So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
- Huge zoom, easy to use menu system, support for dual layer discs, price
- LCD screen, performance in low light
A well constructed and easy to use camcorder but offers mediocre video performance.
Price$ 799.00 (AUD)
Offering a big optical zoom and Dual-Layer DVD recording at a bargain price, at first glance Samsung's VP-DC163 looks like a fairly solid product. However, as the entry level model in Samsung's new range, the VP-DC163 can't escape problems with poor image quality particularly in low light.
One of the good things about the VP-DC163 is its support for Dual-Layer DVDs. Usually a camcorder can only record 20 minutes of footage at the highest quality level, so this model gives the potential to double this. However, based on our tests you'll need to change the battery for each new disc too; we could only get about 45 minutes out of a single charge. A higher powered larger battery, the SB-LSM160, is available. The VP-DC163 also supports regular +/-RW and +/-R discs.
As a budget DVD camcorder we really weren't expecting much from the VP-DC163 in terms of the quality of its footage, and our expectations proved to be well founded. Colour balance was decent, but some shots did look a little washed out. The footage also lacked the clarity and sharpness of more expensive models, which was to be expected. Visible graininess was a further problem in some of our shots. While these problems were no worse than many other low-cost DVD camcorders in daylight, moving to low light situations produced one of the worst examples of image degradation we have seen.
Our standard test for evaluating the low light capabilities of camcorders is to shoot some footage of brightly coloured bricks in a darkened room. Almost all camcorders struggle with this using their standard settings, but there is at least some semblance of an image. When we experimented with the VP-DC163 we couldn't see anything at all on the LCD; we even thought for a moment that the camera was turned off. The truth is that the camcorder just isn't sensitive enough in low light. Adjusting a few settings led to a vague outline of shapes on the screen, but there was no discernible colour visible. Even activating night mode didn't help things much.
This is extremely disappointing, and we recommend that if you plan to take any footage in low light that you steer well clear of the VP-DC163. Exacerbating the problem is the poor quality LCD, which on its standard settings is far too bright, leading to washed out colour and an inaccurate representation of what is actually being recorded. The LCD also suffers from poor visibility in sunlight and is in a 4:3 ratio.
It's a shame the camera video quality and screen are not better as from a design perspective the VP-DC163 is excellent. Samsung has included one of the most powerful lenses we have seen on a camcorder, with a whopping 33x optical zoom. However being so large, it does take a rather long time to zoom in and out. The camcorder is also very well built, which is nice to see on a budget model, with smooth lines and solid construction. The VP-DC163 is comfortable to hold and fairly lightweight with a slimline battery neatly attached to the back. However the downside to having such an unobtrusive battery is the limited battery life we mentioned earlier
Navigating the controls is made simple by using a simple on-screen interface accompanied with a five-way navigational toggle. This intuitive layout enables easy access to all the camera's functions. We especially liked the 'quick menu' toggle which gives instant access to white balance, shutter speed and exposure options. These are rare finds on a budget camera anyway, so it's great to see that Samsung has put them in a sensible place. Samsung also include a microphone jack, which isn't always the case, and a stereo microphone. An SD-card slot enables the camcorder to save still images, but with only a 0.8 megapixel sensor, they aren't of very good quality and are no substitute for a dedicated digital camera.
Overall, we very much liked the design of the camcorder, with its smooth lines, attractive colour scheme and lightweight body. However, the LCD screen and image quality are a real turn off, even if the cost is low.
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