VIDEO CAMERA 1997

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THE ROARING FORTIES

 

STANDFIRST

Digital camcorders may be getting all the attention at the moment but Canon convincingly demonstrate that  Hi8 is still the format of choice for affordable home video movie-making

 

COPY

What have the Canon UC-X40Hi and UC-X45Hi got in common with a Morris Marina or Land Rover Discovery? On the face of it, not a lot, but there appears to be a fundamental similarity in their design philosophies. The two cars were cobbled together using bits and pieces of other vehicles. In the motor trade they’re known as parts-bin specials. It’s a useful way for manufacturers to develop new models quickly, and reduce development costs. It seems to work equally well with camcorders...

 

The UC-X40Hi and UC-X45Hi are clearly based on components culled from previous models. The UC9Hi budget Hi8 machine and UC-X30Hi top-ender appear to have been the main donors.  Far from being some sort of Frankenstein’s monster, both machines hang together really well, and Canon have pitched the prices mid way, so everyone should be happy.

 

The only significant differences between the two machines are that the UC-X45Hi  has a colour LCD viewfinder, and it costs £100 more. (The UC-X40Hi costs £800, the UC-X45Hi retails for £900). For the sake of brevity we’ll concentrate on the X45Hi, but you can take it as read that all of our comments -- apart from those concerning the viewfinder and value for money assessments -- apply to both machines 

 

We’ll begin with the basic specification. Heading the feature list is the Hi8 recording system, hi-fi stereo sound and powerful 20x optical zoom. It has a no-loss optical image stabiliser plus Canon’s Flexizone AF and exposure control system -- more about that in a moment. Additional creative facilities include manual iris override and multi-speed shutter, four-mode program AE (Sports, Portrait, Spotlight and Sand & Snow) plus a good assortment of digital effects and wipes. The actual line up is as follows:

* Close-up -- 2X digital enlargement of the central portion of the image

* Art -- otherwise known as solarisation; exaggerated colour contrast, for a cartoon-like effect

* 16:9 - anamorphic vertical stretch, for full-width playback on a widescreen TV

* Mosaic -- blocky effect (No we don’t know what it’s good for either...)

* Black and White -- monochrome recording mode

* Sepia -- make your own ‘Victorian’ videos

* Neg/Pos -- colour and brightness reversal, handy for recording colour negatives

 

There are four fade options: normal fade to and from black, horizontal and vertical wipe to black, and a 4-way black curtain. There’s a simple 2-line title generator, focus and exposure locks, to temporarily disable the auto systems, and the optical zoom can be digitally extended to 44X.

 

Editing is very well catered for. In addition to a Control L/LANC edit terminal it has RC timecode recording, that can be used by an external controller for near frame-accurate cuts. However, there’s no need to go to that kind of trouble or expense if you just want to make a few simple cuts as the X45Hi has a built-in 8 scene controller. This is an ingenious design, that does away with the need for any external wiring, other than the AV connections to the recording VCR. The machine has it’s own on-board VCR remote controller, that sends out infra-red commands to operate the record-pause mode on the video recorder. It has a command library covering some 34 different brands, with only a couple of cheapo and own-make names missing from the list. The controller use the timecode on the recording to specify edit in and out points, and there’s pre and post-roll timing adjustment, so it has the potential to be very accurate indeed.

 

Flexizone is a familiar Canon feature that can help out in difficult shooting conditions, or to create eye-catching effects. On the back of the machine there’s a small thumb-operated joystick that moves a white frame around the screen, three speed settings are available. The idea is that the focus or exposure system locks on to whatever is inside the frame. So, for example, if the subject is to one side of the screen you can shift focus from the background, to the subject, to draw attention to it. It works well with moving subjects too, that can confuse the AF system. Simply track the subject with the Flexizone frame. If the scene is unevenly lit, or there’s a bright patch that would otherwise fool the auto-exposure, the Flexizone can be used to set the correct level by locking onto the area of interest. It takes a little practice to get used to it, but after a while it becomes second nature and can be a real asset in tricky situations.

 

Control layout and handling are virtually identical to the UC-X30Hi. The large function knob on the top was a bit stiff on our sample, and it wasn’t easy to feel the indents for the various functions; hopefully it will ease up with use. The manual exposure and focus controls thumbwheels are on the side, they have a click action, to enable or disable the auto functions. They’re quite deeply recessed and a little tight, which could make them difficult to use whilst wearing gloves. Canon have used the same two-tone brushed ally and slate grey cosmetics as the old UX2Hi (on which the UX30Hi was based), it looks very smart indeed; the quality of construction and finish is very good indeed. 

