VIDEO CAMERA 1997

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INTRO

Theyíre doomed, doomed I tell you... The new Canon UC-X10 Hi looks like being yet another nail in the VHS-C and 8mm coffin

 

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You would be lucky to find any at all in Japan,  theyíve become an endangered species in several other countries, and itís starting to happen here. All the signs suggest that the end is nigh for low-band 8mm and VHS-C camcorders, and the recently arrived Canon UC-X10Hi can only help hasten their demise.

 

At just under £700 the UC-X10Hi is now one of the cheapest Hi8 machines available, but how have Canon managed to do it? The simple answer is that this is not entirely a new machine. It is clearly based on its predecessor, the £800 UC9Hi, which this time last year we were hailing as one of the cheapest high band machines on the market...  

 

Most of the key features remain unchanged, in fact the only significant difference is the absence of any digital effects. We doubt theyíll be missed, thereís plenty of other creative facilities, to keep keen family users and enthusiasts busy.

 

Heading up the list is an unusually flexible lens. It has a powerful 22x zoom and no-loss optical image stabiliser. In additional to normal auto-focus, thereís a focus lock, and Flexizone focus, which latches onto whatever is targeted by a small moveable box, that appears in the viewfinder display. The box is moved around the screen by a small joystick, mounted on the back of the machine. It makes it easier to focus on a moving subject, or where the scene contains a lot of subjects at varying distance from the lens. You can also try your hand at Ďfocus-shiftí, itís a handy way of directing an audienceís attention from one subject or object to another, by bringing them into focus. 

 

Flexizone also has an important role to play in the UC-X10Hiís various exposure options. The area under the moveable target box can be used to set the exposure for the whole scene. This comes in handy in difficult lighting conditions, or when the subject is close to the edge of the picture. The Flexizone joystick is also used to adjust focus manually, make menu selections and compose simple titles, of up to 2 lines of 16 characters. The orientation of the control action can be changed, to suit individual preferences, and right or left-handed users.

 

Back to the exposure system. In addition to full auto and Flexizone control there are four program AE modes, selectable on the main control knob, mounted just above the lens. They are:

 

* Sports: high shutter speeds are automatically selected, to reduce movement blur on playback

 

* Portrait: emphasises the subject by reducing the depth of field, so that the background is defocused

 

* Spotlight: over-exposure compensation for a brightly lit subject against a largely dark background

 

* Sand and Snow: under exposure compensation, when the subject is set against a bright background

 

In addition thereís a backlight compensation mode and a simple fader, both of which can be assigned to one of two programmable control buttons or Ďcustom keysí. Other custom key options are switches for manual focus, high-speed shutter, tally lamp, image stabiliser, title, date, tape return, counter reset, record search and start/stop, though most of these functions are already covered by other buttons on the machine.

 

All useful stuff, but for our money one of the camcorderís most important features is the built-in, 8-scene edit controller. It really is fully self-contained, there are no external modules, simply connect the audio and video outputs from the UC-X10Hi to the AV input on a VCR. Inside the camcorder thereís a multi-brand infra-red controller, that activates the record-pause mode on 34 different makes of VCR.  It couldnít be easier, just switch the HX10Hi to edit mode and select playback. Cut-in and cut-out points are designated by pressing the Flexizone button, or from the remote control handset. Each numbered scene, along with cut points, counter display and total time are shown on a simple on-screen edit decision list.

 

When the list is complete, scenes can be deleted or the sequence re-ordered. Changes to individual timings can be made by re-making the cut-point. Pre-and post-roll times can be adjusted by up to +/- 5 seconds, to suit the characteristics of the recording VCR. To make the final cut, place the camcorder so that the IR emitter on the back is facing the VCR, load up a blank take, put the VCR into record pause mode, select the Ďedití option from the display and away it goes.

 

The on-board controller is more than capable of licking a typical hour-long holiday video into shape, but just in case you want to try something a little more ambitious the UC-X10Hi also has a Control L/LANC editing terminal, so that it can be used with a more sophisticated external controller. 

 

HANDLING AND LAYOUT

Itís quite a handful though a lot of that is down to the chunky lens barrel and the optical image stabiliser, which we definitely consider worth having. The viewfinder is a descendent of Canonís once famous ĎSportsfinderí, that allow you to see the whole of the viewfinder screen from a distance, without removing the eyepiece. They donít seem to make so much of it nowadays, probably because it was ruthlessly copied. However, a lot of manufacturers have since gone back to more conventional (cheaper...) designs, so once again it rates a special mention.

