Sanyo VPC-FH1 Conclusion
By Mike Flacy
Sanyo's new Xacti VPC-FH1 has taken a new look from the past Xacti models we've tested. This new camera has taken the shape of a compact video camera instead of the unique shape like that of the Xacti HD1000. Featuring an 8-Megapixel CMOS imaging sensor, 3-inch wide LCD and HDMI, Component and A/V output; this camera is ready to be used and hooked up to any type of TV to display both your still images and videos almost instantly. Sporting separate record buttons for still images and video, the camera is always ready for either format. You even have the option to capture still images while recording video. Along with two shutter release buttons, the camera also features two separate zoom levels. For still images you have a 10x optical zoom, while the video recording uses a 16x advanced optical zoom.
The new layout of the FH1 means that you will be holding it like a video camera instead of a digicam. This allows for incredibly easy, one handed, video capture, but it can take a little getting used to when you are framing and trying to keep the camera steady for still images. All of the recording controls except for the zoom control are located on the back and sit under the thumb for easy access. The zoom itself is on top of the camera and can easily be reached with one of your fingers. The 3-inch wide LCD screen flips out from the side of the camera. This allows it to be protected when not in use. It also swivels 285 degrees, allowing you to hold the camera in different positions to shoot in tight places. The display has 7 levels of brightness and is incredibly easy to see in all lighting conditions, even direct sunlight.
Performance from the Xacti FH1 is slower than most digicams. When turning the camera on, it takes just under 6.5 seconds before the camera is able to capture its first image. If the camera has been left on and the LCD is closed then re-opened, it takes the camera 5.1 seconds to capture an image. Shutter lag is noticeable at 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 1.4 seconds when allowing auto-focus to work. This is because the camera is ready to start recording video first; so it has to adjust before capturing an image. This also comes into play with the shot to shot as it does the same thing in between each shot, slowing the camera down to 5 images in 11.6 seconds without flash and 5 images in 13.3 seconds with the flash. The FH1 also features 2 burst modes which show the potential that the camera has. 8M burst mode captures continuously at 7fps but will only record the last nine shots. 4M mode works the same way but captures at 15fps and will only save the last 15 images captured. All of our tests were completed using an ATP Pro Max, 4GB SDHC Class 6 memory card, Program mode, flash off, ISO auto and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Both indoors and out, the images captured by the Xacti FH1 are very soft, showing noise throughout all of the images, when viewing them at 100%. Outdoor the camera shows excellent exposures with bright, vivid colors and slightly deeper blues and more contrast in the sky than we usually see from a digicam, thanks to the built-in ND filter. The 10x optical zoom lens used for still images (35.7-357mm, 35mm equivalent) is great for landscape and group portrait photography at the wide end, while the telephoto end is big enough to get you close to the action. Like we mentioned earlier, the video camera style and layout can make it a little difficult to frame, level and hold the camera steady when shooting still images. At the wide end you will see some barrel distortion as well as some aberrations along with image softness throughout the zoom range.
Our indoor shots show very similar results to the outdoor samples. Exposure and color are very good when the camera's shutter speed is slow enough. At just � second in auto scene mode, the camera has to use a very low or large aperture (f2.7-2.8) in order to have a chance at a correct exposure in low-light situations. This can cut down on your overall image sharpness and DOF. Our M&M man samples show how soft these images are, as you look at the magazines on the left side of the frame and see how fuzzy and unclear the words are. The built-in flash sits in an odd position, below the lens, and has a little trouble lighting the image while using macro mode. Outside of macro mode, the flash has an excellent range of up to 13.1 ft. It does tend to show some red-eye, which you can see in our sample portrait shot, but there is no red-eye reduction flash option available to eliminate it.
The Xacti FH1 features Face Chaser software that allows the camera to recognize and track up to 12 faces at once. It does an excellent job of finding the faces, even when they are not directly facing the camera as well as following them. This software allows the camera to provide a good exposure and overall image based on the faces detected by the camera.
Not only built like a video camera, it has more video options than you will see on any other digicam, including full 1080p HD video at 60fps. This quality can only be matched by camcorders and some newer dSLR cameras. With resolutions ranging from 1920x1080 all the way down to 192x108 with increasing frame rates from 60 to 600 fps, you will be able to find a video mode for any situation. The small but incredibly fast resolutions are great for smooth slow motion playback which can be used for analysis purposes such as a golf swing, while the high resolution modes are great for any of life's moments that can't be captured with a single still image. Adding to the quality of the videos is a very sensitive, built-in stereo microphones. With the size of the Full HD videos, we recommend a very large memory card, as a 4GB card will only hold about 22 minutes of full HD video.
Powering the FH1 is a massive 3.7V, 1900mAh Li-Ion rechargeable battery. Sanyo claims that it can handle 420 images or 150 minutes of Full HD video on a single charge. While completing our tests, we were able to capture 175 images and several short videos while only using half of the batteries life. This should be enough power for an all-day event or weekend trip. It comes with a power cord to recharge the battery while it is in the camera. Although this is less to carry than a charger, it makes it more difficult to keep a spare battery charged and on hand.
Bottom Line - The Sanyo Xacti VPC-FH1 is a decent combination digicam and Full HD video camera all in one. With separate buttons for image capture and video capture, it is always ready to capture the action. Although it is incredibly easy to use, captures excellent full HD video and the 10x still / 16x video optical zoom is very versatile, the soft image quality and slower still image shooting performance really takes away from the camera. If you are looking for a HD video camera that has the ability to capture descent images, even during video capture, then this is a camera worth a look with a MSRP of US$499.99. If still images are the main priority, then you may want to look at a digicam that has HD video capabilities, such as the Canon PowerShot SX1 IS, Casio Exilim FC100, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T90, Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3, and Kodak EasyShare Z980, just to name a few.
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