Sanyo Xacti VPC-E1 Review
By Movable Type Admin
Introducing one of the first waterproof Hybrid digicam/camcorder, the Sanyo Xacti E1 can go places that most consumer cameras can't,
underwater. The JIS Class 8 design allows this camera to be submerged up to 5 feet for up to 1 hour. While the camera is underwater, you
will still have all of the same features that are available to you above water. You will still have access to all of the menus, playback
mode, the range of the zoom, stereo audio recording, and even the flash. Some of these features may seem a little different, such as the
flash were the range is greatly reduced, or the zoom motor sounds that are greatly amplified when shooting underwater. These small
problems are a small price to pay for the capabilities of this camera.
The camera itself comes loaded with a wide variety of features that will have any photography enthusiast excited. Featuring a 6-megapixel imager, 5x optical zoom, and digital image stabilization for both video and still photography, this is not just a toy for around the pool. On top of these features, the camera also includes a 2.5" LCD screen that swivels 285°, making it easier to shoot in awkward situations. There is a 9-point auto focus system with manual focus option and several preprogrammed scene modes making it very easy for anyone to use. It is the perfect camera for people on the go or the adventurous who never know where they will end up next.
The ergonomics of the new E1 are very similar to the other Xacti models. The camera is made with the same "pistol grip" style that makes it usable by both righties and lefties. Not many cameras these days can offer such a comfortable feel for those who are left handed. There are very few controls on this camera, which have been placed on the back of the camera. They provide very easy and comfortable access with your thumb. The 2.5" LCD screen folds out from the left side allowing you to very easily frame your shots. Unlike most digicams, the Xacti line is always ready to shoot photos as well as digital video. There are separate buttons for each on the back of the camera. This even allows for you to capture full 6-Megapixel images while you are recording video with no interruptions. Also on the back are the zoom and directional keys and the menu button. The power and play buttons are located on the left hand side under the LCD screen.
Bright, crisp, and large enough to easily see under water, the 2.5" LCD screen is an excellent addition. It is very easy to see in and out of the water, and in any lighting conditions, including bright sunlight. It does not produce much glare, but if it does, it can be swiveled to eliminate it all together. When using the camera in the water the screen can also be turned and folded back against the body of the camera. This makes it difficult to see, but produces much less drag in the water and takes a lot pressure off of the swivel itself.
Compared to the high performance of the new consumer digicams, the performance of the E1 lags behind a little. From startup it is able to capture the first image in a sluggish 4.2 seconds. The shutter delay from the time you press the shutter release to the time the image is recorded is just 1/10 of a second when prefocused, and 7/10 of a second when allowing the camera to focus itself (depending on distance and light). The numbers are slower when using the flash at 4/10 and an even 1 second with autofocus. Shot to shot speed was also a little slow. It took 11.1 seconds to capture 5 images, less than 1 image every 2 seconds. With the flash it slowed to 12.4 seconds.
When running some of these tests to record video, it took 4.5 seconds before the camera could start recording video after being turned on. The delay to start recording video is 1.2 seconds after the button has been pushed. Finally it takes a minimum of 5 seconds in between each video that you record. Our tests were done using a SanDisk Ultra II 1GB memory card, auto scene mode, auto ISO, flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera setting, media, etc.
Outdoor image quality was good from the 6-megapixel model. The images were sharp, however, they did seem to be a little washed out. The f/3.5, 5x (38-190, 35mm equivalent) optical zoom lens allows for great group portrait and landscape shots with just moderate barrel distortion on the wide end, and enough zoom to single out a person in a group or an object off in the distance. Chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) were handled very well, only producing slight instances in some high contrast areas.
Similar to the outdoor shots, our indoor results were sharp, but also seemed to be a little washed out. The built in flash leaves a little to be desired, when shooting in ISO 50 you will barely have a range of 5 feet. This range will go up as you raise the ISO, but then image noise will also increase, bringing down the quality of the image. The camera does not feature any red eye removal software or red eye reduction flash, and in most of the portrait shots that I have taken, there were moderate to intense redness in the eyes.
The quality of the movies captured by the E1 are excellent. They are smooth with the TV-SHQ mode recording at 640x480 resolution at 30fps. The MPEG-4 H.264 video compression creates quicktime movies that are much smaller that standard AVI files that most digicams use, and at the same time the video quality is as good or better than most of them. Unlike most digicams, the E1 also features a built in stereo mic that records excellent sound. One thing to remember while shooting underwater is that sounds are much louder, and any noise close to the mic will seem very loud. This is very noticeable when it comes to using the zoom under water as the motor noise is quite noticeable. You will also notice this when you submerge the camera while recording. The water hitting the mic produces a very loud distinct sound.
There are several options built-in to help in your video recording, such as digital image stabilization, flicker reduction to reduce the flicker of fluorescent lights and wind noise reduction which helps tone down the sound of the wind over the mic while you are recording. A very nice feature for shooting videos outdoors. Finally Sanyo has included a low light shooting mode called "Lamp" mode. This works very well even when shooting in extremely low light, however the videos come out very grainy due to the camera boosting the ISO speed. This is a nice option to have but not something that you want to count on for top quality video.
Powering the E1 is a 3.7v 720mAh lithium-ion battery pack. This is a slightly smaller battery than found on some of the other Xacti models and may contribute to the cameras slightly sluggish performance. In the time that I had this camera, I shot roughly 50 pictures and close to 75 videos before having to recharge, but I did have to recharge it to complete my tests. A second battery is a must for this camera, and is easily kept ready with the included portable battery charger.
Bottom Line - Sanyo's Xacti VPC-E1 has crossed a major line, becoming one of the first fully submergible video cameras. Fitting in the palm of your hand, this very easy to use camera captures high quality 640x480 video while allowing the photographer to capture a full 6- megapixel photograph, while recording video. The performance was a little slow, however the image quality of the photographs is good and the quality of the videos is excellent in and out of the water. With a MSRP of US$499.95 this would be an excellent camera for a person or family who does a lot of traveling or outdoor living.
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