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REVIEW

FIVE EASY PIECES -- CAMCORDERS

 

JVC GR-SV3 £800

This is the most recent of the LCD screen camcorders, and the first one to use the VHS-C cassette format. Itís targeted at those who until now have shied away from the idea of video movie-making, either because it looks too difficult, or conventional camcorders appear intimidating. JVC have dubbed the SV3  ĎInfocamí, because it has a simple to use video memo recording facility. A light on the machine blinks to alert the recipient, who simply presses a button next to the screen to replay the message. The machine is held two-handed and the user looks through the optical viewfinder, the LCD screen faces forward, so the subject can watch themselves being recorded; it certainly gets a much livelier response than a normal camcorder, though not everyone takes to it. The machine is very easy to use, there are no adjustments to make, other than framing the shot with a simple 3x zoom. It even has a switchable 5-second record mode, so you don't end up with long boring shots of nothing in particular. The screen flips up so it can be used as a viewfinder (the image is automatically inverted), or it can be used in either position for on-the-spot playback, (with sound). An optional clip on TV tuner module is available for an extra £130.

 

Forced two-handed operation is a nuisance but balance and handling are generally okay. VHS-C tapes can be played back on any normal VHS VCR using the supplied cassette adapter. Picture quality in good light is comparable with a conventional camcorder -- resolution is just over 240-lines -- however, because this machine has such a tiny lens and uses a smaller than normal image sensor, low light performance is a bit ropy. Recordings made indoors, under normal room lighting, tend to look quite grainy. Otherwise colour rendition and picture noise levels are both good. We found fingers strayed into the picture on a number of occasions, so it needs to be held carefully. Sound quality is fair, though anything further than a few metres from the built-in microphone gets lost in the mush. The LCD screen isnít especially bright and it tends to get washed out in daylight, a sun-shield is provided in the outfit, though.

 

Value  85%

JVC Telephone 081-450 3282

 

PANASONIC NV-S70 £800

The odd one out in this collection for three reasons; firstly it doesnít have a LCD colour screen, secondly it records using the Super VHS-C system, which gives appreciably better picture quality, and thirdly it has stereo hi-fi sound. So what is it doing here? The common factor is the price, the S70 provides a useful contrast, and just goes to show that simple doesnít necessarily mean cheaper or better!

 

LCD screen camcorders have two things going for them; communal playback and apparent simplicity of operation. Playback on the S70ís monochrome viewfinder is a solitary activity -- your friends will just have to wait until you get home -- but itís certainly no more difficult to use than the LCD screen machines. It has the option of fully automatic recording -- just point and shoot -- and it can be comfortably held in one hand. Moreover it will work in a wide range of conditions with its programmed autoexposure system, and in really tricky situations thereís the option of manual control. However, the S70ís biggest selling point is flexibility, and for those who get hooked on video movie-making, the S70 has the necessary AV performance plus the creative and editing facilities to take them as far as they want to go, up to and including semi-pro work.

 

Super VHS-C picture quality is stunning, images are sharper, colours are crisp and noise levels are very low. The only note of caution is that the full impact is only visible on recently-made TVs with the appropriate S-Video socket. However,  on older sets the S70 delivers a better than average picture. Even in the standard VHS recording mode it is still capable of more than 250-lines of resolution, and the stereo hi-fi system produces a punchy, dynamic sound with very little background hiss.

 

Value 95%

Panasonic Telephone (0344) 862444

 

SANYO VM-EX33 £800

Sanyo were the first manufacturer to market a camcorder with a LCD colour monitor screen, though in this case it is built into a detachable module that clips to the machineís accessory shoe. The camcorder is a neat-looking palm-sized 8mm model with a conventional black and white viewfinder. Itís reasonably well equipped with a simple 6-mode program autoexposure system, 12x zoom lens and a handful of creative facilities. The monitor module has a 2.2-inch screen and miniature speaker, it also houses an infra-red remote control, which can be used to operate the machines main functions, but the icing on the cake is a built-in 8-scene edit controller. This instructs the camcorder to replay up to eight designated segments, in any selected order, and at the same time control the record-pause function on a VCR, so the edited scenes are strung seamlessly together. (The remote/monitor contains a library of IR commands covering most popular makes and model of VCR). Itís an excellent way of chopping out the inevitable wonky and out of focus shots, with the potential to turn a boring and over-long video movie into a polished and professional-looking production.

