Sanyo – Xacti VPC-CA65 review

world's first underwater digital movie camera
Photo of Sanyo – Xacti VPC-CA65

Sanyo’s Xacti range has sported the unusual but undeniably original ‘gun look’ for a good few years now. Although smaller details such as colour, size and specifications have altered from model to model, the general idea has been the same.

The Xacti Digital Movie cameras all successfully manage to merge a portable video camera and digital stills camera into a body that neatly fits into the palm of the hand, feeling not much heavier than your average compact camera. The VPC-CA65 differs from other products in the Xacti range, however, being the world’s first completely waterproof digital movie camera.

On taking the Sanyo Xacti VPC-CA65 out of the box it appears pretty rugged yet compact, with an apparently heavy-duty plastic body that has an attractive, white, pearlescent appearance: it could even be compared to the inside of a shell, although it’s also available in bright, marine-like colours including a vibrant yellow and turquoise.

The VPC-CA65 has a familiar vertical ‘pistol grip’ body that feels a little more like an industrial stapler than a revolver. The side of the camera body on the left-hand side pops up to reveal a swivelling 150,000-pixel LCD screen that can either be positioned flush against the ‘gun’ body with the screen on the inside or the outside, or pulled up to sit horizontally with the monitor facing towards the user.

A nice little quirk on the VPC-CA65 is that the camera powers up as soon as the monitor is extended, meaning it’s ready for action in a matter of seconds. If you need to power up the camera manually, however, there are two small buttons that are revealed when the monitor is lifted to allow you to switch the camera on and off or change from ‘Record’ mode to ‘Play’ mode, so you don’t have to keep closing the monitor.

There are very few operational buttons on the Sanyo Xacti VPC-CA65, with only a menu button, movie and photo controls and a directional control button sitting underneath the thumb whilst the camera is being gripped. Unfortunately, with the LCD monitor extended outwards the camera does have the feeling of being a little front-heavy, especially for the more slender user, so during action shots it feels like a risk to try holding the camera and operating the buttons with one hand without cradling the LCD monitor slightly for added protection.

With the gun-like appearance it’s strange that Sanyo has never thought about placing a ‘trigger’ shutter or action button to lie just underneath the forefinger. This would certainly make shooting action shots even easier.

The battery, SD memory card slot and USB port sit neatly in a compartment underneath the operating buttons, although it requires the use of a fingernail to move the clasp enough for the door to open. You’ll need to open this to connect the Sanyo Xacti to your computer, so it may end up being a niggling problem that you have to confront regularly.

The quality of the LCD monitor’s picture is a little disappointing, with a display that’s quite low in contrast and high in brightness. This is fine if you’re shooting indoors, but if you venture outside in bright conditions it can be a trial framing a digital stills shot or shooting video, especially as the screen is highly reflective. This is a shame, as the colour depth in the captured photos from the 6-megapixel digital stills mechanism is pretty good, if slightly too cool.

There’s no problem with sharpness or fringing, but unfortunately there’s quite a big issue with noise, even at a low ISO level, meaning you probably wouldn’t want to take advantage of the 3,680 x 2,760-pixel images that this camera is capable of without resizing them down on your PC.

There are eight different scene modes including ‘Fireworks’, ‘Lamp’ and ‘Fully Auto’, although you need to make sure you’re in ‘Photo’ mode before you alter these in the menu. Unfortunately this ‘Photo’ mode button also acts as the shutter button, so be prepared to fill your camera with shots of your feet until you get into the swing of things. It’s not the most natural set-up.

Where the Sanyo Xacti VPC-CA65 really starts getting fun is when it’s used as a digital movie camera. For such a dinky model the quality of the video is excellent and in Super High Quality mode it captures at 640 x 480 pixels, 30 frames per second and at 3Mbps. Whilst this size may look a little inferior on a large TV, it’s great for making fun movies to upload to YouTube or play back for your own amusement in QuickTime.

One of the most generous aspects of the Sanyo VPC-CA65 is that it comes bundled with a whole host of software programs neatly placed onto one disc. These include QuickTime 7.1 and iTunes 7.1 for Mac and PC, and Photoshop Album SE and Premiere Elements 3.0 for PC users only, so there’s no excuse not to edit your files into complete movies rather than leave them as separate entities on your hard drive. There’s also a direct Web link from the disc to some nifty tips on shooting creative movies, that give some inspiring ideas if you’ve never operated a movie camera before.

The Sanyo VPC-CA65 is waterproof to a depth of 1.5 metres, so it’s possible to completely immerse the camera if you’re diving, messing around in a swimming pool, or even at bathtime! Depending on the battery life, you should be able to capture movies and stills under water for a total of 60 minutes.

It’s not a natural thing to do, dipping a video camera underwater, so on the first couple of attempts it can be quite unnerving, especially as speaker holes are visible on the exterior of the camera. However, after the first successful attempt or two, it feels liberating not to be scared of getting the device wet, and dunking it becomes quite addictive. Of course, if you drop the camera off the end of a pier it’s not going to bob to the surface, so you still have to have some wits about you.

Company: Sanyo

Contact: 01923 246363

The Sanyo VPC-CA65 is a compact and sturdy-feeling digital movie and stills camera that is reliable and easy to operate. Although the distinctive and original body shape feels a little uncomfortable and somewhat awkward to use with one hand only, once you get the hang of it you can capture both good quality photographs and videos quickly without the need to trudge through menu options. There's no point in comparing the waterproof capabilities of this digital movie camera to any other product, as this is the only one of its kind at the moment - that alone is reason enough to snap it up. An ideal choice if you're off on a beach holiday with your kids.