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If you're wondering why you're seeing so many fly-on-the-wall television documentaries lately, blame it on DVC. The format has provided broadcasters and production companies with near broadcast-quality video recording equipment that's small, discrete, lightweight and easy to use. However, even though DVC camcorders have shrunk to diminutive proportions they're still a little too bulky to be used for secret undercover covert operations, which is why the Sony GV-D300 compact DVC recorder has been so warmly greeted by the security and surveillance industry.  


A modified GV-D300 is the core component in this new video recording system from Holdan. The Walkman-sized VCR can be concealed in a coat pocket or worn over the user's shoulder. There is a choice of cameras; the outfit we've been testing comes with a sub-miniature colour 'board' camera with pinhole lens, built into the shell of a Nokia mobile phone; a 'tie-clip' camera is also available. The phone has an integral microphone, to record sound as well as pictures. From the outside the only clue that it's not a real phone is the thickish grey cable emerging from the underside of the handset, though this would remain unseen if the phone were placed in a jacket breast pocket. The outfit is packed in a sturdy foam-partitioned aluminium case; you can almost picture 'Q' handing it over, 'now pay attention 007….'


The camera 'sees' through one of the tiny earphone holes; the subject would have to get very close, and look at it in a strong light, to see the faint orange glint of the lens. The microphone is mounted behind the phone's microphone grille.  The obvious problem with this kind of arrangement -- in an undercover situation -- is how to operate the deck controls, without arousing suspicion. The solution is a wired remote control, effectively a stop/start button, but with a clever difference. It gently vibrates, to let the user know that the machine is in the recording mode. It is reasonably quiet in use, though make sure you don't have any loose change or keys in your pocket when recording… The camera and bullet-shaped remote module plug into a pair of sockets on the side of the machine, other than that there's nothing else to worry about, apart from clipping on a charged battery pack and popping in a tape.


The fixed-focus camera module has a wide field of view and broad depth of field and everything from around half a metre to infinity is in sharp focus. We don't have a detailed specification for the camera but we reckon it will produce a viewable image with scene lighting down to around 10-lux. Needless to say with such a small lens the amount of detail the camera can capture is some below what the format is capable of. Recordings of test patterns made on our sample suggested resolution just about tops 400 lines, but in good light the picture is stable and very clean with very little noise.


Colour accuracy is surprisingly good in the circumstances, there's a slight yellowish tint under tube light but in natural light the results are very good indeed. Jacket pockets can be unexpectedly noisy so care needs to be taken not to fidget, when confronting your subject. It clearly records speech up to a couple of metres in front of the camera.


We had a bit of trouble with the remote control on our test machine, and the machine acted strangely when the remote control was connected. It wouldn't always switch to record or standby, when it did it sometimes made a loud clicking sound, loud enough to give the game away! The telephone/camera unit supplied with our outfit looked a bit battered so we'll put the mis-behaviour down to the fact that this must have been a well-used demonstrator.


This is not what you would call an everyday consumer product but it does illustrate how familiar technology can be used in ways you probably wouldn't have expected. Covert surveillance is a touchy subject and Holdan rightly draw the user's attention to the fact that using such equipment could be an infringement of personal privacy and break the law. Let us hope it will be used sensibly, bringing dodgy dealers and villains to book. If anyone with a mobile phone in their top pocket and a buzzing noise coming from their trousers starts asking a lot of questions just smile, and ask to borrow their phone…



Make/model                              HOL-GVD300PKIT

Guide Price                               £2445

Features                                   Sony GV-D300 miniature DVC video recorder and covert camera, concealed in a mobile phone

Distributor                                 Holdan Ltd., Hyde Park House, Cartwright Street, Newton, Hyde, Cheshire SK14 4EH. Telephone (0161) 3679000


Video Camera Ratings


Discrete digital peeping-Tommery for budding spooks








It is fair to say that Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) batteries have revolutionised camcorder design and functionality. They're small and powerful and do not suffer the debilitating 'memory' effect or cell imbalance of nicads. The discharge curve is a lot shallower too, which mean that 'time remaining' indicators on camcorders can actually be believed. Apart from the cost there are very few disadvantages, the only niggle for some heavy-duty users is the fact that they take longer to charge than nicads or nickel metal-hydride packs. That becomes even more of a problem for those using two or more packs; the single-slot chargers supplied with most camcorders simply can't keep up.


Until fairly recently accessory chargers for Lithium Ion packs have been both scarce and expensive, so this new one from Hahnel could solve a few problems. The V102 is a twin-slot charger, and it's a multi-fit design, that can accommodate the commonest types of battery packs from Hitachi, JVC, Panasonic and Sony. Unfortunately it cannot be used with the cylindrical Li-Ion packs supplied with early JVC digital camcorders, and one or two others, so check first.


It's quite an eye-catching design, certainly a lot more stylish than the 'black bricks' we've become accustomed to. The charger module is compact, and it can be used flat on its back or stood upright using a fold-out support on the back. Power is supplied by a separate plug-in mains adaptor or a car-cord, fitted with a cigarette lighter type plug. Both are included with the outfit.


As soon as a pack is inserted a red LED indicates that charging has started. The LED stays on until around 95% full charge, when it starts flashing. At this point there's sufficient power in the pack to do some shooting, however, it's a good idea to leave the pack connected until the LED goes out, which indicates full charge. The charger delivers a controlled current up to around 850mA and a 1.5Ah pack takes a little under 2-hours to reach full charge. When two batteries are on the unit the charging time is commensurately longer.  


We tried it with several different types of pack and all fitted easily. Charge times are very similar to those on standard chargers so the packs are not being exposed to any undue stress. Our only small quibble concerns the lack of displays, the single LED doesn't tell you much about the state of charge or how much longer you have to wait. There is also a chance that once a pack is charged -- and the LED is switched off -- the charger, with a battery attached, could be left connected for long periods. Apart from that it's a well thought out accessory, and well worth considering if you've got a couple of batteries on the go.



Make/model                              Hahnel Twin V102

Guide Price                               £40

Features                                   Twin slot rapid charger for Lithium Ion camcorder batteries, independent LED charge indicator, mains adaptor and car connector lead supplied

Compatible with             7.2 volt Lithium Ion batteries from Canon, Hitachi, JVC, Panasonic & Sony

Distributor                                 Hahnel Industries Ltd Ireland, telephone (00353) 23-41606  


Video Camera Ratings


A smart little charger, in all senses of the word…



Ó R. Maybury 1998 1711





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