Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD1 Review
By Movable Type Admin
The VPC-HD1 is the first Xacti "super-zoom" model we have seen from Sanyo (2/2006), and includes many of the high-end features that are found on its siblings, the C4, C5, and C6. It offers 5-megapixels of resolution combined with a versatile 10x optical zoom lens as well as a 285° swiveling 2.2-inch OLED and 720p high definition video at 1280x720. The HD1 can be used by just about anyone, with the Auto and Program AE modes for those who want point-n-shoot simplicity. The six pre-programmed scene modes should suffice those creative urges, and more advanced users can have their fun with either Aperture priority, Shutter priority or Manual mode.
Ergonomics are great. Like the C4, the HD1 is slightly "fatter" than its siblings, which actually made it a little more comfortable in your hands. Controls are well placed and easy to use. Sanyo's Xacti series models and Sony's Cyber-shot M1 are the only cameras we've reviewed that can be used by both right and left-handed photographers, due to their pistol grip designed body and controls. The mostly metal exterior has a well built feeling to it and should survive an active user's lifestyle. The only negative thing I found was the 4-way joystick is a bit on the touchy side. The onscreen menu system is very easy to navigate and made changing camera setting quick and simple.
The HD1 features the largest display of this series, with a 285° swiveling 2.2-inch OLED (organic light emitting diode), which offers superior brightness, contrast and color when compared to typical LCDs. This high-quality display works great outdoors, even with the harshest of sunlight beating directly onto it. OLED displays require no backlight as the display is self-illuminating which also means it uses less power. When shooting in marginal lighting (like a living room lit by 50 - 100 watt light bulbs) the OLED image does not "gain up". However, when using ISO Auto (the default setting) the metering system is very sensitive, allowing you to see with even the slightest amount of ambient light; however, when locked at ISO 50 or 100 the display can be rather dark. Since there is no optical viewfinder, all framing is accomplished with the OLED.
Shooting performance was good. Power up to first image captured measured approx. 2.9 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 3/10 of a second including autofocus. When shooting a sequence of still images, the shot to shot delay averaged 1.9 seconds without the flash and 2.4 - 3.5 seconds with the flash, depending on the distance from the subject. Unfortunately, the HD1 does not offer any type of Burst mode; but with such a high-quality movie mode, who needs burst mode? Switching from record mode to playback or vice versa takes about a second. All of our tests were done using a 120x speed 2GB SD card, with the image size/quality set at 5m-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.
Image quality when using the 5m-H setting was average. While our samples were sharp and showed good exposure and color balance, I did notice plenty of noise, even at ISO 50 and 100. However, images do look great when viewing them at the typical 25-35%, and it can create beautiful prints. This noise is only noticeable when viewing an image at 100%, mainly in areas of either high (open skies) or low (shadows) contrast. The 10x optical zoom lens covers a 35mm equivalent range of approx. 38mm - 380mm. This affords a great deal of versatility in composing your shots. At wide angle, you can capture nice group portraits of the kids, or pleasing landscapes when on vacation. The 380mm telephoto end of the zoom range will help bring those distant subjects much closer; something in which sports and nature photographers will love. The lens exhibits typical amounts of both barrel distortion and pincushioning at the wide angle and telephoto extremes, respectively. I also noticed average traces of chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) present around objects with bright highlights, a common issue with consumer "super-zoom" models.
When shooting indoors, I found the mid-telephoto capabilities (between 100mm and 150mm) worked very well for close up individual portraits. The manual pop up flash has an anemic range of approx. 8 feet at full wide angle. Though it doesn't have the power to illuminate open rooms, I found it did produce good flash exposures when shooting portraits from about 4 or 5 feet away.
The movie mode options are abundant. It offers six different movie sizes to choose from: 1280 x 720 (HD-SHQ 30fps, 9Mbps), 1280 x 720 (HD-HQ 30fps, 6Mbps), 640 x 480 (TV-HR 60fps, 6Mbps), 640 x 480 (TV-SHQ 30fps, 3Mbps), 640 x 480 (TV-HQ 30fps, 2Mbps), and 320 x 240 (Web-HQ 30fps, 2Mbps.) This is the first "hybrid" digicam/tapeless video recorder ever to feature a true HD format. To switch from Normal to HD movie modes (which also changes some menu options), you simply press the HD/Norm button located on the side of the camera. The HD1 also features the same digital image stabilizer technology we saw on recent Xacti models. With this feature, capturing steady handheld movies was easier but it was not as effective as that found on most modern dedicated video camcorders. 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 high-quality 48kHz 16-bit Stereo thanks to its two microphones.
Overall our movie samples were pleasing when captured under good lighting conditions. It's similar to the Xacti C5, if the light is good, the video is good. Low light performance is poor and we hope that Sanyo improves this as they did with the Xacti C6 which is noticeably better than the C5 and C4 models. The AF system does well when following moving subjects and zooming but we did see some compression noise present. The HD-SHQ movies looked great on a 52-inch HDTV but are not the equal of those captured with a more expensive camcorder. You can see for yourself by checking out our movies on the sample photos page. There is a lot of discussion going on the net as to whether or not the HD1 is "really" capturing 720p video or if it is being upscaled in the camera. I confess, I am no video expert but close examination of a video frame does show some "jaggy pixel" artifacts which is usually a tell-tale sign of some kind of image interpolation.
The HD1 is powered by a 3.7v 1200mAh Lithium-ion rechargeable battery, which is charged in-camera whenever it's placed in the handy docking cradle. Sanyo claims it will allow the HD1 to capture up to 130 images or up to 60 minutes of HD-SHQ (1280x720) or 80 minutes of TV-SHQ (640x480) video on a full charge. I found that the battery life was good, and allowed us to capture a large majority of our sample images (about 105 shots and several movie clips) before the battery was exhausted. However, we do recommend the purchase of an extra battery pack if you plan on shooting a lot of movies.
Bottom line - the Xacti VPC-HD1 was a blast to use. I love how well it fits in your hand, and yet is still small enough to be tucked away in a pocket. The still image quality is on par with most 5MP cameras, the movie mode needs improving, the 10x lens, stereo sound capture and the 2.2-inch OLED display are very nice. With an MSRP of around $800 we feel it's too expensive and may only be attractive to "techno-geeks" who absolutely must have the latest hi-tech gadgets. For the family wishing to capture those special moments on video we think you'll be better served with one of today's MiniDV camcorders and a good 5MP digital still camera.
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