Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2 Review
By Movable Type Admin
The Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2 is the 2007 upgrade to the very popular VPC-HD1 and VPC-HD1a from last year. This new model includes almost all of
the high-end options found on its predecessors, like a 10x optical zoom lens, image stabilization for movie
mode, 285° swiveling 2.2-inch display, and 720p HD video (1280x720.) The HD2 is improved with resolution
being bumped up to 7.1-megapixels, there's a new 720x480 movie mode in normal (SD) mode as well as the new
High Sensitivity mode and button. Like the HD1 and HD1a, this new versatile model can be used by the entire
family or office. The Auto and Program AE modes are great for those who want point-n-shoot simplicity, while
the six pre-programmed scene modes should suffice for those creative urges. For the more advanced users out
there, the HD2 also offers plenty of manual controls with either Aperture priority, Shutter priority or full
Manual exposure modes; see page 3 for more details.
With the exception of the new high sensitivity button, the ergonomics of the HD2 is identical to its brothers. The HD2 is slightly "fatter" than its Xacti C5/C6 siblings, which actually makes it a little more comfortable in your hands. The mostly metal exterior has a well built feel to it and should survive an active user's lifestyle. Overall, the various controls are well placed and easy to use, however as with past models, I found the 4-way joystick is a bit on the touchy side. The onscreen menu system is very easy to navigate, allowing for quick changes to camera settings. Sanyo's Xacti series and Sony's Cyber-shot "M" series are the only cameras we've reviewed thus far that can be used by right and left-handed photographers, thanks to their pistol grip designed body and controls.
The HD2's 285° swiveling 2.2-inch LCD is very high-quality display. I found it worked excellent both indoors and out. Thanks to its non-reflective coating, I was able to clearly see my subjects outdoors, even with the harsh sunlight beating directly onto it. Unlike its siblings, the HD2's LCD also "gains up" nicely in marginal lighting (like your typical living room at night), which helps you frame the subject in these conditions; something that was never possible with film cameras.
In still record mode, the HD2 is a robust performer. Power up to first image captured measured approx. 3.1 seconds, this includes the time taken to open and swivel the LCD. Shutter lag, the time from depressing the shutter release and capturing an image, was less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and about 5/10 of a second including autofocus. When shooting a sequence of still images, the shot to shot delay averaged 2.2 seconds without the flash and 2.5 - 3.5 seconds with the flash, depending on the distance from the subject. The HD2 offers a still image Sequential shooting mode that allowed me to capture up to 10 photos in 2.9 seconds, however resolution is lowered to at 0.3 (640x480).
When shooting movies, I noticed there was a bit of delay between clips. After capturing even as little as 5 seconds of video, it then takes about 10 seconds before you can start recording again. This was a bit aggravating, especially while I was trying to take movies at a local softball game. After recording a clip of the first batter, it was difficult to get the camera prepared for the next person up to bat, and I found many times the camera would start to record after the next batter had already started to swing the bat. So if you need to record one of your kids sporting events, either make sure you have a huge SD or SDHC card and continuously record or be prepared for this "lag" between clips. Switching from record mode to playback or vice versa takes about a second. All of our tests were done using a Kingston 4GB SDHC card, with the image size/quality set at 7m-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 HD2's 7-megapxiel images were pleasing, even when using the 7M-S (high compression) mode. However, we always use the best quality settings available (7M-H low compression) to ensure we produce the best images possible. Overall, our outdoor images looked great, nice and sharp with rich color saturation. The exposure system is also very accurate and did a good job of capturing sky (cloud) detail. Image noise was average, as long as the ISO is set to 400 and below. At these levels, noise can only be seen by the untrained eye when viewing pictures at 100%, while most users typically view at full screen seize (25-35%). ISO 800 and 1600 on the other hand, are a different story. Noise looks horrible even at full screen, ad I don't feel you will be able to create usable prints either, even at 3.5x5-inches. The High Sensitivity mode automatically boosts ISO to 400, which is still very usable, so if you need increase the ISO for any reason, I suggest using the dedicated High Sensitivity mode/button instead of manually selecting it via the menu.
