Sanyo Xacti VPC-C4 Review
The Xacti C4 is the European predecessor to the Xacti C5 that
we reviewed earlier and includes many of the same
high-end features. This "hybrid" digicam/digital camcorder boasts a 4-megapixel
imager, 5.8x optical zoom, digital image stabilizer, VGA (640x480) sized MPEG-4
movies, and a swiveling 1.8-inch LCD. It offers point-n-shoot simplicity with
the default Auto mode, which will also select from one of the six scene modes
that best fits the current shooting conditions. When needed, more advanced
users can manually change the ISO sensitivity, metering or focus mode as well
as the white balance. You can also choose from a total of six scene modes
(sports, portrait, landscape, night view, fireworks, lamp) and three digital
filters (cosmetic, monochrome, and sepia) that will allow you to be a little
more creative with your images.
Like the C5, we were pleased with the ergonomics of this model. Although it is very compact, the C4 is slightly "fatter" than its sibling, which actually made it a little more comfortable in your hands. Controls are well placed and easy to use. The C4, C5 and Sony's M1 are the only cameras we've reviewed that can be used by both right and left-handed photographers due to their pistol grip style body and controls. Most of the super-compact cameras are awkward to hold, however this is not the case with these models. The mostly metal exterior has a well built feeling to it and should survive an active user's lifestyle. The only negative thing is that it's difficult to keep your fingers off of the lens, we visually inspected it often and cleaned it accordingly. Making changes to camera settings is a snap with its logically organized menu system. The 285° swiveling 1.8-inch LCD offers versatility with viewing angles that are just not possible with the typical "fixed" position LCDs. I found it worked well outdoors, even in bright sunlight thanks to it being a trans-reflective type display. This allows it to be operated in bright sunlight with the backlight turned completely off, using the sun to illuminate the image. In low lighting situations, the live image does not "gain up", however when using ISO auto the metering system is extremely sensitive, allowing you to see with the slightest amount of ambient light; however if the sensitivity is locked at ISO 50 or 100, the display can be rather dark. There is no optical viewfinder, so all framing is accomplished with the LCD.
Shooting performance was very robust. Power up to first image captured measured approx. 2.6 seconds, which includes the time it took me to open and swivel its 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 6/10 of a second including autofocus. When shooting a sequence of still images, the shot to shot delay averaged 2.3 seconds without the flash and 2.5 - 5 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance. The C4 does not offer any type of Burst mode. Switching from record mode to playback or vice versa takes about a second. All of our tests were done using a Delkin eFilm 1GB SD card, with the image size/quality set at 4M, Auto mode, preview off with all other settings at default (unless noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera setting, media, etc.
There are five recording size choices for Movie mode. You can use 640x480 TV- SHQ (30fps @ 3Mbps bit rate) or TV-HQ modes (30fps @ 2Mbps bit rate) for movies to be displayed on your television. The C5 is unique in that it has both a composite video and S-Video output for a TV, VCR or DVD recorder. The 320x240 TV-S (30fps) and Web-HQ (15fps) modes are great when wanting to conserve space on your memory card. There's also a 176x144 Web-S mode (15fps) which creates small file size movies for email transmission. Have you ever noticed that it's almost impossible to capture a steady movie with your "typical" consumer digicam unless you have a tripod or monopod; but who really carries one of these around anyway. With the C4's digital image stabilizer feature, this is no longer a problem. Another unique option on this hybrid was its Wind Noise Reduction mode. It dramatically reduces noise caused by a slight to strong breeze, which is one of the downfalls to most digicams. Audio is recorded in Stereo thanks to the two built-in microphones. Overall it captures high-quality movies, with very little compression noise when using its SHQ mode. The autofocus does a great job of keeping up while panning and zooming. You must be careful when using the zoom control or you will shake the camera when going from wide angle to telephoto and vise versa. Be sure to check out our movies on the samples page.
The overall image quality when using 4M mode was great. Our outdoor samples were sharp with nice color balance. Its exposure systems did well in a wide variety of lighting conditions and it also did a good job of exposing the sky, with beautiful cloud detail. I did notice average amounts of noise in both low and high contrast areas as well as slight traces of CA (Chromatic Aberration) present around extreme highlights. Like we have explained before, you can only really see noise when viewing an image at 100%, it is very unlikely that you will ever notice it in any of your prints. In fact, we were very pleased with both our 8x10-inch and 4x6-inch prints. Its internal 5.8x optical zoom lens produced sharp results throughout its 38 - 220mm (35mm equivalent) range, showing the typical amount of barrel distortion at wide-angle and only slight pin cushioning at full telephoto. The zoom mechanism is smooth and quiet throughout its range and can be used while recording movies. The C4 also features an 8-megapixel (interpolated) still record mode. We found that image quality does suffer a little when using it, with increased noise levels and softness. We recommend sticking with its 4M mode, especially when you plan on making prints larger than 4x6-inches.
Indoors you will have to work with its very limited flash range of about 8 feet. It has enough power for close-up portraits of individuals and small groups, but illuminating a medium to large sized room is out of the question. However, this is to be expected from such a small camera. Tiny camera + tiny battery + tiny flash + large LCD = fairly short flash range, mostly to conserve precious battery power. When shooting your people shots, there's a digital Cosmetic filter that Sanyo claims will enhance your subject's skin tones. We did notice some slight changes with the overall appearance of skin tones being a bit warmer, brighter and softer when using this filter. There was quite a bit of red-eye in our people shots, however this was not the case with the close-up portraits. The only conclusion I could come up with was subject distance. It seems the further away the subject is, the more likely you will see red-eye. Therefore, I feel the C4 would benefit from a red-eye reduction flash mode. On a better note, the autofocus system did surprisingly well in most low-ambient lighting, even though it does not feature a Focus-assist lamp. When you half- press the still image shutter release it will "gain-up" to help lock focus. Although it does not feature a dedicated Macro mode, the C4 did very well at focusing on subjects from close-ups and it "throttles down" the flash output nicely for nearly perfect exposures every time. If you need to get even closer to your subject, its Super Macro mode can focus down to 0.79-inches. The default "automatic" focus mode covers both normal and macro distances without the need of pushing a button, very handy.
Power is supplied by a tiny 3.7v 720mAh Lithium-ion rechargeable battery, which is charged either in-camera when placed in the handy docking cradle or separately in the AC adapter/charger. Sanyo claims it will allow the you to capture 130 4-megapixel images or up to 60 minutes of 640x480 HQ video on a full charge. I would have to say that the battery life was pretty good, we were able to capture a large majority of our sample images (over 90 shots and about 20 ten second clips) before the battery was exhausted. We recommend purchasing an extra battery pack and a large 1GB size SD card if shooting movies frequently - which seems very likely!
Bottom line - the Sanyo Xacti VPC-C4 is yet another "cool" little hybrid digicam. Its small size allows it to be carried anywhere and you can be sure it is always ready to go with its speedy performance. It produces great 4-megapixel images and awesome VGA sized movies. I found only a few downfalls, its limited flash range and abundance of red-eye in people photos. However, as mentioned with the C5, these are heavily outweighed by the positive attributes of this camera. We feel it will make a great choice for those who want a camera that will capture both quality still images and near MiniDV quality movies -- all with a "Wow" factor that is sure to draw attention when among friends. And let's not forget, this is a perfect model for the lefties!
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