VIDEO CAMERA 1997

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SIDE ISSUES

 

INTRO

Colour LCD viewing screens for instant on-the spot playback are this yearís hot feature. Panasonic are making quite sure they donít miss out on this growing market

with two new affordable VHS-C machines

 

COPY

Fold-out LCD screens have become an increasingly familiar sight on mid-range and top-end camcorders over the past couple of years but now itís clear the feature has all but lost any allusion to luxury status. Panasonic are the latest manufacturer to fit them to mainstream family models. The machines in question are the NV-VX9B, and NV-VX30B, theyíre mono VHS-C SlimVision models, selling now for £650 and £750 respectively. Weíve been trying out the cheaper of the two, however, apart from a few extras, like an image stabiliser, power save features and some extra digital effects, the basic specifications are almost identical.

 

Slim it might be but donít be deceived, the VX9 is quite a handful, weighing in at almost 1kg all-up. Itís not what youíd call a pretty machine either, the styling cues are a bit mixed in places, and the huge expanse of largely featureless plastic on the right side of the body makes the whole thing look even larger than it is from some angles. Nevertheless, the design is reasonably functional and the few controls are mostly easy to get at. The large manual focus knob with an AF enable button in the middle, pokes out of the front.

 

In keeping with its role as a fuss-free family machinel, creative options are limited. For some strange reason the backlight button is located on the top, close to the zoom control;  the rest of the exposure controls, which include fader, white balance lock, and program auto-exposure buttons, are clustered together on the right side of the body.

 

There are three AE modes:

* Sportsí engages automatic high speed shuttering, from 1/50th to 1/500th sec, depending on lighting levels.

* Portrait increases the aperture, to reduce the depth of field, so the subject is set against a soft-focus background.

* Low-light mode increases the gain of the video circuitry, to improve contrast and brightness in poorly lit scenes.

 

Up front the 17X optical zoom lens has a good field of view at the wide-angle end of its range; zoom speed is variable, controlled by pressure on the sideways lever. The black and white viewfinder module is hinged and tilts up through 75 degrees. Immediately in front of it thereís a hinged cover, protecting the playback and display controls.

 

 The colour LCD is one of those non-smudgy types, it is mounted on a hinged pivot, that allows the screen to rotate through 270 degrees. When the screen faces forward, towards the subject, the image is inverted. This is quite normal, but usually the switchover occurs as soon as the screen turns through the horizontal; on the VX9 it happens just as the screen clicks into the vertical position, which makes it a little difficult to use if the machine is mounted on a tripod, or tabletop, below head height. By the way, thereís a small fold-out foot built into the bottom of the machine, to tilt the screen  upwards, for table-top viewing. A simple title generator superimposes one of ten messages (happy birthday, congratulations, the usual stuff...) on the recording. Trivia fans might like to note that this is one of the very few machines on the market with multi-lingual on-screen displays that includes Russain language, and that Happy Birthday is C AHEM POXAEHNR...

 

(n.b. X and last N and R are cyrillic characters and should be reversed)

 

The tape compartment is behind the LCD module; itís a tad inconvenient because it means you have to open out the screen to load or change tapes. The speaker is mounted on the opposite side to the screen, on the handgrip. We thought it might be a problem but itís quite loud and the soundtrack can be heard in all but the noisiest conditions; a headphone socket wouldnít have gone amiss though.

 

Talking of sockets, Panasonic have been uncharacteristically mean in this department, thereís no external mike socket, but weíre particualrly dissapointed by the lack of an edit terminal. True, this machine is meant to be a non-teccy, easy to use, point and shoot model, but we reckon a lot of people buying their first camcorder get bitten by the bug, only to discover that without an edit terminal they canít progress much beyond the basics.

 

The battery pack attaches to the back of the machine, itís one of Panasonicís  compact 4.8 volt, memory-free nicad packs -- no fangled lithium-ion technology here -- which powers the machine for around 40 minutes of normal stop-start recording. The LCD viewfinder increases prower consumption significantly, reducing recording time to just under 30 minutes on our sample.