One of the most valuable features of this model is the 10x optical zoom lens. It covers a 35mm equivalent range of approx. 38mm - 380mm, offering a great deal of versatility in composing your shots. I also found the lens mechanism is very precise, allowing me to change the focal length by .1x increments. This ensures you'll have no difficulties when framing your subject. The 38mm wide angle end will afford nice group portraits of the and landscapes, while 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. Let us not forget this model's digital image stabilization. This is a very handy feature that will help improve the quality of your handheld movies. Overall I found the lens exhibits typical amounts of both barrel distortion and pincushioning at the wide angle and telephoto extremes, respectively. However, I was surprised to find only small traces of chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) present around objects with high contrast.
The HD2 also does well in the portrait department. The flash has a weak range of only about 8 feet at wide angle, which will limit you ability to illuminate subject in open rooms. I found shooting from about 4 - 5 feet away using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range produced nice flash portraits with good exposure, sharp detail and natural skin tones. If you need even more power to capture better portraits in low lighting conditions, check out Sanyo's CameraBright! X1-ER+ Xacti Edition photography light. It connects to any of the Xacti models and has a maximum range of up to 20 feet.
The movie capabilities of this model are abundant. It offers seven different movie sizes to choose from: HD- SHQ 1280 x 720 (30 fps, 9 Mbps), HD-HQ 1280 x 720 (30 fps, 6 Mbps), TV-SDV 720 x 480 (30 fps, 3.5 Mbps), TV- SHQ 640 x 480 (30 fps, 3 Mbps), TV-HQ 640 x 480 (30 fps, 2 Mbps), Web-SHQ 320 x 240 (30 fps) and Web-HQ 320 x 240 (15 fps). This is the third "hybrid" digicam/tapeless video recorder to feature a true HD format (the first being the HD1.) 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 HD2 also features the same digital image stabilizer technology we saw on past Xacti models. With this feature, capturing steady handheld movies was easier, but 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, except 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. Other unique options on this hybrid are the Wind Noise and Flicker Reduction modes. Wind reduction virtually eliminates any noise caused by even the slightest breeze, which is one of the downfalls to most digicams. Flicker mode helps reduce fluorescent light flicker while recording. Audio is recorded in high-quality 48kHz 16- bit Stereo thanks to the two microphones.
The HD2's movie mode results were the same as past models. The HD2 claims to have better performance in marginal (low) lighting than it predecessors. I found it does seem to "gain up" better when shooting in these conditions, however noise also increases. Our outdoor movie samples were very pleasing, showing minimal compression artifacts, and the AF system does well when following moving subjects or zooming. 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 on the internet about whether or not the HD1, HD1a or HD2 are "really" capturing 720p video or if it is being upscaled in the camera. Again like this model's predecessor, at close examination of a video frame, you can see some "jaggy pixel" artifacts, which is usually a tell-tale sign of some kind of image interpolation.
The HD2 is powered by a DB-L40 3.7v 1200mAh Lithium-ion rechargeable battery, which is charged in-camera while being placed in the handy docking cradle. Sanyo claims this allows the HD2 to capture up to 180 images or up to 85 minutes of video on a full charge. I found that the battery life was quite good, and permitted us to capture a large majority of our samples (about 170 stills and several movie clips) before the battery was exhausted. We strongly recommend the purchase of an extra battery pack and keep it charged and ready at all times.
Bottom line - the Xacti HD2 continues the tradition of Sanyo's tapeless media camera line, offering great image quality, an unrivaled movie mode, robust performance, and loads of useful features. However, if you look at the specs of these models, not much has changed, with the exception of image resolution. Even the MSRP is the same at US$700. Like we said with its siblings, the HD2 is a bit expensive for the performance and quality of the images and movies that are produced. However, it is a very "cool" camera, and the ability to be used by both left and right handed users, along with its powerful features does help support the higher price tag. That said, the Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2 is a welcomed addition and is sure to be a very popular model for 2007.
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