Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Sanyo Xacti VPC-CA8 (EXBK)
- Good still image mode, slightly cheaper than the competition, one-handed design assists with swimming
- Sluggish autofocus, it's only waterproof for 1.5 metres (and one hour), controls are too small
The VPC-CA8(EXBK) is a minor upgrade of Sanyo's previous waterproof model, the VPC-CA65 (EXW). Despite some improvements to image quality (particularly when it comes to still pictures), its limited underwater functionality remains unchanged.
Price$ 699.00 (AUD)
It’s nearly summertime again, which means a shiny new fleet of waterproof camcorders are bound for Aussie shores (accompanied by a swathe of nautical-based puns from hack journalists... For this we make no apologies.) The first to alight from the landing dock is Sanyo’s Xacti VPC-CA8 (EXBK) — a standard-def hybrid model with some interesting photography features onboard.
While it remains eminently seaworthy, it’s not the most impressive vessel in the shipyard, suffering from poor controls and so-so image quality. As such, it would be better suited to seafaring tourists than grizzled camcorder captains; a judgement supported by its dinghy-like price. [I'm really not paid enough to have to deal with this — Ed.]
Like its predecessor, the Xacti VPC-CA65 (EXW), the VPC-CA8 (EXBK) combines the freedom of underwater shooting with the convenience of SD/SDHC memory cards. It also shares some less attractive traits with its forebear, including uncomfortably small buttons and a maximum depth of only 1.5 metres (we were hoping this would be at least doubled). Fortunately, Sanyo has made some improvements to the camera’s inbuilt memory and image sensor, and the stills picture mode has also been enhanced. While these additions are naturally welcomed, they fail to make the camera anything more than ordinary.
As mentioned above, the VPC-CA8 boasts water resistance of up to 1.5 metres. Not only does this rule out scuba diving, but you’ll also need to be careful in the deep end of the pool. (Note: Due to poor legibility, the embossed logo on the VPC-CA8’s handle appears to read ‘15m’— so make sure you give your buddies a heads-up before they borrow it.) Annoyingly, the device can only be immersed in water for 60 minute intervals, which means you’ll need to keep checking your watch and fretting about the time. The camera also sinks like a stone, which is a bit of a worry for the slippery fingered. On the plus side, the one-handed ‘Xacti’ design is well suited for underwater use, and we encountered no problems viewing the 2.5in display while underwater. (Mind you, we were testing it in the bath, which may not be an accurate representation.)
The VPC-CA8 records video to SD/SDHC memory cards in the MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 video format. At present, up to 32GB can be stored on a single SDHC card, which is the same amount of memory found on many hard disk–based camcorders. In addition, the VPC-CA8 comes with 44MB of inbuilt memory (compared to 18MB on the VPC-CA65), which will record around 10 minutes of video at the lowest quality setting.
With a maximum resolution of 640x480 pixels, the VPC-CA8 is not going to trouble any high-def units when it comes to image quality, but its output was decent nonetheless. In optimum conditions, we found its video performance to be on par with its predecessor (i.e. good, but not great). It had adequate colour balance and despite some graininess, the level of detail remained reasonably sharp. Our only major criticism is with the autofocus, which tended to be sluggish.
In our low-light tests, the camera fared considerably worse. Noise was as bad as the model’s land-based cousin, the Xacti VPC-CG9 , which exhibited some of the worst noise levels we’ve seen. Images were poorly defined and lacked sharp edges, with our test subjects shifting in and out of the shadows in a grainy haze.
However, we can almost overlook the VPC-CA8 (EXBK)’s poor low-light performance, as it’s clearly designed for water-based frolics, which traditionally take place in the middle of the day. (Plus, sharks tend to hunt at dusk. We’re not sure what this has to do with anything, but thought we’d throw it in there). (This page on "TIPS TO REDUCE RISK OF SHARK ATTACK!" notes: "Do not swim at twilight or at night. That is a shark's normal feeding time. Hear the dinner bell? Don't set their table for them with yourself as the main entree." We can't vouch for the accuracy of the page's tips — but we'd rather be safe than, er, eaten.)
Before we close up the review, special mention must go to the camera's impressive still image mode. Featuring a maximum resolution of 12 megapixels (via interpolation) and fancy bells-and-whistles such as face detection and red-eye removal, it's one of the better image modes we've seen on a standard-def camcorder.
In terms of design, the VPC-CA8 (EXBK) retains the ‘pistol grip’ body that has become synonymous with Sanyo camcorders. This requires you to hold the device like a miniature handgun, with no accompanying strap to secure your hand with (instead, an adjustable wristband is provided). As you can imagine, this can take some time to get used to, especially if you have lots of experience with traditional camcorders under your belt. This problem is exacerbated by the miniaturised controls which are uncomfortably crammed together.
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