Sharp VE-CG40U Review
I've gotten a lot of requests to review this camera and had tried to get one from
Sharp but we never found the right person. I finally just searched the net and then
bought one from
Fry's Electronics/Outpost.com for an unbelievable $288. I found it listed at a
few other places but they were selling it for $499 or thereabouts. Sharp also has
the VE-CG30U, which is identical to the VE-CG40U except it has a 3.2-megapixel image
sensor and sells for even less (just $229 at Outpost.com).
Both cameras feature a 3x Canon optical zoom lens and a very high resolution CG Silicon 1.5" color LCD display, one of the nicest color LCDs that I've seen to date. In addition to the color monitor is a large and bright eye level viewfinder that has ~83% coverage and dioptric correction. These cameras have point-n-shoot AUTO, Aperture and Shutter-speed priority, pre-programmed Scene and full Manual exposure modes. There's also a movie mode with sound capture at 15fps that isn't bad -- but we've yet to see any digicam's movie mode equal to even the worst video camcorder. The build quality of the all-black camera is very good, it looks like metal but it's high impact plastic. The controls are placed well, easy to operate and clearly labeled. The camera's menu system is also easy to navigate and gives the user control over the ISO sensitivity, metering, white balance and gamma. The only problem is that there isn't an option to memorize your settings, they return to default when the camera is powered down.
Images and movie clips are stored on SecureDigital (SD) flash cards, the camera is supplied with a 16MB card and we used a SanDisk 256MB size card with no problems. It will operate with MultiMediaCard (MMC) type cards but the read and write operations take 3-4 times as long as when using SD cards. Power is supplied by four AA type batteries and as always we highly recommend the use of NiMH rechargeables. You can use alkaline but don't expect them to go very far. The NiMH cells pack about 4x the power and will save you lots of money as you can recharge them about 500 times or more. Sharp supplies an AC power adapter in the camera package. We like the versatility and economy of cameras that use AA type batteries versus the more expensive and proprietary lithium battery packs.
Sharp supplies a software application called PixLab that runs under Windows 98, 98SE, 2000, Me or XP Home/Pro. This lets you quickly download images, movies and sound clips from the camera to the host PC via the USB port. Connect the camera, turn the Mode Dial to Play and then push the blue button on the back. Everything is downloaded to a folder on your hard drive. Note that this software works great on a Windows PC but it is not Macintosh compatible, neither is the USB driver. If you have a Mac and you want to use this camera then you'll need an external SD card reader. The images, movies and sound clips can be played back on the color LCD or you can connect the supplied A/V cable to a television and view them on a big screen. The Video Out function is only active in Playback mode and is selectable for either NTSC or PAL format.
Operation of the camera is fairly robust. Power up to first shot is about four seconds, if you haven't used it in a while it will take about 3-4 seconds longer as it charges the flash. The shot to shot time in Single frame mode is about two seconds with about 4-5 seconds required to fully process and store. The camera lets you take another shot while it is still processing the last one. In sequence mode you can capture three frames at about one frame per second. After the third image is captured the image on the LCD is frozen for about ten seconds as it process the contents of the buffer. Switching to Playback mode takes about four seconds before the last captured image is displayed.
The autofocus speed is a little slower than average for a camera in this resolution class. I'd say on average the AF time was around 1.2 to 1.3 seconds, a little longer if at full telephoto in normal room lighting. Even though we consistently got a "focus OK" indication, a lot of our sample photos came out with less than proper focus. Even outdoor shots taken in bright light suffered from more than just an occasional focus problem. That's not to say that all of the pictures were bad, they weren't, but we did experience more than the average number of shots that just weren't "sharp." I'd say that 90% of the pictures were taken in either AUTO or Program AE exposure modes and we expected better results from these point-n-shoot modes.
The white balance system did its job well, the colors were realistic and properly saturated even under flash illumination. I did notice a tendency to over-expose in direct sunlit outdoor lighting conditions. The exposure metering is center-weighted averaging by default with a spot metering option. Movie mode is good for Quarter-VGA (320x240) clips with audio up to 30 seconds in length. As is the norm with cameras that capture audio, the zoom is not useable once you start recording. The only problem that I saw with the movie mode was vertical streaking when you had a sun glinted object in the frame. We've seen this same problem in many digicam's movie mode so it isn't specific to this camera.
The bottom line - for less than $300 I don't doubt that this camera will satisfy the needs of many digi-photographers. If you shoot mostly for email, web page use or 4x6" size prints then this camera will do the job for you. If you're a more discerning user that needs sharp and well focused images for larger prints then I'd say look elsewhere, there are better 4-megapixel cameras out there.
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