So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Sanyo Xacti VPC-CA6
- Splash proof, tiny design
- Low light performance, irritating controls, digital still pictures not up to par
While the splash-proof case and tiny design of the Xacti VPC-CA6 will appeal to some, those after good quality video and stills with an easy to operate control setup should look elsewhere.
Price$ 799.00 (AUD)
Products targeted at the more active consumer continue to grow more and more popular in the technology sector, and Sanyo's latest Xacti video camera, the VPC-CA6, is another device of such nature. Offering splash proof video and still image recording in a small casing, this model is a decent option for those who want a handy travel camera. However, its design leaves something to be desired and the image quality isn't quite as good as we'd have liked.
Video is recorded to an SD-card, rather than the more traditional DVD or Mini-DV media, and is written at a resolution of 640 x 480 at 30fps. In general the quality was about what we expect from standard definition footage of this size. It had reasonable colour balance, although struggled sometimes with high contrast areas, creating haloing and blowouts. There was quite a bit of graininess and some image aberrations on moving targets, but the level of detail was reasonably good and we felt the pictures were crisp for standard definition footage.
However, this didn't translate into our low light tests. When filming coloured blocks in our darkened test room, rather than capturing clean, sharp edges, the VPC-CA6 instead captured no edges. There was no sign of anything in the video at all. Turning on the 'night portrait' mode didn't help at all here. If you regularly find yourself videoing in dim circumstances, the Xacti isn't the right choice for you.
Still images were also disappointing. While they looked decent, overall they were inferior to pictures captured by dedicated 6 megapixel still cameras. There was a visible amount of noise and the colour balance was noticeable inaccurate. They weren't terrible by any means, but those after good quality pictures that they can comfortably enlarge and make prints of will want to look elsewhere.
Our other issue with the unit was its design. It is quite a tiny camera and weighs just 155g, which makes it ideal to slip into a handbag or backpack and forget about. However this also means the controls wind up crammed together and they are quite difficult to use. The VPC-CA6 is a pistol grip camera, meaning it is held with one hand much like you'd hold a gun. The relatively simple controls, which consist of a thumbstick, zoom switch and photo, video, menu and playback buttons, sit on the back of the unit at the top, in position to be operated with the thumb. In practice they are too close together and mounted very stiffly, making them a trial for those with large hands.
The screen is also mounted strangely. It can't be rotated at all; instead it simply flips out from the side. No vanity shots will be taken with this camera as you have to be staring straight at the back at a slightly downward angle to see the screen properly. The whole unit is constructed out of plastic, which isn't the most rugged of substances. It is sturdy enough by regular video camera standards but we'd like to have seen it with a tougher exterior to match the weatherproof construction. It's cream and blue colour scheme is quite fitting to the sporty, outdoors nature of the unit and while some people may dislike the aesthetic, we thought it looked fine.
The other aspect of note is the unit's splash-proof design. It is rated up to JIS 4 standard, which means it can survive having water splashed on it from any angle. This doesn't mean you can submerge it under water, but you can use the unit with wet hands, or in an area like a pool where water is being sprayed around.
As stated earlier, the VPC-CA6 records to SD card, rather than a more traditional media format. This is a double edged sword. On one hand, you get the convenience of tiny, removeable media that can be recorded over as many times as you like and plugged straight in to many notebooks and desktops. But on the other hand it is an added cost, and high capacity cards aren't cheap. Files are written to MP4 format and our two minute test recording was roughly 50MB in size meaning you will get about 80 minutes recording on a 4GB SD card.
Most of the features you'd expect are present, including 5x optical zoom and 12x digital zoom. It has whitebalance options, several scene modes and a few rather meager focus options. There is also digital image stabilisation which, while not as effective as its optical brother, still seemed to have a reasonable impact here.
The Xacti's battery life was poor. We had to charge it multiple times during testing. It should last roughly as long as a single SD card worth of footage, or slightly less, which is not all that bad, but it means you will have to charge it constantly between use.
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