Despite being one of the earliest exponents of the pocket camcorder, Sanyo's Xacti VPC-SH1 has more in common with traditional models than the Flip Video. At £275, the SH1 is more expensive than some of Sanyo's other products too. But does it have the raw power to beat the big boys at their own game?
Sanyo promotes its camcorders as 'Dual Cameras' -- making the claim that they're equally as good at taking photos as they are recording video. The SH1's specs would appear to bear this out. As well as video recording up to 1080p, the SH1 can take high-resolution photos up to 3,648x2,736 pixels (with interpolation), which works out at around 10 megapixels.
Despite this marketing, the SH1 looks very much like it's primarily intended for video work, with a proper grown-up camcorder design replacing the compact pistol-grip look you'll find elsewhere in Sanyo's Xacti range. Though it apes the appearance of many full-size camcorders, Sanyo's sculpted barrel-grip body is still somewhat smaller than most, plonking it somewhere in the middle ground between pocket videocams and mainstream models.
The Xacti is eminently portable, but unfortunately doesn't come with very good grip strap. Instead, the supplied wrist strap can be attached to the tripod thread underneath the unit to act as a kind of makeshift grip. It's not the best solution, as the device tends to loll to one side unless you keep a firm hold on it.
Sanyo acknowledges some users may wish to hold the device their own way during filming, providing two sets of video and photo start/stop buttons. One set is on the rear of the unit where your thumb might rest, whereas the other is on the top towards the lens housing, for those who prefer to film with two hands.
We'd recommend two-handed filming where possible. It's the best way to keep your camcorder steady, especially since the SH1's electronic image stabiliser is worse than useless. We found switching this feature on actually caused our footage to look more jerky than with it off.
The doppelganger effect
The Xacti VPC-SH1 shares several traits with Toshiba's Camileo SX500, which we've also just reviewed -- so many, in fact, we're beginning to wonder whether Sanyo and Toshiba have been sharing factory floor space with each other. As well as similar prices and similar abilities, the two also feature an almost identical menu interface and navigation system.
It's rather old-school in that there's no touchscreen capabilities, just a five-way mini joystick to help you get around and make your selections. It's fairly easy to use, however, and there are some interesting options on offer.
The first thing you'll want to do is switch off the annoying musical tone and chirpy female voice that greet you whenever you switch the thing on. But there's also a light smattering of manual controls to investigate (including white balance, exposure and ISO), and a targeting feature that allows you to track faces or colours. If you're not interested in any of the settings, however, it's possible to switch the camera to simple mode and banish any of the unit's potentially confusing options from even being displayed.
In the frame
We experimented with the 1080i, 1080p and 720p quality settings and came to the conclusion that 1080i is probably best for playing back on a TV, while the 720/30p is preferable if you're shooting for YouTube. At 1080i you get the benefit of a higher frame rate (60 fields per second) which provides a much smoother moving image than the 30fps rate of 1080p.
Overall the picture is rich, with sumptuous colours and a fair amount of detail. You'll see plenty of artefacts in areas of shadow, though. And on even a fairly leisurely panning shot, the picture breaks up quite dramatically, rather than blurring in a more natural way. Compared to other models, we'd say the SH1 produces superior video quality to most pocket video cameras, but falls a little short against mainstream AVCHD models.
Photo quality, on the other hand, is very good for an HD video camera. There's one slight irk in that framing 4:3-shaped photos is difficult on the 16:9-shaped 2.7-inch LCD screen -- you need to press the photo button down a little to see what your real frame looks like. In our tests, however, the photos themselves easily rival cheaper compact cameras, with high levels of detail, balanced, saturated colours and realistic skin tones. There's some blurring at the far end of the zoom, but this is quite common.
Speaking of which, the 23x optical magnification offered for still photos is expanded to a 30x 'advanced' zoom for shooting video, which basically uses the sensor's extra pixellage to digitally zoom without any loss of image quality. Depending on your viewpoint, that's impressive compared to the short or digital-only zooms found on most pocket video cameras, though it's about average for a mainstream camcorder.
The device includes a very small (50MB) amount of internal memory, but supports SD media, including high-capacity SDXC cards. HDMI output, a front-mounted LED flash/lamp and a reasonable (120-minute) battery life round out the other positives.
Reasonable performance on the video side, plus above-average photo quality and some useful options make the Xacti VPC-SH1 a viable option in the lower-to-mid range.
Unfortunately for Sanyo, there's a good deal of competition at this price point these days, and we'd heartily recommend weighing this device up against both the JVC Everio GZ-HM330 and the Panasonic HDC-SD60 before you commit. Both camcorders offer significantly better video performance for a similar sort of outlay, though neither come anywhere near the photo quality of the SH1.
Edited by Nick Hide