VIDEO CAMERA 1997

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STANDFIRST

Digital camcorders are getting cheaper all the time. This time itís Sony who are forcing the pace with the DCR-SC100, a new family-spec machine, costing just under £1500

 

COPY

No, youíre not seeing things. Sony appear to have taken their CCD-SC55 camcorder, whipped out the Hi-8 mechanism, replaced it with a mini DV deck and called it the DCR-SC100. Okay, so theyíve rounded a few edges here, and sharpened up some others there, but thereís an unmistakable family resemblance between the two machines, right down to the layout and position of the lens, microphone, speaker, main controls and 3-inch LCD screen on the back.

 

Itís what Sony call a family camcorder, designed to be easy to use, fun even, with provision for on-the-spot playback for two or three people. However, with a price tag of £1500, only well-heeled families need apply. Whether DVC is ready for this sort of environment, remains to be seen. The formatís particular talents - near broadcast picture quality and advanced audio recording systems -- are not really given full reign in this kind of situation, though Sony have worked hard to give the machine the sort of persona, that may appeal to enthusiasts, as well as family snapshooters.

 

The lens is carried over from the SC65, it has a 10x optical zoom, that can be digitally boosted to 40X.  Behind it sits an 0.25-inch CCD with a minimum low-light sensitivity of 2-lux. A tiny speaker and the main I/O sockets are on the left side, behind a rubber flap. In addition to analogue composite and S-Video outputs, line-level stereo audio, Control L and external mike sockets, thereís a DV output jack, conforming to the FireWire standard. Most of the transport and shooting controls are on the top panel, though almost all secondary functions are accessed via the on-screen display. Selections are highlighted and selected using a turn and click thumbwheel.  The screen is mounted on a double-jointed arm, that allows it to face the subject, displaying an inverted image.

 

Power comes from a lithium ion pack that fits inside a compartment behind the handgrip. A full charge, with a normal amount of stopping, starting and zooming, lasted an unremarkable 40 minutes. Playing back recordings every so often reduces recording times accordingly.

 

Thereís a strange little black protuberance on the side of the screen, marked with a split ĎLí logo. Say hello to Laser Link, a new IR communications system, designed to convey AV signals to an IR receiver module, that plugs into a TV or VCR. The theory goes IR ports will eventually be built into AV equipment, so hey-presto, no more wires. Actually itís not a new idea, Hitachi tried something very similar a couple of years back on one of their camcorders but it seems to have sunk without trace. At least Hitachi bundled a receiver module in with their machine; if you want to experience the joys of Laser Link on the SC100 youíll have to fork out an extra £100, for a widget called the IR10, which should be available by the time you read this. 

 

Shooting options are full auto, or one of six auto-exposure modes. Itís a more or less routine assortment: Spotlight, Soft Portrait, Sports Lesson, Beach and Ski, Sunset and Moon and Landscape. Thereís also a fader (black or mosaic) and backlight compensation button. The trick effects are all old favourites too: Pastel, Neg Art, Sepia, B&W, Solarise and Mosaic. A built-in title generator has a choice of eight pre-set titles, and thereís a facility to make up your own simple one-liners, but thereís a catch. It only works when using cassettes with a built-in memory chip, which is used to store the titles. Not all DV tapes have this chip, the oneís that do can be recognised by a small ĎCMí (cassette memory) logo. 

 

Itís all been going fairly well up to this point, but we come up against another small problem, no manual focus. Thereís a focus lock button, but no way of adjusting it yourself. Autofocus systems have improved enormously in the past few years, but no one has yet devised one that is 100% reliable. That means there will be situations when you get a fuzzy picture, and thereís nothing you can do about it. Itís not as uncommon as you might think. Shooting indoors in poor light is one example, itís not keen on highly patterned surfaces, or shooting through dirty glass and at extreme zoom settings. The focus lock and landscape AE mode can help in some circumstances, but theyíre no substitute for proper manual control. It also makes our life more difficult when conducting resolution tests, resulting in a larger than usual margin of error.

 

In normal conditions the auto systems work well, it is very easy to handle and everything is more or less where you would expect to find it. For more advanced users thereís a Control L editing terminal and an audio mixing facility. The machine records a standard timecode (hours, minutes, seconds, frames) but itís not rewritable. Of course weíre very pleased to see the FireWire digital output, and hopefully there will be something useful to plug it into one day, that doesnít cost a small fortune, or is only of interest to serious video movie-makers, who probably wonít be buying the SC100 anyway. 

