As I’ve reported before, many manufacturers have tried and failed to produce the perfect hybrid of a digital still camera and a digital video camera. In theory it shouldn’t be too hard; after all they both use the same core technology. They both use compact high-powered zoom lenses, both use rechargeable batteries and both capture their images using CCDs. However for some reason no attempt so far has been truly successful. The last one I reviewed was the dismal Sony DSC-M2, which suffered from appalling handling and incomprehensible controls. However there is one manufacturer that has been making hybrid cameras longer than any other, and one that is often overlooked by many reviewers.
Sanyo’s Xacti range of still/video cameras has been around since 2004, although previous models have suffered from poor picture quality and limited shooting time on standard SD cards. However the latest model, the VPC-HD1, looks a lot more promising, so I got one in for closer scrutiny.
In form as well as function the Xacti is a mixture of still and video camera. It is designed to be held one-handed like a pistol, with a large 2.2in flip-and-twist monitor screen on the side and all the controls mounted for thumb operation on the back.
It has a powerful 10x optical zoom lens, and a small pop-up flash on the top. It is powered by a large 1200mAh Lithium-ion battery that is mounted inside the handgrip under a removable panel, rather like a mobile phone.
It isn’t exactly a small device compared to a compact still camera, but it’s certainly a lot smaller than your average DV camcorder. Measuring 80 x 119 x 36mm and weighing a hefty 210g without battery or card, it’s a bit too large to be carried in a pocket, but it does come with a good quality semi-rigid carrying pouch with a belt loop.
Overall build quality is very good, and the design is stylish and modern with an attractive gunmetal and brushed steel finish. The case is made of light alloy with some plastic parts, and the camera feels sturdy and dependable. The monitor screen is superb – it’s an OLED screen rather than the more common LCD screens. It’s bright, non-reflective, and with 210,000 pixels it’s pin-sharp. It also has an exceptionally fast refresh rate, so there’s no noticeable viewing lag.
In operation the HD1 is efficient, but a bit unusual. Switching on from the main on/off switch takes a little over four seconds, but once on, closing the monitor puts it into standby mode. Opening the monitor again wakes it up in just over two seconds, which is pretty good. The unusual part is the voice announcement that accompanies every action. Press the shooting button once and a pleasant female voice announces “Camera mode”, close the screen down and she tells you “Standby mode”. It’s cute, but it would probably get annoying after a while. Fortunately there is a menu option to turn her off.