Chris Drage finds school-friendly traits to an otherwise ordinary camcorder
On the face of it the Sanyo Xacti VPC-WH1 is a pretty run-of-the-mill camcorder which education users might hardly give a second glance except for two important attributes: its price (from £209 online) and its watertight credentials, both of which potentially place it high on a school’s list of required resources.
Expose your average electronic device to rain or sand and you're lucky if it still works after you've dried and cleaned it out. Sanyo claims its Xacti VPC-WH1 is completely sealed against the elements – not just shower-proof but completely watertight to a depth of three metres.
In order to achieve this feat, every port and opening is protected by a door sealed with a rubberised gasket. By using a variety of sliding catches, these apertures are virtually impossible to knock open accidentally. The camcorder comes in white, scuba yellow or aqua blue, bright colours which make the device more difficult to ‘lose’, if you follow me. That’s the good news...
Not quite so revolutionary is the VPC-WH1’s overall specification which by today’s standards is relatively modest: a tiny CMOS sensor with 1.1-megapixels records the footage, although on the plus side this does enable the generous 30x optical zoom. The resolutions on offer only extend to 1280 x 720 (not Full HD), with a non-European 30 frames per second. Alternatively, you can record with a 640 x 480 resolution at either 30 or 60 frames per second. Still images can be captured at resolutions up to 1600 x 1200 pixels. The recording media is SD (or SDHC) memory card but one isn’t provided in the box so that’s a small but noteworthy, additional extra a school would need to purchase. Underneath the card slot is a dual-function port for USB 2.0 and A/V. There is also a mini-HDMI port, so if you intend viewing movies on an HDTV you will need to purchase an adapter as well.
The menu has two modes: simple and normal, with the former hiding virtually all the options except video/photo resolution, enabling macro mode, and cycling through the flash options. Not surprisingly, there are no mini-jacks for external microphone or head phone, neither is there an accessory shoe. You wouldn't be able to use these underwater anyway, although some students might be tempted to try if they were available! The Xacti VPC-WH1 has a few manual settings available, all buried in the menus and clearly not intended for regular access. The eight ‘scene’ modes are easily available, including an ‘Underwater’ option. Settings for white balance and exposure are buried deep down so clearly the camcorder is intended for simple point-and-shoot operation, not a problem for most schools.
The compromise is between video quality and price with waterproofing
There is one problem, however: image quality. Low-light performance is poor and suffers from lots of colour noise – not an attribute you want in a camcorder intended to be used under such extreme conditions. Things improve when you get outside in natural light, but focus is soft and detail, as a result, suffers. There is a ‘high sensitivity’ mode, reducing the minimum amount of light required to 3 lux. However, backlight compensation is nowhere to be found – a surprising omission when you could potentially be shooting up towards a brighter water surface from underwater.
Holding it in either the traditional ‘HandyCam’ style or alternatively, in the ‘torch-like’ fashion, the Xacti VPC-WH1 is relatively comfortable to handle, with video record buttons both at the rear and on the front near the lens. However, instead of a wrist strap there's only the usual grip band. I would certainly want to obtain a wrist strap to help prevent children dropping it – waterproof it may be but drop-proof it certainly isn't!
As watertight camcorders go, at under £300 the Sanyo Xacti VPC-WH1 offers very good value for money despite its image quality which lets the side down badly. Its 2 megapixel photos are good enough for posting online and overall it is a good choice for use in and around water, including under rain and in snow, and for situations where you don't want to risk recording with a more expensive camcorder. It’s definitely the one I would want to take on school journey or on field trips, with the proviso of having a wrist band fitted! Thoroughly recommended but with a number of reservations.
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 4
Ease of use 4
Value for money 4
Sanyo Xacti VPC-WH1
Camcorder proofed against water, and usable underwater up to depth of three metres. Takes 2 megapixel photos too. Online prices vary from around £209 to £280.
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