 

Normally we’re not that keen on colour LCD viewfinders but the one on the X45Hi is one of the better examples we’ve seen lately. It’s bright, with plenty of detail, there is some slight image lag, and the narrow contrast range -- compared with CRT-based mono viewfinders -- makes manual exposure adjustments a little harder. It also looks weird, almost as if it has been put on upside down, but we’ll let that pass.

 

A lithium-ion battery clipped to the left side of the machine provides the power. Charge time from flat is around two hours for the standard pack. We found it gave around 50 to 60 minutes recording time under normal conditions, with the stabiliser switched on.

 

PERFORMANCE

The auto systems work very well,  AF is fast and accurate on straightforward scenes. In good daylight colours are natural-looking, with very little noise. Artificial light caused few problems, though reds look a bit insipid in tube light, though switching to manual WB and using a white card reference normally takes care of that. Resolution topped 380 lines, there’s a just trace of crawl around sharply defined edges but in general the picture is clean with plenty of fine detail.

 

As usual the image stabiliser does a bang-up job. It’s not as good as some of the better electronic systems at eliminating fast movement, but it will smooth out the worst bumps when shooting whilst walking, or from a moving vehicle.

 

Forward microphone sensitivity and directionality is good, bass response tails off a little early and there’s some background hiss when the AGC winds up. This also accentuates motor noise, which can become a little intrusive at times.  

 

VERDICT

The X40 and X45Hi might be mongrels but there’s certainly nothing wrong with their pedigree. The performance, range of facilities and ease of use means they’re equally well suited to beginners and enthusiasts and anyone with an interest in editing video footage. Of the two, the UC-X40 gets our vote. We’re still not wholly convinced about the need for a colour viewfinder, unless you’re heavily into recording sports events or wild-life videography, where the ability to differentiate colours can be important.  £100 seems like rather a lot to pay for a feature that adds nothing to picture quality, and makes it marginally more difficult to use under some conditions.

 

THE RIVALS

The £800 to £900 price band is looking a bit sparse these days, now that most of the action is centred on budget high-band machines and digi-cams. There’s a sprinkling of LCD cams at around the same price but they’re not so well equipped and mostly aimed at family audiences. The only serious competition comes from the Sony TR1100, JVC GR-SZ3000 and GR-SZ500, only the SZ5000 comes close to matching the facilities of two Canon machines, though they’re both streets ahead when it comes to editing.  

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Canon UC-X40Hi and UC-X45Hi

Recording format               Hi8/8mm

Guide price                                £800/£900

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.6, 3.9-85.8mm

Zoom                            22X optical, 44X digital

Filter diameter            48mm  

Pick-up device            0.25in CCD

Min illum                       3 lux    

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        no                   

Max rec time                        120mins (SP mode only)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes (Control L/LANC)

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                                          

Manual focus                 yes      

Auto exposure               yes                              

Programmed AE                          yes (4-mode and Flexizone)        

Fader                                        yes                  

Manual white balance yes      

Auto white balance             yes                                          

Manual zoom                             no        

Power zoom                              yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                  yes      

Audio dub                                  no

Character generator                       yes                  

Digital superimposer                 no        

Image stabiliser                         yes                                          

Video light                                 no        

Battery refresh               n/a                                       

Accessory shoe             no        

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, self-timer,  high-speed shutter (8-speeds up to 1/10,000th sec), record review, tally lamp, Flexizone AF and exposure systems, digital effects (close-up, solarization, 16:9 anamorphic, mosaic, monochrome, neg/pos, sepia), digital fade/wipe (horizontal, vertical 4-way wipe, fade to black), RC timecode and datacode recording, built-in 8-scene edit controller and multi-brand VCR remote control, 

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.6in monochrome (UC-X40Hi), 0.7-inch colour LCD (UC-X45Hi)

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

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       yes

Wind noise filter                         yes                  

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           single point stereo

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    composite video and stereo line audio out (phono), S-

Video out (mini DIN), LANC, headphone & microphone (minijack)

Dimensions                               105x 112 x 206mm (X40Hi), 106 x 109 x 184 mm (X45Hi)                    

Weight                          885g (X40Hi), 895d (X45Hi),  inc tape and battery

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries (li-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                                 380-lines (S-Video)

Colour fidelity                           very good

Picture stability                         good

Colour bleed                              negligible

White balance                            good

Exposure                                   very good

Auto focus                                  good

Audio performance                   good

Insert edit                                  clean

Playback thru adaptor              n/a

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money         ********

Ease of use                  ********

Performance               ********

Features                      *********

 

---end---

R Maybury 1997 1209

 

 

 


 

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