 

Thereís other reminders of the past too. The main playback controls double up on various other functions, which helps keep down the number of buttons.  Canonís NP-style 6-volt battery pack has also been around for yonks, though we canít say itís an especially well-liked feature; they can be more expensive, and harder to obtain, compared with other similarly specified batteries. Canon are eternally optimistic when it comes to running times. They suggest it can record continuously for up to an hour; maybe so on a brand new pack, in the first week of use, with all power-sapping functions disabled, but in the real world of stop/start recording, on a regularly-used battery, 20 to 30 minutes is about the best you can expect. Mind you, the pack should stay healthy longer as the charger has a refresh mode, to eradicate the build-up of any memory effects.

 

Control layout is generally good, though the proximity of the stop/start button with the Flexizone joystick caused a few problems. Several of our review guinea pigís reported that their thumbs kept straying to the wrong button. The main on/function knob hasnít improved either, itís still fiddly to use, and on our sample the click-stop positions were not very well defined.

 

PERFORMANCE

Another, even more unwelcome throwback to the UC9Hi is the rather sensitive deck mechanism. Even a slight knock during recording or playback results in picture instability, and care has to be take to avoid fast panning or pitching movements as this too affects tape speed, causing picture tearing, plus wow and flutter on the soundtrack.

 

Our test machine was an early production sample, so weíre inclined not to read too much into the performance checks. Resolution was a shade down on the UC9Hi at just over 370 lines, thatís nothing to be concerned about, but colour smearing was a little more pronounced than we like to see. It mostly showed up on highly saturated colours, particularly reds, making the picture look slightly messy. Picture noise levels were below average though, and there was only a small difference between MP and dearer ME tapes. Auto white balance made all the right decisions in good natural and tungsten light, tube lighting produced a slight colour caste.

 

The optical image stabiliser is not as responsive as some electronic types, it can iron out slow, steady movement, such as shooting whilst walking, but it has trouble keeping up with rapid motion, like recording in car on a bumpy road. On the plus side thereís no change in picture quality or size, when the stabiliser is operating.

 

An eight scene edit controller might not sound very impressive --  most accessory controllers can store upwards of 99 scenes -- but the one fitted to the UC-X10Hi is more than adequate for most routine jobs. Moreover, because itís built into the machine, and easy to drive, we suspect itís more likely to be used. A fancy all-singing, all-dancing edit system is a fat lot of good if you canít be bothered to spend time and effort setting it up...

 

Sound performance is fine. Background noise levels on the stereo soundtracks are a little below average, the frequency response is reasonably flat and the microphones have good forward sensitivity. Theyíre fairly well insulated against handling noises and motor whine, which are heard only rarely, when the automatic gain control is fully wound up in the absence of ambient noise.

 

THE VERDICT

Itís a shame Canon couldnít come up with something just a little more radical than a cut-down version of the UC9Hi, nevertheless the UC-X10Hi is still an important addition to the high-band market. It sets new benchmarks for price and features, and if past experience is anything to go by, it wonít be long before the others have it in their sights. Itís a generally well thought out design, that will suit those seeking a high performance machine, thatís easy to use, but has the flexibility to take them on to bigger and better things, if they get bitten by the bug.

 

THE RIVALS

Until recently the £700 price band was mostly occupied by top-end VHS-C and 8mm camcorders and a handful of the previous seasonís high-band machines. Thatís all changed. Samsung were the first to break ranks with two Sub-£700 models last year, and they recently announced two more Hi8 machines for 97/98, the VP-A50 and A55, which are selling for £600 and £650 respectively. Neither are as well specified as the UC-X10Hi, but they could still be worth thinking about if youíre after Hi8 performance on a tight budget. At the moment though, the only serious competition comes from the Sony TR760 which is now selling for £700, true, itís last years model, but then the X10Hi isnít exactly a new design either. Make sure you see them both before deciding.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Canon UC-X10 Hi

Recording format               Hi8/8mm

Guide price                                £700

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.6, 3.9-85.8mm

Zoom                            X22 optical

Filter diameter            46mm  

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-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        

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

Flexizone exposure control, time/date recording,  high-speed shutter (8-speed up to 1/10,000th sec), record review, tally lamp, custom key function, program auto-exposure (sports, portrait, spotlight, sand & snow), 8-scene edit controller,

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.5in monochrome

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

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       yes

Wind noise filter                         no                   

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           single point stereo electret

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    AV out (phono) S-Video out (mini DIN), microphone,

headphone & LANC (minijack)

Dimensions                               105 x 112 x 206 mm                      

Weight                          0.9kg (inc tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

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                  

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                                 370-lines

Colour fidelity                           average

Picture stability                         average

Colour bleed                              slight, saturated reds

White balance                            average

Exposure                                   good

Auto focus                                  average

Audio performance                   good

Insert edit                                  manual insert clean

Playback thru adaptor              n/a

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money          9

Ease of use                   7

Performance                8

Features                       9

 

---end---

R Maybury 1997 0906

 

 

 


 

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