Sanyo Xacti VPC-SH1 review

The compact and affordable Sanyo Xacti VPC-SH1 reminds me of an economy car with a built-in iPod dock. It lacks the high performance and polished features found in more expensive models. But it’s well priced, does a good job handling the basics, and integrates an Apple technology supported by few cameras.

Good looks
The VPC-SH1 uses a single 1/3.6-inch CMOS sensor to capture imagery that gets compressed to MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 video and JPEG stills. Video resolutions and frame rates range from 1920-by-1080-pixel HD at 60 interlaced frames per second (fps) or 30 progressive fps down to 640-by-480-pixel video at 30fps. Data rates top out at 16Mbps, far below the 24Mbps reached by some AVCHD camcorders. The camera also doesn’t record 24 fps. On the other hand, it will record to the Apple-developed 960-by-540-pixel 30 fps iFrame format. The camera records to SDHC and SDXC cards.

Video recorded under bright and normal light showed decent color, contrast, and detail, and looked good even when viewed on a large 52-inch HDTV. However, low-light video exhibited some noise and lacked detail; high-motion video showed some blockiness. The camera microphones did a very good job recording loud content, but with lower-volume content such as normal dialog, the mics picked up some camera noise. With exterior shots, wind noise sometimes presented a problem.

The camera generates still JPEG images with a maximum native resolution near four megapixels (2288-by-1712 pixels) and a maximum interpolated resolution of 10 megapixels (3648-by-2736). Still images captured at interpolated values looked a bit soft. But native resolution stills showed good exposure, color, and sharpness. Overall, the camera created good video streams and still images.

Fair handling
The small and light VPC-SH1 avoids the curse of over-miniaturization that diminishes usability of some Sanyo pistol-grip camcorders. The VPC-SH1’s more conventional design and size (1.7-by-4.6-by-2.3 inches) allows sensible button placement and several handholding positions. The camera weighs only eight ounces with battery; I wouldn’t mind a little extra weight spent on beefing up the camera’s thin housing.

The camera sports typical features such as a 2.7-inch flip-out LCD screen, several scene modes (sports, portrait, lamp), automatic and manual white balance, and red-eye reduction for stills. You can capture still images as you simultaneously record video. The zoom lens has a 23x optical range and digitally extends up to 50x. At the higher zoom ranges, images softened and shake increased.

The mediocre digital image stabilizer didn’t work very well, so long shots work better with the camera on a tripod and hand-held shots look better with the lens set to a wide angle. Another drawback: The camera lacks a built-in lens cover, relying instead on a snap-on cover that doesn't inspire security. But these drawbacks just limit the camera’s performance; they don’t ruin it.

iFrame support is a real win for the camera. Yes, 960-by-540-pixel 30p iFrame video has only one-fourth the number of pixels of 1920-by-1080 HD and just over half as many as 1280-by-720 HD. In fact, it doesn’t record many more pixels than 720-by-486 standard-definition video. But working with iFrame material greatly speeds up importing into and editing with iMovie ‘09 and ‘11. The end results look good while viewing on a computer screen, decent after uploading to YouTube, and (if youre watching with an uncritical eye) fairly acceptable when viewed on a HDTV set.

OUR VERDICT

I wish the Sanyo Xacti VPC-SH1 provided higher data rates, cleaner low-light video, a built-in lens cover, and better image stabilization. But fulfilling those wishes would probably raise the price of the camcorder. The VPC-SH1 is not a great camcorder, but considering its price, that’s OK. Its blend of respectable video and still image quality, compact but not cramped size, functional core features, support for the easy-to-edit iFrame format, and reasonable price make the Sanyo Xacti VPC-SH1 a good, sensible purchase.