Sanyo Xacti VPC-C5 Review
The Xacti VPC-C5 is the latest ultra-compact "hybrid" digicam and tapeless video
camcorder that Sanyo has to offer. The first model was the VPC-C1, most of us in the
U.S. probably know it better at the Fisher FVD-C1, a 3.2-megapixel camera. The new C5 includes many
high-end features like a 5-megapixel imager, 5x optical zoom with auto macro, digital
image stabilizer, VGA (640x480) sized MPEG-4 movies, and a swiveling 2.0-inch LCD.
This is a stylish point-n-shoot model that can be used easily by anyone. The default
Auto mode will automatically select the best of four scene modes for you. Advanced
users can manually change the ISO sensitivity, the metering or focus mode and the
white balance. There are a total of six scene modes (sports, portrait, landscape,
night view, fireworks, lamp) and three digital filters (cosmetic, monochrome, and
sepia) to choose from.
Ergonomics were great. Unlike the Sony M1, the C5's controls are well placed and useable - Sony's little round-topped buttons are a complete disaster. The C5 and the 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, this is not the case with the C5. 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, I visually inspected it often and wiped accordingly. Making changes to camera settings is a snap with its logically organized menu system. The 285° swiveling 2.0-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 with harsh sunlight beating directly onto it. The LCD is a trans-reflective type, it can be operated in bright light with the backlight turned completely off. When shooting in low-ambient lighting, the image does not "gain up", however its metering system is very sensitive, allowing you to see with the slightest amount of ambient light. It does this well when the ISO is set to Auto, if you lock it in at ISO 50 or 100 the display can be rather dark. There is no optical viewfinder, all framing is accomplished on the LCD.
The C5 was quite the performer. Power up to first image captured measured approx. 2.1 seconds. 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 seconds without the flash and 3 - 4 seconds with the flash. The C5 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 an ATP 60x 1GB SD card, with the image size/quality set at 5M High, Program Auto mode, preview off with all other settings at default (unless noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera setting, media, etc.
The C5 offers 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. It's almost impossible to capture steady movies with a consumer digicam unless you have a tripod or monopod; but who really lugs one around just to record a movie? With the C5's digital image stabilizer feature, this is no longer a problem. 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 a slight 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. You can see some examples of movies on our samples page.
I was also very pleased with the overall image quality when using the 5M High mode. Outdoors it captured sharp images with good contrast. The exposure and white balance systems did well in a wide variety of lighting conditions, and colors were nicely saturated. There were average amounts of noise in low contrast areas, but almost no CA (Chromatic Aberration) present in high contrast areas. It also does a very good job of exposing the sky, with beautiful cloud detail. Although you can see the noise when viewing an image at 100%, it is very unlikely that you will even see any traces in your prints. In fact, our 8x10-inch prints were great and 4x6-inch prints were awesome. The only thing missing is a specific 3:2 mode for "perfect" 4x6-inch prints - maybe the C6 will have it. The 5x optical internal zoom lens produced sharp results throughout its 38 - 190mm (35mm equivalent) range, with moderate 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.
When shooting indoors, I found the flash had a pretty short range, but it's 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. I found it was sufficient for close-ups or solo portraits; if you're going to shoot a group portrait make sure there's plenty of light. There's a digital Cosmetic filter, which Sanyo claims will enhance skin tones in your portraits. We did notice some slight changes with the overall appearance of skin tones being a bit warmer, brighter and softer when using this filter. Although there isn't a dedicated red-eye reduction mode, we noticed very little red-eye in our portraits and that's amazing given the proximity of the flash the lens. The autofocus system did surprisingly well in most low-ambient lighting, even though it lacks an AF-assist lamp. When you half-press the still image shutter release it will "gain-up" to help lock focus. The C5 is very good at Close-up (macro) shots. It "throttled down" the flash output nicely for nearly perfect exposures every time. 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 C5 to capture 113 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 100 shots and about 15 ten second clips) before the battery was exhausted. We recommend the purchase of an extra battery pack and a large 1GB size SD card if shooting movies frequently - and with this camera you will!
Bottom line - the Sanyo Xacti VPC-C5 is a hybrid digicam that produces great movies and even better still images. It can be slipped into almost any size pocket or handbag, and with its speedy performance, you can always be certain it's ready to capture those special moments. The only downfall is its limited flash range, but this is heavily outweighed by the positive attributes of this camera. The 5-megapixel images it yields have enough resolution for photo-quality prints up to 8x10-inches, maybe larger. The jury is still out on its interpolated 10-megapixel images (see our sample photo) - there is more resolution but the image quality suffers. Although it's a bit expensive, with a suggested price of around $699, we feel the C5 is worth it. I had a blast using this camera, it really is fun to use and it's a great conversation starter - people will definitely ask you about it. If you're a "lefty" living in the righty world then you owe it to yourself to check out this unique little gem.
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