TRIED & TESTED: SHOOTING GALLERY

Film buffs may need the latest technology, but what about ordinary camcorder users? Our panel aims and records

Like anoraks, camcorders have come a long way since the days when only a nerd would be seen fiddling with one instead of joining in the party. They are smaller, lighter and easier to use, while some - the very latest digital camcorders - offer images of startling clarity and quasi- professional film-making facilities. But does the average amateur film- maker really need such devices or do they just complicate matters?

THE PANEL

Of the half a dozen keen testers, two found the camcorders so baffling and/ or infuriating that they abandoned the trial - a fair warning to other novices. Of those remaining, Anna Nicholas is a technical wizard who found she could operate most samples without reading a line of the manuals; Neil Richardson and Chris Ramsey are experienced camcorder users; and Lucinda Buxton is a self-described "know-nothing" who was thrilled with her first films.

THE TEST

We chose a selection of camcorders across a wide price range to see exactly what you get for your money. That the latest digital technology is currently very expensive goes without saying, but even within that constraint some include the software which allows you to download images on to your PC and some barely mention the fact that you need to buy it (at around pounds 250). Most testers were unaware of the huge amount of memory moving images take up on a computer (12 seconds requires around 350MB) which means still images are more viable - but then why not use a still camera? We also took into account the cost of consumables: digital tapes start from around pounds 18 each for a 30-minute tape, whereas other tapes such as Hi-8 cost as little as pounds 5 each for a 90-minute tape. Following cost, user-friendliness was a key issue, taking precedence over quality of results and the aesthetics of each machine.

**SHARP VLE34H

pounds 499.99

This rather ugly camcorder with an odd rotating screen, which allows you to film yourself and watch the results at the same time, did not win favour with the experts on the panel. "The only good thing about the Sharp," Neil Richardson insisted, "is that it is idiot-proof. My mother, for example, found it very serviceable." Chris Ramsey elaborated: "It has no special features, except for a rather ineffectual `backlighting facility'. The physical design is poor - not only do you have to use both hands to hold it, but you spend most of the time looking down. It's difficult to know what you're filming and confusing for the subject to know where to look. It might be useful as a periscope, but not for 500 quid." Anna Nicholas was not impressed, either, but the Sharp's design suited Lucinda Buxton perfectly. "The autofocus buttons put the subject in position for you - marvellous! - and you can get a good picture from any angle, even from the ground," she said. She was puzzled, however, by the dew indicator. "It tells you if the camera has been kept in a moist temperature for more than three hours, but I'm not sure what to do if it has. Still it's a lovely machine, good for the average person who doesn't want to be a buff, but just wants some nice footage for the memories."

*****SONY TRV64

pounds 799.99

This Sony camcorder may not be the very latest design, but it was voted the winner in our survey due to its value for money, special features and user-friendliness. It looks stylish, with a neat chrome finish and a discreetly hidden LCD monitor. Chris Ramsey said: "The instructions and on-screen workings are the easiest to master, including functions such as `mosaic', `widescreen', `stretch and slim'." Neil Richardson found the backlighting facility "par- ticularly impressive on this machine, as well as a variety of different titles such as `happy birthday' and `our beautiful baby' which you can display in a number of colours and positions." Anna Nicholas found the titles (which cannot be changed) "depressingly predictable. It goes to show that we all film the same things," but she liked the "manual" option, which allows the user to create the perfect image, "especially useful in low light conditions". The TRV64 also has the largest charging-to-usage battery ratio, lasting up to four and a half hours - vital when taking the camera on long journeys. Not least, it has an on-screen graphic which reveals the exact amount of battery time left. "Excellent," chorused the panel.

***CANON UC9

pounds 649.99

This rather old-fashioned looking camera has a number of unique features which Canon have termed "Flexitone". They include the facility to move the centre of focus around the screen with a mouse-like cursor and to take close-ups up to 1cm away. "I used this to film a spider in our bathroom," said Anna Nicholas, "but otherwise I can't think why I might need it." It also has the largest zoom capacity of all the non-digital cameras (40x), which struck testers as useful "especially for filming the children from an upstairs window," said Lucinda Buxton. But the Canon instruction booklet and in-camera computer are less user-friendly than the Sony TRV64. Neil Richardson and Chris Ramsey assessed the special effects as "excellent - especially `art effect', `negative effect' and `widescreen'." These can be used in collaboration with on-screen titles and an auto-exposure programme. As Neil Richardson concluded: "The most attractive feature of this camera seems to be the ability to get the exact picture you require from any distance, either manually, or via the built-in computer, but it may take quite a while to master all of its controls. It's worth spending the extra pounds 50 between this and the Panasonic NVVX1B."

