VIDEO CAMERA 1997

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A HITCH IN TIME

 

STANDFIRST

The VM-E535 is the first new 8mm camcorder from Hitachi in quite a while, so it should be a bit special, or is it?

 

COPY

Remember ĎTwist & Shootí,  Weather Cam, IR Link?  Despite a switch from VHS-C to 8mm, some nifty machines and pretty radical innovations back in the late eighties and early nineties, Hitachi never quite managed to make much of an impression on  the UK camcorder market. They havenít launched any new models here for more than a year, weíd assumed they were concentrating all their efforts on the MPEG camera (see August Video Camera). But no, behind the scenes Hitachiís R&D people were beavering away on a range of new machines, designed to put them back in contention. Whether or not they manage to regain any sort of market share remains to be seen, we can only hope theyíre not relying too heavily on the VM-E535...

 

Itís a clear attempt to grab a slice of the LCD camcorder action; the machine has a 2.5-inch fold-out colour LCD screen on the side, and a normal monochrome viewfinder on the top, but things get a little weird from here on in. It has a £700 price ticket, which is fair enough, until you take a look down the feature list. It is very short! Add to that the fact that it has only mono sound, single speed recording and it is quite big and heavy (all up weight is a little over 1.0kg), itís not exactly off to a good start.

 

To be fair there are several good points; take the lithium-ion battery for example. A full charge gives an hourís worth of normal stop-start recording time, and thatís with the LCD viewfinder switched on! You can do some amazing trick shots with the Ďmirrorí digital effect and the lens has a built-in cover. Thereís not much else to get excited about though. The remaining digital effects include a routine cinema mode -- black bars superimposed on the top and bottom of the picture -- blocky mosaic, pos/neg and digital zoom. The only other creative options are a 4-mode fader, with snazzy wipe, zoom and monochrome effects. The E535 has a fully automatic exposure system, with a rather pointless shutter speed display. A simple 2-line title can be added, and an optional wired remote control unit has a simple 4-scene edit controller.

 

Some aspects of the ergonomics are troubling. The tape compartment is situated behind the viewfinder panel, which limits accessibility. The tiny manual focus buttons are difficult to master, moreover the servo action is quite fast and it is easy to overshoot. The focus buttons are also rather close to the other function buttons on the left side of the machine. The replay buttons are on the right side of the body, beneath the monochrome viewfinder. This is most inconvenient forcing you to either memorise the key layout or keep taking your eyes of the screen, to find the right button.  

 

The monitor screen swings out and rotates, to face the subject; a small speaker is mounted just behind the microphone, so you can monitor playback. Brightness and volume control thumbwheels are mounted on the side of the LCD screen module.

 

Sockets are few and far between. Thereís a pair of phonos on the back, for video and mono audio output, and a square multi-pin connector on the side, for the optional wired remote control and RF converter, and thatís it! Not an external microphone or headphone jack to be seen.

 

PERFORMANCE

In spite of all that picture quality is satisfactory, though resolution at just over 230-lines is fairly average. Low noise levels and natural looking colours help, though, and whilst the quoted minimum sensitivity figure of 0.8 lux appears a tad optimistic, it does produce a good clear picture under typical indoor room lighting conditions. The image on the LCD screen is reasonably bright, though it does get washed out in direct sunlight. The actual picture is fairly coarse, and the screen doesnít have an anti-smear coatings and can be difficult to keep clean.

 

The mono soundtrack is reasonably crisp, but it sounds flat and a bit lifeless. The microphone also suffers quite badly from wind noise and even a gentle breeze produces a roar. Sensitivity and directionality are both quite good, though.

 

VERDICT

The VM-E525 is not one of Hitachiís most memorable camcorders. To be brutally honest itís a dull machine, with few redeeming features that is going to have its work cut out trying to make an impression in a market filled with well-specified LCD cams, family models and high-band machines at or around the same price.

 

THE RIVALS

The £650 to £750 price band is the busiest segment of the camcorder market and the VM-E525 is up against some impressive competition. If an LCD screen is top of your shopping list then you donít have to spend anything like that much, the Sharp VL-E66 and Sanyo VM-LC100 can both be found for less than £600. The Panasonic NV-VX9 at £650 is the Hitachi machineís closest rival in terms of basic specification, though it has a larger screen, better exposure and editing facilities. The Sanyo VM-LC200 costs £700, and like the E525 is an 8mm machine, but it also has a image stabiliser and LP recording speed. The JVC GR-AXM20 is the same price, with plenty of creative facilities. However the best £700 deal has to be the Canon UC-X10Hi, it hasnít got a fold-out LCD screen, but the high band recording system, stereo sound and outstanding exposure and editing facilities leaves everything else standing.   

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Hitachi VM-E535

Recording format               8mm

Guide price                                £700

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.4, 4-64mm

Zoom                            16X optical, 32X digital

Filter diameter            46mm

Pick-up device            0.25in CCD

Min illum                       0.8 lux 

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        no                   

Max rec time                        120mins (SP mode only)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                         yes (see text)

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                                          

Manual focus                 yes      

Auto exposure               yes                              

Programmed AE                          no        

Fader                                        yes (3-mode)              

Manual white balance no        

Auto white balance             yes                              

Manual zoom                             no        

Power zoom                              yes                                                                  

Insert edit                                  yes      

Audio dub                                  no

Character generator                       yes                  

Digital superimposer                 no        

Image stabiliser                         no                                           

Video light                                 no        

Battery refresh               no                                        

Accessory shoe             no        

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, record review, tally lamp, built-in lens cover, digital effects (16:9, neg/pos, mirror, digital zoom, mosaic)

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       2.5-inch colour LCD, 0.6in monochrome

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

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       no        

Wind noise filter                         no                   

Mic socket                                no                    

Headphone socket              no        

Mic                                           unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    AV out (phono & multi-pin)

Dimensions                               104 x 115 x 239mm                       

Weight                          1.1kg (inc tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries (lithium-ion, lithium and 2 x AA), 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                                 230-lines

Colour fidelity                           good

Picture stability                         average

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            good

Exposure                                   average

Auto focus                                  average

Audio performance                   fair

Insert edit                                  clean

Playback thru adaptor              n/a

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money          5

Ease of use                   7

Performance                7

Features                       7

 

---end---

R Maybury 1997 1909

 

 

 


 

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