VIDEO CAMERA 1997

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HOLDING FOLDING

 

INTRO

Camcorders with fold-out LCD screens are one of the fastest growing sectors of the market. The Sanyo VM-LC100 is one of the latest, and currently cheapest examples. We’ve been putting it to the test.  

 

COPY

We tend to think of the Sharp ViewCam as the first camcorder with a LCD monitor viewing screen but Sanyo actually got there first, with the VM-EX30. It was launched back in early 1993, almost a year before the first Sharp and Sony models reached the UK. Sanyo’s LCD screen was actually a clip-on attachment, rather than a built-in facility, but it established a trend, that shows no sign of letting up.

 

Dedicated LCD camcorders like ViewCam have enjoyed a fair amount of success around the world but here in the UK we seem to favour the hybrid approach, pioneered on the Sony TRV range of machines. They’re more or less conventionally shaped camcorders, with a normal black and white viewfinder on the top, and a fold-out LCD screen on the side. This type of design gives the best of both worlds; they look, handle and operate like regular camcorders, but flip open the screen and you, and a couple of friends or the family, can gather around to watch a replay, on the spot, with sound.

 

The LCD viewfinder also helps with awkward overhead or waist-level shots, and it can be turned to face forward, so the subject can watch themselves, as they’re being recorded. Hybrid models are now beginning figure prominently in sales charts -- they’re expected to account for around 12% of sales this year -- so most camcorder manufacturers either have, or are about to add this style of machine to their model range.

 

That’s where the Sanyo VM-LC100 comes into the picture. The first thing you’ll probably notice is the price, it costs just £600, making it the joint cheapest LCD camcorder with the Sharp VL-E34 ViewCam, and around £100 cheaper than it’s nearest hybrid rival, the £700 Sony TRV10 and 11. The layout is fairly typical of the genre, with the LCD screen -- a 2.5-inch display -- mounted on the right side of the body. It folds out, and rotates through 270 degrees, with the image automatically inverting as the screen turns though the horizontal plane.

 

The only unusual aspect of the design is where they’ve put the battery. It lives in a compartment behind the screen. The problem with that is there’s hardly any room for a larger capacity battery, which is a nuisance as the LCD screen consumes a fair amount of power, and running times using the LCD panels as the main viewfinder are not that wonderful. Our sample managed a fairly miserable 18 minutes, with normal stop-start recording. Putting the battery inside the machine, rather than mounting it on the back, has also made the machine rather fat, though Sanyo have tried hard to play down it’s girth with shiny cosmetics, curves and lots of lumpy bits.

 

Sanyo have long championed the point-and-shoot concept of movie-making, and the LC100 is extremely simple to use. However, that’s because it has so few facilities, not that we’re against a back to basics approach, but we do wonder if they’ve gone a wee bit too far. This is one of the few camcorders we can remember in the past ten years not to have a fader, so you can forget anything as sophisticated as programmed auto exposure. There’s no external microphone socket either and we’re always a little wary about machines with no manual focus facilities, though to be fair this one does have a focus ‘lock’ button, that will disable the AF system.

 

Creative facilities are virtually non-existent, apart from the 16x optical zoom, which  is an unexpected treat. The only operational problem is getting the battery in and out of the machine. There’s a knack to it, that you quickly develop, though you can’t help wondering whether whoever designed it had three hands and pencil-thin fingers...  The LCD viewfinder switches on as soon as it’s opened out, there’s a couple of small thumbwheels on the top for adjusting brightness and playback volume, a tiny speaker is built into the top of the battery compartment.

 

The rest of the controls -- such as they are -- are dotted around the machine. The playback, display, eject and blank-search buttons are hidden beneath the pivoting black and white viewfinder. On the back there’s two buttons for calling up the time/date display and engaging the focus lock; on the top there’s the play/record mode button. Socketry is limited to a pair of phonos for the video and mono audio outputs. The main power switch and the stop/start button are a bit too close together; once or twice we managed to shut the machine down, when we meant to start or stop recording.

 

PERFORMANCE

Without a manual focus control resolution measurements have to be taken as approximate, though our sample managed a creditable 240-lines. Overall colour balance is fine, though reds and blues are rather heavy-handed, and there’s some slight bleeding on heavily saturated reds. Noise levels are low however, and the picture is generally quite clean, when viewed on a TV or monitor. Contrast on the LCD screen is quite poor, the brightness adjustment does little to help and it’s not very easy to see what’s going on in very bright light.

 

The AF system is a little sluggish, though that means there’s little tendency to overshoot. As AF systems go this one is reasonably responsive, however, there are times when it becomes unreliable, and it can become a little erratic in low light.

 

Sound quality from the forward facing microphone is adequate, which is just as well, as there’s nothing much you can do about it, in the absence of an external microphone socket.  

 

Build quality is fairly ordinary. The LCD viewfinder panel feels a bit flimsy and it doesn’t sit very snugly in the stowage position. The shut lines between the various panels are quite pronounced and some of the mouldings flex or creak when pressed. There’s nothing actually wrong with the construction, though you’re left  feeling that it might not survive a fall or tumble as well as some of its rivals.

 

THE VERDICT

Sanyo clearly don’t want to be left out of this growing sector of the market, and one that they helped to create. They have taken what used to be a luxury, up-market feature and transferred it to a budget-priced machine. It’s more than a case of go-faster stripes though, a lot of people find an LCD screens genuinely useful, though in order to achieve such a low price the machine is very basic indeed, and probably not the sort of thing you should be looking at, if you’ve any creative inclinations. On the other hand, if you’re in the market for an affordable family camcorder, that’s fun and easy to use, the LC100 could be a good place to start looking.

 

THE RIVALS

The only other camcorder with a LCD screen in this price bracket is the Sharp VL-E34 ViewCam,  though this is a quite different kettle of fish and it doesn’t have a normal black and white viewfinder. The cheapest hybrid model is the newly launched Sony TRV10 and the TRV11 that it replaces, both of which retail for £700; this also has a 2.5-inch screen, plus a few creative facilities. For another £50 there’s the NV-VX1 from Panasonic, and Sony’s new TRV24, which also costs £750.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Sanyo VM-LC100

Recording format               8mm

Guide price                                £600

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.4, 4.0 - 64mm

Zoom                            16x optical

Filter diameter            46mm  

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum                       3lux     

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        yes (LP playback only)

Max rec time                        120 mins

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        no

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                                          

Manual focus                 no        

Auto exposure               yes                              

Programmed AE                          no        

Fader                                        no                    

Manual white balance no        

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               yes                                      

Accessory shoe             no        

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, beep indicator, focus lock, blank search

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.6in monochrome, 2.5-inch colour LCD

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, tape end, time/date, zoom position

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       no        

Wind noise filter                         no                   

Mic socket                                no                    

Headphone socket              no        

Mic                                           unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    AV out (phono)

Dimensions                               225 x 106 x 108mm                      

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                                 240-lines

Colour fidelity                           average

Picture stability                         average

Colour bleed                              slight, red

White balance                            average

Exposure                                   average

Auto focus                                  average

Audio performance                   average

Insert edit                                  manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor              n/a

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money         8

Ease of use                  9

Performance               7

Features                      7

 

---end---

R Maybury 1997 2904

 

 

 


 

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