Sanyo Xacti VPC-C6 Review

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Sanyo Xacti VPC-C6

Steve's Conclusion

The Xacti VPC-C6 is the latest addition to Sanyo's "hybrid" digicam / video camcorder line and includes many of the great features found on past models, like an internal 5x optical zoom lens, 2.0-inch swiveling LCD, and high-quality VGA (640x480) movie mode. In fact, this model is almost identical to the VPC-C5 we reviewed late last year, but bumps up the resolution to 6-megapixels and offers higher ISO sensitivity for movie mode, making for better video quality in dim lighting.

Like its siblings, the C6's ergonomics are good. Although it is very compact, I found it to fit quite comfortably in my hands. Thanks to the pistol grip design, one-handed shooting is a breeze, whether you're a righty or a lefty. The controls are well placed for easy access, and making changes to camera settings is a snap with its onscreen menu system. Sanyo's "C" series cameras and Sony's Cyber-shot M1 are the only digicams we've reviewed that can be used by both right- and left-handed photographers. The M1 along with many super-compact cameras are awkward to hold, but this is not the case with the C6. The mostly metal exterior has a well built feeling to it and should survive an active user's lifestyle. The only negative thing is that it's difficult to keep your fingers off of the lens, so be sure you inspect the lens often and clean it accordingly.

The C6 features a 285° swiveling 2.0-inch LCD, which offers much more versatility over the typical "fixed" position LCDs. This is a high-quality display that worked great outdoors, even with the harsh sunlight beating directly onto it. The LCD is a trans-reflective type, meaning it can be operated in bright light with the backlight turned completely off. When shooting in marginal lighting (like your living room, typically lit by 50 - 100 watt incandescent light bulbs) the image does not "gain up". But, when using ISO Auto (the default setting) its metering system is very sensitive, which allows you to see with even the slightest amount of ambient light; however, when set at ISO 50 or 100 the display can be rather dark. Since there is no optical viewfinder, all framing is accomplished with the LCD; thankfully it is a high-quality display.

Shooting performance was good for a camera in this class. Power up to first image captured measured approx. 3.2 seconds, this includes the time it takes to open and swivel the LCD. Shutter lag, the time from depressing the shutter release and capturing an image, was 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and about 6/10 of a second including autofocus. When shooting a sequence of still images, the shot to shot delay averaged 2.1 seconds without the flash and 2.5 - 5 seconds with the flash, depending on the distance from the subject. Unfortunately, the C6 does not offer any type of Burst mode; but who needs a burst mode when you have such a high quality movie mode at your finger tips? Switching from record mode to playback or vice versa takes about a second. All of our tests were done using a 60x speed 2GB SD card, with the image size/quality set at 6m-H, Program Auto mode, preview off, with all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera setting, media, etc.

The overall image quality when using its 6-megapixel High mode is good. Our outdoor sample images were nice and sharp thanks to its internal 5x optical zoom lens and 5-point AF system. The lens covers an above average range of 38 - 190mm (35mm equivalent), offering a great deal of versatility over your typical 3x zoom lens. We noticed moderate barrel distortion at full wide-angle, with slight pin cushioning present at the telephoto extremes. The zoom mechanism is smooth and quiet throughout its range, allowing it to be used while recording video. The majority of our shots were well exposed and showed pleasing color saturation. Consumer digicams tend to be a bit oversaturated as this is what your average user likes - bright, breath-taking colors. The white balance system also does an excellent job in the Auto position, producing accurate color temperatures in a variety of different lighting conditions. You can also choose from 4 presets (sunny, cloudy, fluorescent, and incandescent) or you can just set it manually. I noticed very little noise in high and low contrast areas as well as very few traces of purple fringing around bright subjects. The C6 also features an interpolated 10-megapxiel mode. I was actually surprised at how well our sample turned out, and it seems that image quality doesn't suffer as much as we anticipated (see our samples page.) However, we still recommend using the native 6-megapixel mode, it alone has plenty of resolution and can create photo-lab quality 13x19-inch prints.

Indoors, you will have to work with its very limited flash range of approx. 6 feet at wide angle (using ISO Auto.) We saw similar results on the C5, however, we do see this as a common problem with ultra-compact models. Users want tiny cameras with huge LCDs, and unfortunately the manufacturers sacrifice flash power to conserve precious battery life. We achieved the best results when shooting portraits of individuals from about 4 feet away. Even then the flash exposure is a little weak. We strongly suggest you make sure there is sufficient ambient lighting if you are planning on shooting group shots in mid-sized rooms, and don't attempt using the flash in a large open room. For times when you can't use the flash and there isn't quite enough light for a blur free shot, you can opt to use the Lamp scene mode (just be sure that your subject is very still.) It can capture blur free images in much lower lighting conditions by lowering the image size to 0.3M (640x480) and then increasing the ISO sensitivity to as high as 3600. Although you can't make photo-quality prints with these images, they are great for email inclusion or posting on web sites.

Movie mode offers five recording size choices to choose from, 640x480 TV-SHQ (30fps @ 3Mbps bit rate) or TV- HQ modes (30fps @ 2Mbps bit rate) for movies to be displayed on your television. The C6 is unique in that it has both a composite video and S-Video output for a TV, VCR or DVD recorder. The 320x240 TV-S (30fps) and Web-HQ (15fps) modes are great when wanting to conserve space on your memory card. There's also a 176x144 Web-S mode (15fps) which creates small file size movies for email transmission. It's almost impossible to capture steady movies with a consumer digicam unless you have a tripod or monopod; but who really lugs one around just to record a movie? With the C6's digital image stabilizer feature, this is no longer a problem. There are two modes to choose from (A and B) which are really the same, but Mode B displays a border around the LCD to show you what is actually going to be captured. We found this was the best way to use this feature. Another unique option on this hybrid was its Wind Noise Reduction mode. It virtually eliminates any noise caused by even the slightest breeze, which is one of the downfalls to most digicams. Audio is recorded in Stereo thanks to the two built-in microphones. Our movie samples were good with below average compression noise and the auto focus kept up when zooming. You'll notice there was slight wind noise in our samples, mainly due to the fact that Wind Noise Reduction was turned off. Even so, there was a good breeze that day and I was surprised at how little was picked up by the camera.

The C6 is powered by a 3.7v 720mAh Lithium-ion rechargeable battery, which is charged either in-camera when placed in the handy docking cradle or separately in the AC adapter/charger. Sanyo claims it will allow the C6 to capture up to 140 images or up to 60 minutes of 640x480 HQ video on a full charge. I found that battery life was good, allowing us to capture a large majority of our sample images (about 120 shots and several movie clips) before the battery was exhausted. We recommend the purchase of an extra battery pack and a large 1GB size SD card if you plan on shooting movies frequently - which we bet you will.

Bottom line - like its predecessors, the Sanyo Xacti VPC-C6 is an awesome "hybrid" digicam/tape less video recorder. With the ability to be slipped into almost any size pocket or handbag, this camera's agile performance and great 6-megapixel images ensures that you will be able to savor those special moments for years to come. We feel the C6 will make a great choice for anyone, whether for the family, business or adventure seeker. With an MSRP of around $599, it's a bit expensive but, it does offer a great "bang for you buck", and the ability to be used by both left- and right-handed user adds to its appeal.

11/6/2006: I am happy to report that Sanyo has now posted a SDHC firmware update for the C6 that will let it use the new 4GB SDHC cards.

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