Sanyo's Xacti HD1A is an interesting device. For a start, it's the smallest High Definition camcorder on the market, and one of the cheapest. It also has respectable still photograph abilities, beyond what we would usually expect from a camcorder. Which begs the question, is it a video camera with an above average still image function or a digital camera with an above average video function?
- Great range of features, compact design, good still images
- Disappointing video quality considering it's high definition, small screen
The world's smallest high definition camcorder is great for still pictures and range of features but less so for the quality of its video.
Price$ 1,499.00 (AUD)
The first thing we need to make clear is that while the HD1A is a High Definition device, it's not quite on the same level as other High Definition camcorders. Sony and Canon's efforts, the HDR-SR1 and HV10 both record at a resolution of 1080i, while the HD1A sticks to 720p. That said, these units are a good deal pricier, so we can forgive the HD1A on that count. However, the main problem with the HD1A's video quality is the prevalence of compression artifacts. There are clear cases of mosaic patterns, graininess and fringing, particularly when filming rapidly moving objects.
Other aspects of the video, such as colour balance and exposure are considerably better. The whole colour spectrum is quite accurate, with vivid primaries standing out. Exposure levels are reasonably impressive, though the contrast between bright areas could be improved. 720p videos offer considerably sharper pictures than their Standard Definition brothers, and recordings looked pretty good when running on our 60 inch television.
One further area of disappointment was the camera's abilities in low light. When performing our standard test of filming coloured bricks in a darkened room, we could barely make them out, and certainly couldn't discern their colour. Overall, the HD1A's video performance is about on a par with a mid range DVD camcorder, albeit with higher resolution footage. This isn't such a bad feat considering its reduced proportions.
Moving on to still images we were pleasantly surprised. Many camcorders make wild claims about their prowess as a still camera, but few actually live up to them. In this case, the five megapixel images produced by the HD1A look pretty good. They offer solid colour representation, with a good level of detail. Our shots were a little noisier than those produced by dedicated 5 megapixel still cameras, and chromatic aberration had a noticeable impact in some areas, but overall the HD1A produces some of the best pictures we've seen from a digital video camera.
One of the great things about the Xacti is the range of features Sanyo has managed to bundle in. Firstly, there's a whole range of manual options across both video and still image modes. This includes manual focus, exposure levels, spot exposure, ISO settings from 50 to 400, shutter speed, aperture and white balance; pretty much every manual feature you could ever want, which is rare to see from a video camera. The HD1A's focus settings are especially good, with the 1cm macro lens being an impressive inclusion for any kind of camera.
For shooting video there are a whole range of recording modes. These vary from 1280 x 720 High Definition footage, to 320 x 240 videos designed for use on the iPod video. All the files are encoded in MPEG4 (.mp4) format which makes them portable and easy to play back on many devices. One nifty inclusion is the option to boost the frame rate of Standard Definition footage to 60fps. This makes a huge difference when filming rapidly moving objects, and is useful for recording sports, planes and cars.
Sanyo's decision to include a microphone input is rare among camcorder manufacturers, and another welcome addition. Also on offer is the ability to adjust the microphone levels, which is almost unheard of on consumer models. However one area we weren't very impressed with was the image stabilisation, which had almost no effect at the far end of the 10x optical zoom.
For still images there are most of the standard features we would expect from a digital camera. A pop-up flash on the top of the camera provides adequate illumination, and comes with red-eye reduction. The 10 frame burst mode isn't anything especially exciting, but it's certainly speedy, rattling off 10 shots in roughly two seconds. There's also a self-timer. It's even possible to capture a still image, at the full 5 megapixel resolution, while recording video.
Another advantage of the HDA1 is Sanyo's decision to include dual shutters, meaning that the camcorder and camera can be operated without the need to change modes; another unique feature. The chassis of the camera is designed to be held in one hand, which is both convenient or a nuisance depending on what you're filming, as it can make it hard to hold steady. The diminutive frame only conceals enough room for a 2.2in screen, which is a little small. When filming in widescreen the usable screen area is even smaller. Switching between High Definition and Standard Definition is made easy by the inclusion of a dedicated button on the side. And just in case you get confused when operating the camera, a highly annoying female voice announces any changes such as "High Definition mode" and "going to sleep". Fortunately you can switch this off.
Sanyo has only been able to craft such a small camera by spurning the usual recording formats such as Mini DV or DVD. Instead, the HD1A uses SD cards. At highest quality using High Definition, this works out to be about 14 minutes per GB, so it's worth investing in a high capacity card. The HD1A supports the newly released SDHC format, so it should be possible to get 4GB cards at least. You don't get an SD card bundled in the box, so be prepared to pay a little more than the basic price to make the most of this unit.
When it comes to viewing and transferring footage there are a couple of options. The first step is to plug the HD1A into its dock, from which it can be connected to a television screen. The optimum connection option to use is Component, the cable for which is included in the box. Pictures and videos can be browsed on-screen by using the bundled remote, and it's all pretty easy to operate. It's not possible to connect the camera without the dock when viewing pictures on the television. The dock also provides a USB port for connecting to a computer. From here it's possible to transfer videos and photos to a PC or Mac. It's even possible to make basic edits on the camera itself, though this is limited to cutting and merging files.
Sanyo has managed some impressive feats with HD1A. Its range of manual features is without parallel on a consumer camcorder, and it certainly is small. The problem is that for a camcorder in this price range the quality of its video just isn't good enough. However, this is in part compensated by the respectable digital stills performance, which is the best we've seen from a camcorder.
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