 

Itís a very easy little machine to live with, the LCD monitor can be used as a viewfinder if needed but mostly it earns it keep editing, as a remote control and providing on-site playback. (A remotely-controllable pan/tilt head is available as an option, useful for wildlife videographers and peeping-Toms...).  Picture quality is average to good, resolution on samples weíve seen hovered around the 240-line mark. Colour accuracy and noise are both reasonable. There is a noticeable increase in noise on second generation edited copies, and the picture doesnít look quite so sharp, though thatís not just confined to this machine. The mono hi-fi soundtrack is good, very little background hiss, and the microphone is well insulated against handling noises.

 

Value 90%

Sanyo Telephone (0923) 246363

 

SHARP VL-E31 £900

All credit to Sharp for coming up with the ViewCam concept, they must surely be flattered by all of the imitations. In fact they canít loose, they have a virtual monopoly on LCD screens and make them for their rivals as well. The VL-E31 is their baseline model with a 3-inch screen, even so at £900 it is quite expensive and hasnít made much of an impression on the budget end of the market. Nevertheless it has a reasonable specification with an 8x zoom and 4-mode autoexposure system, configured for difficult lighting situations. They are: Ďpartiesí (lots of bright lights against a dark background), Ďsnow/sandí (exposure compensation for bright backgrounds), Ďtwilightí (colour balance optimised to capture strong reds at sunrise and sunset) and Ďsportsí (fast shutter speed to reduce blur on fast-moving subjects). The camera/handgrip is mounted on a pivot, so the deck/monitor section can be turned to face the user for self-recording, and a TV tuner module is available as an optional extra.

 

Aside from having to hold the machine with two hands, which isnít very comfortable or convenient, it is simple to use, and the twisting screen/handgrip is great for getting unusual overhead or waist-level shots. The screen is all but useless in direct sunlight, but a fold out visor is supplied. Resolution dips a little below 230 lines, which is adequate but nothing to write home about. Colour fidelity is also fairly average but again itís liveable. Low light sensitivity is fair to middling, though thereís a noticeable grain and noise in the picture indoors, under normal room lighting conditions. The mono soundtrack is fine,  maybe a tad bassy but the mike is sensitive and reasonably directional, unaffected by motor whine or handling noises, except in really quiet surroundings.

 

Value 80%

Sharp Telephone  061-205 4255

 

SONY CCD-SC5 £900

The SC5 was Sonyís unexpectely fast response to the Sharp ViewCam and once again the key feature is a LCD colour viewfinder. Unlike ViewCam, though, it has an optical viewfinder as well, which saves power, and makes it a little easier to use. Unfortunately it is very basic, the lens has a simple switchable wide/tele setting, there are no exposure controls and no creative facilities at all. In its favour it is absurdly easy to use, the sort of machine where you can use without reading the instruction book first. The LCD screen is hinged, so it can be tilted for table-top viewing, but it doesnít have any other tricks. The SC5 is powered by a Lithium Ion battery, one of a new generation of rechargeables that do not loose their capacity as quickly as nickel-cadmium batteries, they also pack more power into a smaller space and this machine will record for up to 45 minutes between charges (with the LCD screen switched off). The downside is it takes around two hours to charge, and cost a small fortune to replace.

 

Itís quite a handful, and at 0.8kg all up no  featherweight, but the balance is good and fits comfortably into the hand. On-screen performance is quite respectable, resolution is just on 240-lines, the fully automated exposure system copes well with most lighting situations, even tricky ones like brightly back-lit subjects and fluorescent tube lighting, which often upsets colour accuracy. The LCD screen is about the same as the others, itís fine indoors or away from bright lights but outdoors, in direct sunlight the image is lost. The clip on sun-shield helps but itís really only suitable for playback. Sound from the mono hi-fi track is quite good, very little background hiss, and the microphone works reasonably well within three or four metres of the subject.

 

Value 80%

Sony Telephone (0932) 816000

 

CONCLUSION

 

CAMCORDER PRICES AT A GLANCE

 

JVC GR-SV3                         £800

PANASONIC NV-S70           £800

SANYO VM-EX33                £800

SHARP VL-E31                     £900

SONY CCD-SC5                    £900

 

WHOíS BETTER, WHOíS BEST

Picture quality                        Panasonic NV-S70    

Sound Quality             Panasonic NV-S70

Features and facilities           Panasonic NV-S70

Ease of use                             Sony SC5

Cuteness factor                      JVC SV3

Overall value for money        Panasonic VV-S70

 

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1994 0509                

 

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