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution checks, using a TDK high-grade tape, showed the machine to be operating close to the edge of the VHS performance envelope. Our sample managed just under 250 lines, which is pretty respectable for a low-cost, low-band camcorder, of any format. Noise levels are often a little lower on VHS-C, and this proved to be the case on the VX9, though further tests, using another make of standard grade tape showed a slight increase in picture noise. This is not unusual on VHS/C equipment which can be more sensitive to tape performance than 8mm, so it pays to experiment with different brands. Colour fidelity in the auto white balance mode was good and again there was very little noise, even on heavily saturated colours.

 

The LCD screen is fine for monitoring purposes, but the image is quite coarse, the viewing angle is rather shallow, and the picture washes out in sunlight. On the plus side the non-smear screen coating is truly wonderful. Normally LCD screens seem to attract sticky finger marks like magnets and end up looking horrible in no time flat. More good news -- a little more substantial this time -- the deck mechanism is very stable, it can withstand a really vigorous shaking, before thereís any disturbance on the screen.

 

We canít summon up too much enthusiasm for hissy VHS mono linear edge tracks, but to be fair this one is no worse than most others. One of the few advantages of this kind of soundtrack is that itís dubbable, however, since this machine doesnít have any audio dub facilities, or even an external microphone socket, youíre pretty much stuck with what comes through the on-board microphone, until you get to the post production stage. It does a fair job, forward sensitivity is reasonable and itís quite well insulated against handling noises. The only point to watch out for is manual focusing. The knob is quite close to the mike grille, so you have to watch out for stray fingers. About the best thing you can say about it, is that it copes adequately well with speech and incidental sounds.

 

VERDICT

The VX9 is good value for an LCD camcorder, and picture performance is a little above average. Itís a fun Ďn family sort of machine, and why not? If thatís what you want, youíre on a tight budget, and you are fairly confident that you wonít develop any more ambitious movie-making urges, then put it on your shortlist.

 

THE RIVALS

Assuming youíre sold on the idea of the LCD screen,  then the Sanyo VM-LC100 at just under £600is currently the cheapest model on the market to have this facility. You should also be able to find entry-level Sharp Viewcams, like the EL34 for sort of money, though remember they donít have a regular viewfinder. Sonyís cheapest LCD cam is the CCD-TRV10 for £700, it has an edit terminal and is probabnly the one weíd look at first, proviuding the extra £50 wasnít a problem.. 

 

 

 

 

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Panasonic NV-VX9

Recording format               VHS-C

Guide price                                £650

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.4, 3.9-54.9mm

Zoom                            x17

Filter diameter            43mm  

Pick-up device            0.25in CCD

Min illum                       0.5 lux            (gain-up mode)

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        120mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        no

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                                          

Manual focus                 yes      

Auto exposure               yes                              

Programmed AE                          yes      

Fader                                        yes      

Manual white balance yes

Auto white balance             yes                                          

Manual zoom                             no        

Power zoom                              yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                  no        

Audio dub                                  no

Character generator                       no                    

Digital superimposer                 no        

Image stabiliser                         no                                           

Video light                                 no        

Battery refresh               no                                         

Accessory shoe             no        

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, record review, built-in speaker, backlight compensation, extendible foot

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       3-inch colour Lcd, 0.5in monochrome

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

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       no        

Wind noise filter                         no                   

Mic socket                                no                    

Headphone socket              no        

Mic                                           unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    audiuo and video output (phono)

Dimensions                               74 x 143 x 260 mm                      

Weight                          0.9kg (inc tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries (nicad and lithium), straps, AC charger/power supply, screen cleaning cloth

AV lead             yes      

video light                      no                    

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor no                    

RF Converter             no        

SCART adaptor              no                    

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                                 240-lines

Colour fidelity                           good

Picture stability                         good

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            good

Exposure                                   average

Auto focus                                  average

Audio performance                   average

Insert edit                                  n/a

Playback thru adaptor              good

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money         8

Ease of use                  9

Performance               8

Features                      8

 

---end---

R Maybury 1997 2705

 

 

 


 

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