Sanyo Xacti VPC-CA65 (EXW)
- Waterproof to 1.5 metres, reasonable video quality for asking price, 6-megapixel still images mode
- Erratic auto focus, overly small controls, no underwater scene mode.
The VPC-CA65 (EXW) is a semi-decent underwater camcorder that's unlikely to break your bank balance. However, it has been outclassed by the Panasonic SDR-SW20, which offers better features for a similar price tag.
Price$ 699.00 (AUD)
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Midway through last year, we reviewed Sanyo's Xacti VPC-CA6; a water-resistant flash memory-based camcorder that seemed to be tailor-made for the encroaching holidays. While it performed adequately for a standard-definition camera, the image quality was a long way from perfect, suffering from poor resolution and frequent noise issues. Its overall design also left a lot to be desired, sporting a restrictive LCD screen and small, frustrating controls.
After a year of deliberation, Sanyo has returned from the drawing board with another water-themed SD/SDHC camcorder; the VPC-CA65 (EXW). Unlike its predecessor (which was tentatively billed as 'splash-proof'), the VPC-CA65 is fully waterproof to a depth of up to 1.5 metres. This naturally makes for a more versatile camera, allowing it to go places where the previous unit couldn't. However, it currently faces stiff competition from Panasonic's SDR-SW20; a similar device that is arguably superior in many ways.
As mentioned, the VPS-CA65 records video to SD/SDHC memory cards in the MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 video format. SDHC media (and its assorted equivalents) are considered the next big thing in the camcorder industry, due to their high level of convenience and potential for massive storage capacities. At present, up to 32GB can be stored on one SDHC card, which is the same amount of memory found on many hard disk-based camcorders. (Of course, the downside is that high capacity cards can be very expensive – expect to pay up to $400 for one 16GB card.)
With a resolution of 640x480 pixels, the VPC-CA65 is not going to trouble any high-def units when it comes to image quality, but its output was decent nonetheless. In general we found its video performance to be on par with most standard-def cameras in this price range; which is to say it was good, but not great. It had adequate colour balance and despite some graininess, the level of detail remained reasonably sharp, especially in sunny environments. Our only major criticism is with the auto-focus, which seemed almost farcically sluggish. This is particularly problematic during underwater shooting, where holding the camera still can be quite difficult.
Otherwise, our underwater test footage fared pretty well, although the 5x optical zoom will make it difficult to capture distant marine life (on the plus side, the inclusion of a super macro mode will allow those who are brave enough to get up-close-and-personal). Curiously, the unit does not appear to offer an 'underwater' scene mode, despite its aquatic credentials. By contrast, the Panasonic SDR-SW20 offers 10x optical zoom and a dedicated underwater mode, not to mention being dust-proof, shockproof and drop-proof. One word of warning – make sure you keep a good grip on the VPC-CA65 while in the water; floating is not one of its strong points. (A floating hand strap can be purchased separately.)
As with the Xacti VPC-CA6, the VPC-CA65 is capable of capturing still images at a resolution of 6 megapixels. While image quality is inferior to a dedicated 6-megapixel camera, the ability to take underwater shots cannot be overlooked. Most waterproof external camera cases cost at least half the price of this camcorder; and that's before you factor in the price of the accompanying compact camera. This makes the VPC-CA65 good value for money if you're interested in underwater photography and video.
The VPC-CA65 retains the same unconventional 'handgun' design as the other models in the Sanyo Xacti range. With no hand strap to secure the camera in place, users are forced to grip the lower body like a handle. It kind of makes the device look like a futuristic hair dryer, and as you would expect it takes a while to get used to. With a little practice however, we found the unusual shape to be quite versatile. The LCD screen has also been improved, allowing 270 degrees of rotation. We also liked the 'cream-and-cookie' colour scheme, which appears elegant yet sporty.
Unfortunately, while Sanyo has made some improvements to the build quality of the camera, its control layout remains mostly unchecked. Like its predecessor, it is quite a tiny unit, resulting in equally tiny buttons. The controls, which sit on the back of the device and are accessed via the thumb, are crammed too closely together and are mounted very stiffly. This makes using the VPC-CA65 a trial for people with have large hands and can also prove difficult underwater, where visibility is limited.
All up, the VPC-CA65 is a semi-decent performer for the asking price. While some significant flaws remain, it manages to improve on the VPC-CA6 in several key areas, making it a decent little option for those who require underwater video.
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