is a fader, digital image stabiliser and digital zoom though, which extends the optical zoom by 1.5X, 2X or 2.5X.

 

It has a couple of little luxuries, like a world time clock, snapshot record, and a timecode of sorts, though as far as we’re aware the latter can only be used in conjunction with an optional PC link facility, that has yet to be launched. This will allow images to be downloaded into PCs and Sharp’s Melbus notebook. Unfortunately the DC1 doesn’t have a proprietary digital interface, like ‘FireWire’, and output images are in boring old analogue.

 

All of the familiar ViewCam features have been carried over to the DC1, including the ‘rotary-tilt’ mechanism, that allows the camera section to rotate through 270 degrees, for overhead and belt-level shooting. The lens can also be turned to face the same way as the screen, and there’s a simple ‘message’ recording facility. We understand it can be used with the optional UHF tuner module (VL-HL55), so it can be used as a TV, though unlike it’s Hi8 stablemate, the VL-H460 it has no external record function.

 

It’s reasonably easy to use for straightforward point and shoot recording, but Sharp have put a good deal of reliance on a menu-driven on-screen display system. Each ‘page’ has up to four options, selected by a rocker switch, that highlights each selection. It’s okay once you get used to it, but some facilities are quite deeply embedded in the menus; accessing the manual iris override, for example, can take as many as 8 button presses. The graphics are bold and easy to read, even in bright ambient light, but this is not an enthusiasts camcorder, which seems a bit of a shame in view of it’s recording capabilities. Incidentally, we like the new design ‘L-shaped’ camera/VCR mode switch, it’s a lot more convenient than the usual clunky buttons switches.

 

PERFORMANCE

The DC1 has a 0.25-inch image sensor with 410k pixel array, and this undoubtedly contributes to the compact shape and light weight, but there’s a trade-off, and that’s a rather ordinary low-light sensitivity of 8-lux. The gain-up mode helps, but picture quality is not that wonderful indoors, with a fair amount of grain evident in normal room lighting.

 

The LCD screen is quite excellent, definitely the best we’ve seen. The picture is bright and, dare we say, really sharp. Colours are well defined, and unusually natural-looking. It’s viewable in daylight; a fold-out sun-shield is provided, though it’s rarely needed.

 

Resolution is good, markedly better than Hi8; recordings looks crisp and detailed, but our early sample managed a little over 460-lines, which is some way short of what the format is capable of. Hopefully we’ll be looking at a production machine in the near future, if there’s any significant difference in resolution we’ll let you know. The advantages of DVC show through on still frames, which are rock solid, and fast picture search -- although heavily ‘digitised’ -- is a whole lot clearer than most analogue machines. It seems a pity Sharp haven’t made more of DVC’s trick-play capabilities, with slomo, or even still frame advance.

 

There’s virtually no background hiss on the stereo soundtracks but the microphones, which are mounted on the front of the tape hatch, pick up some handling noises, and occasionally high-pitched motor whine as well, when the AGC is wound up, otherwise it sounds pretty good. There’s not much in the way of stereo separation but forward sensitivity is quite reasonable.

 

THE VERDICT

Maybe we’ve been spoilt by the JVC GR1, but somehow the DC1 didn’t generate the same kind of excitement. It’s a Viewcam, with great picture and sound, and arguably the best LCD screen to date, but there’s not the same kind of buzz we’ve felt with other digital camcorders. It has no really bold or innovative features, that exploit the format’s potential. It’s okay, and if you like the ViewCam concept, you’ll love this one, but if you want to see what DVC can really do, look elsewhere.

 

THE RIVALS

There’s only one other DVC machine in this price bracket and that’s the JVC GR-DV1, and that’s the one we’d go for, unless we had a compelling reason for the LCD screen. Sony are about to launch their JVC look-alike, it might be worth waiting a month or two to see what that’s like.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Sharp VL-DC1 Digital ViewCam

Recording format               DVC

Guide price                                £2000

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.8, 4.2-50.4mm

Zoom                            12X optical, 30X digital

Filter diameter            37mm  

Pick-up device            0.25in CCD

Min illum                       8 lux    

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        n/a                  

Max rec time                        60 mins

IR remote control                        no

Edit terminal                        no

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                                          

Manual focus                 yes      

Auto exposure               yes                              

Programmed AE                          no        

Fader                                        yes                  

Manual white balance yes (lock)   

Auto white balance             yes                                          

Manual zoom                             no        

Power zoom                              yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                  no        

Audio dub                                  no

Character generator                       no                    

Digital superimposer                 no        

Image stabiliser                         yes                                          

Video light                                 no        

Battery refresh               no                                        

Accessory shoe             no        

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

manual iris override, time/date recording, record search, tally lamp, ‘snapshot’ recording, high speed shutter  (5-speeds, up to 1/10000 sec), instant zoom, interval recording built-in speaker, rotary-tilt camera/deck, timecode recording, optional PC connectivity,

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       4-in colour LCD

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

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       yes

Wind noise filter                         no                   

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           single-point stereo

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    headphones & external mic (minijack) DC power, AV,

Dimensions                               174 x 97 x 78mm                      

Weight                          0.8kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries (lithium ion 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                  

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                                 450-lines

Colour fidelity                 good   

Picture stability              good   

Colour bleed                              negligible         

White balance               average               

Exposure                                  average              

Auto focus                                 good   

Audio performance                  very good    

Insert edit                                  manual inserts clean     

Playback thru adaptor              n/a

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money            8

Ease of use                   8

Performance                  8

Features                       7

 

---end---

R Maybury 1996 2409

 

 

 


 

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