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Sanyo Xacti VPC-FH1
The Sanyo Xacti VPC-FH1 is a low-priced digital camcorder ($500 as of 9/25/2009) that delivers good-looking video and stills, with image quality just slightly trailing that of HD camcorders priced nearly three times as much.
However, the tradeoff comes in its lack of bells and whistles. The VPC-FH1 omits several features that make those more-expensive cameras easier to use under many conditions, and pricier models also provide users with more image control. For some potential buyers, more-expensive camcorders such as the Canon Vixia HF S10 and the Panasonic HDC-TM300 (both $1300) are worth their cost. For many others, the Xacti VPC-FH1 will be a stellar value.
The Sanyo camcorder uses a single 1/2.5-inch CMOS sensor to capture 1920-by-1080 video at 60 progressive frames per second (60p), 60 interlaced frames per second (60i), or 30 progressive frames per second (30p). The camera can also record 720/30p video and 8-megapixel stills.
The VPC-FH1 also includes a slow-motion option that supports recording at up to 600 fps (though at increasingly reduced resolution), employs face recognition to improve focus and exposure, has a 10X optical zoom lens, and records to SDHC cards.
Video is encoded as MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 with AAC audio. Although these are the same codecs used by AVCHD camcorders, Sanyo doesn't implement the full AVCHD spec. The VPC-FH1's MPEG-4 files play nicely in the bundled Nero 8 Essentials software, but some editing applications may require first converting the MPEG-4 files to another format.
In playback, the Xacti VPC-FH1's output performs quite well. In PC World Test Center jury evaluations, the VPC-FH1's video quality was just a shade below that of three $1000-and-up camcorders from Canon, Panasonic, and Sony. Video shot under typical interior lighting conditions earned a score of Good, falling short of the dynamic range and color accuracy found in footage from the best HD camcorders.
In low-light conditions, the VPC-FH1 outperformed every camcorder except one in our six-camcorder test group. Even so, jurors rated low-light image quality as only Fair. Overall, the Xacti VPC-FH1 earned a combined video-quality score of Good, with only the Canon Vixia HF S10 and the Panasonic HDC-TM300 faring better in our tests.
You can also take still photos of good quality with this camcorder. In PC World Test Center jury evaluations, the VPC-FH1 earned high marks for sharpness, lack of distortion, and overall image quality. Still-photo quality earned an overall score of Good--about what you'd get with a decent yet cheap point-and-shoot camera.
And not only is the VPC-FH1 cost-efficient; it proved to be fairly fuel-efficient, as well. The camcorder lasted just over 2 hours on a single charge of its battery, outpacing all the more-expensive camcorders in our roundup. Its 122-minute battery life earned it a score of Very Good.
So what do you give up with the VPC-FH1? The 3-inch LCD screen looks less sharp than those on some expensive cameras, and the digital-only image stabilizer isn't always effective. The camera lacks a microphone jack, an accessory shoe, and an option for recording at 24 progressive frames per second. I also didn't find the menus to be as intuitive as I'd have liked, and the automated and manual recording modes are not as robust as those on more-expensive cameras.
But if you can live with these shortcomings, and if your editing software works well with the camera's MP4 files, then you can save a lot of money with the VPC-FH1. It's a lot of camcorder for the price.
Sanyo Xacti VPC-FH1
The Sanyo Xacti VPC-FH1 provides very good performance for its reasonable price.
- Good HD video and still image quality
- Image stabilizer is just average
- MPEG-4 not natively supported by some editing apps