***PANASONIC NVVX1B

pounds 599.99

The Panasonic proved easier to operate than most of the other models tested, and has a pocket-sized manual which is well laid out and easy to understand. Chris Ramsey found it "lacks some of the special effects present in the more expensive cameras, but it has many more attributes than, say, the Sharp, including a fader and detailed on-screen graphics." Neil Richardson pointed out that "the long/short play option extends the time capacity of the tape, which can save money. I also prefer this type of playback system, whereby the tape is placed in an adaptor, making it immediately compatible for a normal VHS video recorder." Anna Nicholas, too, praised the small screen for playback purposes and the fact that it's easy to play it through a normal television system without downloading, though she found it bulky: "But it is comfortable to use, and surprisingly light." "All in all," said Neil Richardson, "this camera successfully couples the basic functions with a number of added extras. It should appeal to every member of the family."

***SONY DCRPC7 HANDYCAM

pounds 1799.99

Described by Anna Nicholas as "an amazing camera and a beautiful piece of engineering", this Sony digital camcorder with its neat touch controls, illuminated keys for use in the dark and superb picture quality was the most expensive sample tested. It failed to win the test because the price does not include the software necessary to download images on to your PC and because, although it is small and light, it isn't as light as the JVC. It was good to see that the picture quality was maintained even when the moving images are transferred from camcorder tape to video. How different is it? Neil Rich-ardson described it as "similar to the change in quality from audio cassettes to compact discs."

Chris Ramsey appreciated the facility to take still shots, which can then be downloaded on to a computer (though this proved to be too complicated for some of the panellists), but not the colour screen that flips out from the side, "which ruined the streamlined appearance. I don't believe it is worth paying the additional pounds 300 more than this machine's JVC counterpart," he said. Lucinda Buxton, on the other hand, thought the small screen "a brilliant invention - it makes you into a better photographer instantly, because you can frame the shot - you can even hold the camera above your head and still see what you're recording." But she felt that the "fade- out feature and other professional touches" were options she would never bother with and did not really want to pay for. Anna Nicholas proposes to buy one "when the price comes down. After all," she protested, "it's damned expensive. It would be cheaper to hire Zeffirelli and a BBC crew for a week."

****JVC GRDVJ70

pounds 1499.99

The price reveals that this is another digital camcorder. It is the lightest (only 500g) and smallest (about the size of an electric razor) and looks like something James Bond would use. Ironically, then, Neil Richardson reported that "its size makes it awkward to use. After a while your arm gets tired, increasing the camera shake." But he waxed lyrical about the camera's technical features: "The zoom is unbelievable - 100x. There are endless special effects available, including `classical film' strobe, two different slow motion speeds, `video echo' (used in pop videos during the Eighties) and various light settings." Chris Ramsey was pleased with the films he made in different colours (notably sepia and plain black and white), although he admitted that seven different ways of fading in and out of shots - is "possibly a little bit extravagant". The JVC comes with its own editing station, which takes the information directly from the camera, which, in theory, makes editing very easy. Unfortunately our sample came without instructions, so we were unable to see just how impressive it was. Even Anna Nicholas found this "the least user-friendly of all the cameras", causing her to "sift more than once through a number of `menu options' without ever being able to access the information properly. The JVC is definitely designed for the advanced camcorder user." Both Chris Ramsey and Neil Richardson agreed that "you would need to spend loads more money on other gadgets to get the most out of it. We still haven't been converted to the digital revolution."

! All the camcorders tested are stocked by branches of Dixons nationwide.

Arts and Entertainment
music

Arts and Entertainment
Creep show: Tim Cockerill in ‘Spider House’

TVEnough to make ardent arachnophobes think twice

Arts and Entertainment
Steven, Ella Jade and Sarah in the boardroom
tvThe Apprentice contestants take a battering from the business mogul
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Jewel in the crown: drawings from ‘The Letter for the King’, an adventure about a boy and his mission to save a medieval realm
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
art
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
art
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
books

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

books
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

    "I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
    Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

    11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

    Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'