At just £55 or thereabouts, the Vivitar ViviCam F529 sits right at the bottom of the market in terms of price. Yet this compact camera boasts a 14.1-megapixel resolution, 5x optical zoom lens, 720p high-definition video and more. Could it be the bargain of the century, or is it an unspeakable waste of plastic and glass?
Too good to be true
For £55, you might well expect a camera's feature list to be pretty sparse. The F529 seems surprisingly well equipped, though, boasting, in addition to its aforementioned specs, a 2.7-inch LCD screen, an anti-shake system, and red-eye-reduction and face-detection features. It's also conveniently small and light.
Sounds too good to be true? It is. The shiny brushed-metal casing looks good from afar but, up close, you'll be able to see -- and feel -- how cheaply made the F529 really is. Everything from the tacky metal-look plastic rear to the hard-to-press buttons and the dodgy, spring-loaded SD card slot all reek of low-cost manufacturing.
Switch the camera on and you'll find yourself twiddling your thumbs for a good 5 seconds before you can actually take a photo. When the LCD screen finally spasms into life, you'll be treated to a blotchy, bleached-out, low-res picture that's barely adequate for composing your shots.
Sucks bad style
So far, so disappointing. But the F529's real problems aren't obvious until you actually start using it.
The camera's menu and navigation systems are pretty old-school but not entirely unintuitive. More annoying is the fact that important settings, like macro, are buried deep within the menus.
Simply taking a shot poses something of a problem, in that the shutter-release button is so resistant to being pressed that you invariably end up bodging your photo. The anti-shake feature does nothing to compensate for this or, from what we could tell, any other type of camera movement.
As for the photos themselves, one look at our test shots should tell you everything you need to know. The F529 produces dull, bleary-looking shots in which some colours are violently overcooked, while others -- highlights in particular -- are rendered as a greeny, grainy mess. Even in good daylight, your shots will look bad. There's so much picture noise that your eyes will go deaf. Chromatic aberration abounds and the overall image is soft to the point of being one big blur.
Indoor photos are even ropier. An orange hue descends on everything you photograph and picture noise increases exponentially. ISO sensitivity settings of up to 400 are available -- as long as you can be bothered to hunt through the menus for them -- but, even in fairly well-lit interiors, shots end up far too grainy and blurry, unless you employ the built-in flash.
Video quality is just as bad and the accompanying audio is limited to tinny, barely audible mono. It's just as well there's no HDMI output, as you're unlikely to want to watch any of your footage back on the big screen.
It's almost impossible to say anything good about the Vivitar ViviCam F529's picture quality. Combine that fact with the usability and build-quality issues, and we just can't recommend this camera. It sucks.
Edited by Charles Kloet