What's the ideal digital camera? For many, it would be a pocket-size model that captures high-quality photos and video. No one expects a tiny camera to outperform a large semi-pro SLR, but you also don't want to be embarrassed by its output.
The Sanyo VPC-C4 isn't much larger than some mobile phones, yet it can capture remarkably sharp and vibrant photos. It also records some of the best MPEG-4 video we've seen from a consumer-priced hybrid device. Add in a 4.23-megapixel sensor, a rotating LCD screen, the ability to shoot video and photos simultaneously, and a 5.8x optical zoom that's fully functional when shooting video.
If you're waiting for the other shoe to drop, here it is: there are surprising omissions, such as no red-eye-reduction mode, no continuous shooting for stills, and few manual settings. Outside in full daylight, it's a joy to use. Inside with moderate lighting, it can be more of a challenge. Like the two-seater sports car that's ill equipped for a family holiday, the VPC-C4 has limitations you should be aware of before you buy.
The Sanyo VPC-C4 has an unusual upward-tilting lens that could take some getting used to. It may seem counterintuitive to tilt the camera slightly in order to make the lens level. Except for the power switch, which is revealed when you swing out the LCD screen, all the controls are conveniently clustered around the upper-back part of the case, where you can access them with your thumb. Separate photo- and video-capture buttons make it simple to move between the two functions.
The 46mm (1.8-inch) LCD screen folds out and swivels approximately 280 degrees, allowing overhead, low-angle and self-portrait shots. That's great for right-handed users, but lefties may find that the screen bumps their hands as they position their thumbs over the controls. Whichever hand you use, you'll have to be careful not to place your index finger in front of the lens.
The case consists mostly of a champagne-coloured plastic that has the appearance of brushed metal. You can also purchase the camera with a gold, blue or orange case. Despite its modest size (69mm wide, 109mm high and 33mm deep), the VPC-C4 weighs a fairly hefty 179g. That won't feel too heavy in your pocket, but it's substantial enough to make the camera easy to hold steady. The VPC-C4 felt comfortable when supported for long periods with only one hand.
A five-way mini joystick-style button lets you navigate the menus. It's so small we occasionally overshot the menu we wanted or selected left when we wanted up. The colourful and brightly illuminated menus are easily distinguished. Unfortunately, each set of menu options is spread over two pages. Some cameras, such as the competing Casio Exilim EX-P505, let you use the menu button to back out of the menu hierarchy. With this model, you have to go to the bottom or the top of a menu list in order to move to the next page.
If you like to experiment with various manual settings, you may be disappointed with the Sanyo VPC-C4. There are no aperture- or shutter-priority modes. There's only a single exposure-metering mode -- a multispot approach that combines readings from different portions of the frame. In addition to a fully automatic mode, there are six scene selections for sports, portrait, landscape, night, fireworks and low-light photography. There's no continuous-shooting mode. And there's no red-eye reduction, though you can force the flash on or off.