The perfect camcorder is portable, cheap, and capable of producing stunning video. In the real world, we have to make trade-offs. The Sanyo Fisher FVD-C1 earns high marks for its palm-size, curvy body, and its price matches that of many consumer DV models. But though the CameraCorder outputs surprisingly good-looking MPEG-4 video, DV competitors still do better. If you don't mind exchanging image quality for pocketability and can live with a limited storage capacity, the FVD-C1 has a lot to offer.
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To the left of the Menu button is a five-way selector. These controls and the menus themselves are intelligently designed, making for one of the best navigation systems we've seen for one-handed camcorder operation.
The power button sits under the 1.5-inch retractable LCD, hiding from accidental presses. Controls are on the unit's back, so you can access most functions with your thumb. In theory, this layout enables easy one-handed recording, but the FVD-C1 is so small and light that you'll probably need both hands to steady it. Its 1/4-inch socket is suitable for most tripods, but the upward-angled lens will force you to tilt your tripod down for eye-level shots.
Compared with the typical camcorder LCD, the FVD-C1's 1.5-inch screen is small, but thanks to high-resolution text and contrasting colors, the graphically rich menus are easy to read and use. As you move from icon to icon, descriptive titles pop up to help you distinguish the choices. There are two main menus: Basic provides access to video and photo resolutions, filters, and settings for the flash and the self-timer. For a few of the manual functions, you have to enter the Expert category. You switch between Basic and Expert by nudging the five-way selector to the left. The Options mode, available from either menu, takes you to various housekeeping features, such as power saving, SD-card formatting, and the clock display. For the FVD-C1 Pocket CameraCorder, Sanyo Fisher slimmed down several key features as much as the size. For instance, the optical zoom is 5.6X rather than the typical 10X. Still, the lens covers an effective range of 38mm to 220mm in 35mm-camera terms.
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|The FVD-C1's included docking station charges the battery and supports USB 2.0 file transfers.||The CameraCorder's video resolution ranges from 320x240 to 640x480, both at 30 frames per second. The bundled 512MB SD card holds only 21 minutes of highest-quality or 81 minutes of lowest-quality footage.|
With its 3.2-megapixel CCD sensor, the FVD-C1 can snap 2,048x1,536 photos, as well as less storage-hungry 1,600x1,200 and 640x480 shots. The camcorder captures stereo audio through a microphone embedded in the back of the LCD, and there's a dedicated mode for voice memos. To transfer the FVD-C1's video, you can dub it to a VCR or a DVD recorder over the supplied A/V cable, download the media's contents via the dock, or copy the files directly to your computer with an SD card reader.
The menu system contains several unusual video features, including flicker reduction and a built-in editor that can remove individual frames or combine clips. There are also some oddball filters: Cosmetic smooths out facial wrinkles (it really works), Slim stretches an image horizontally or vertically (it's gimmicky), and Ghost generates color trails that cascade with movement (it's both eerie and fun). Five preprogrammed modes target difficult exposure and focus situations, such as sports action, landscapes, and night shots. You'll also find manual settings for white balance, exposure, and the photo flash.
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Sanyo Fisher rates the rechargeable battery's life at approximately 60 minutes for video recording, 130 minutes for video playback, or 160 photo captures, so you'll have sufficient opportunity to fill the 512MB SD card.
Otherwise, the mike worked surprisingly well, capturing a wide range of frequencies and lending music a rich, warm tone. Performance held up even when we flipped the LCD so that our subject could see it. But audio was occasionally weak, so we recommend staying within 15 feet of the sound you're trying to record.
Autofocus was generally accurate, though it often wandered excessively after fast pans or quick movements between light and dark areas. The flash's autoexposure adjusted slowly, and it poorly handled some scenes with tricky lighting, such as portraits against very bright or very dark backgrounds.
If you're concerned that a 1.5-inch LCD might be too small, rest assured that the FVD-C1's screen is detailed and sharp, and it swivels more than 270 degrees. It performed well under the midday sun and offers seven brightness levels accessible through the menu. The good news is that the Sanyo Fisher FVD-C1's video quality is clearly superior to that of sub-$200 tapeless mini cams. The bad news is that like the Panasonic , the Pocket CameraCorder can't generate footage as good as a DV model's.
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The FVD-C1 gave us relatively sharp photos with surprisingly little noise and good color.
In the shots we took outdoors and in well-lit interiors, colors looked first-rate. When we reduced the light, color reproduction and exposure held up really well. We did see more video noise, but it didn't increase excessively, and overall, the FVD-C1 delivered very good image quality in dim conditions. It was competitive with that of consumer DV camcorders.
However, video exhibited quite a few artifacts. For instance, panning at a moderate or fast pace generated tearing: imagine the image split into vertical strips, some of which are slightly shifted over to either side. Quick pans and jumps between light and dark areas also occasionally resulted in compression artifacts.
The FVD-C1's focus quality varied with its motion. Several of our fast shots were out of focus from the moment we started recording until we stopped moving the camera. Though DV models occasionally have this problem, it was much more pronounced with the FVD-C1. Because of the focus lag and the tearing, we definitely don't recommend this camcorder for sports events.