 

The machine has two 12-bit stereo soundtracks (ST1 and ST2), however, unlike most other digital machines it doesnít have the higher quality 16-bit recording system. The original sound remains on ST1, new audio can be recorded on ST2, a simple mixer facility, controlled by the menu thumbwheel fades between the two soundtracks. Audio dub can also be controlled using the counter memory, so that it stops at a precise point on the tape.

 

PERFORMANCE

As weíve already mentioned the SC100 doesnít have a manual focus, so weíll have to add a rider to the resolution figure, that it could be slightly higher. Our sample managed just over 430 lines, which is rather average, though overall, in good light the picture does look quite reasonable. The lack of noise is what really counts, thereís loads of crisp detail, colours are bright and vibrant. We almost forgot to give the LCD screen a mention, itís really rather good, one of the best weíve seen in fact, but like all LCDs the  image washes out in bright light. Sony supply a clip-on sun-shield, which helps, but careful framing and zooming can get quite tricky outdoors on a sunny day. Never doubt the value of a conventional viewfinder, nuff said..

 

Image stabilisation on this machine is a little unusual, thereís a distinct lag during a fastish pan, and the picture tends to overshoot by a few degrees when the pan comes to a sudden halt. Itís not a problem, just strange.

 

The forward facing microphones are quite directional and will pick up most sounds quite clearly, within a 5 metre radius. The stereo soundstage is quite narrow though, an external microphone is necessary to make the most of it. Although the SC100 only uses the standard 12-bit recording system, quality is very good, with a broad flat response, and very little background hiss.

 

VIDEO CAMERA VERDICT

Difficult. Here we have a machine that uses a recording system capable of near broadcast quality pictures and sound, but it has been hobbled by over simplified controls and exposure systems. As it stands we can see it mainly appealing to a relatively small number of well-off family buyers, who put picture quality and ease of use a long way ahead of functionality and flexibility. It remains to be seen how many such users there are. 

 

THE RIVALS

If itís a compact digital camcorder youíre after then look no further than the excellent Panasonic NV-DS5, the current best of breed. Yes, it costs £200 more, but if youíre already spending £1500, whatís another couple of hundred quid? If you donít mind loosing the LCD screen then the NV-DS1 is the one to go for, and itís the same price as the SC100. The JVC GR-DV1, the original digital pocket cam, can be found selling £1500 or less at the moment, itís still a cracking machine though devoid of any serious editing facilities. The award-winning GR-DVX is worth considering too, and it costs only a little more, at £1600.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                                   Sony DCR-SC100                   

Recording format               mini DVC

Guide price                                £1500

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.8, 4.2 - 42mm

Zoom                            10X optical, 40X digital

Filter diameter            25mm  

Pick-up device            0.25in CCD

Min illum                       2 lux    

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        120mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes (Control L/LANC

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                                          

Manual focus                 no (lock only)    

Auto exposure               yes                              

Programmed AE                          yes (6-mode)  

Fader                                        yes                  

Manual white balance no        

Auto white balance             yes                                          

Manual zoom                             no        

Power zoom                              yes                                                                  

Insert edit                                  no        

Audio dub                                  yes

Character generator                       yes                  

Digital superimposer                 no        

Image stabiliser                         yes                                          

Video light                                 no        

Battery refresh               n/a                                       

Accessory shoe             no

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, tally lamp, digital effects (pastel, neg art, sepia, B&W, solarize, mosaic), 16:9 cinema (letterbox), IR link, time and datacode recording, photo shot mode, cassette labelling (CM tapes only),  built-in speaker, backlight compensation, audio dub, 5-second record mode, anti-ground shooting, end search

 

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       3-inch colour LCD

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

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       yes (12bit only)

Wind noise filter                         no                   

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           single point stereo

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    AV out, microphone, Control L, headphones (minijack),

S-Video out (mini DIN), DV out (DV jack)

Dimensions                               130 x 95 x 79mm                      

Weight                          680 kg (inc tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries (lithium ion, alkaline), 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                                 430-lines

Colour fidelity                           good

Picture stability                         good

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            average

Exposure                                   average

Auto focus                                  average

Audio performance                   good

Insert edit                                  manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor              n/a

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money         8

Ease of use                  8

Performance               8

Features                      7

 

---end---

R Maybury 1997 3009

 

 

 


 

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