Those familiar with Sanyo’s Xacti range will know it’s not uncommon for this manufacturer to delve into the hybrid world. After all, it was producing dual cameras capable of capturing high quality movies as well as digital stills long before much of its current competition.
Steering away from its kooky ‘gun’ option, the VPC-WH1 sports a more conservative design than most of its Xacti counterparts. Small enough to pack into a compact bag, it’s promoted as being a perfect device for capturing active subjects and documenting sports. Add to that the fact it’s waterproof up to 3 metres and you’ve got a good all-rounder for outdoor pursuits.
To help avoid potentially disastrous drops when recording on the go, the WH1 features a hand-strap which can be pulled nice and tight to keep the camera secure and snug without necessarily gripping. A 2.5-inch swivel LCD monitor with a pleasing resolution of 150,000 pixels means it’s easy enough to compose frames without having to worry about keeping the camera at eye-level and you can show off captured videos to your friends.
Unfortunately, we found the Xacti VPC-WH1 quite uncomfortable to hold and operate at the same time. Sanyo’s choice to round off the curved side of the camera with a very flat base, combined with some poorly placed controls, meant that after a short amount of time shooting our hand and wrist felt strained.
Although it was easy enough to adjust the zoom control using a handy function button at the top of the device, the main operation buttons placed on the small rear face seemed a little awkward. For a right-handed person it felt unnatural to change settings using the thumb. However, bring in your spare left hand and it’s difficult to see the monitor clearly.
Some other minor but irritating design choices got in the way of us kickstarting the Xacti VPC-WH1 quickly; both the battery compartment at the bottom of the device and the memory card/USB/HDMI port are a bit fiddly to open, requiring some sturdy nails to prize open the flaps. This is no doubt to prevent water entering the internal workings of the camera should it be plunged under the surface, but nevertheless it would be a pain if you’re in a hurry.
With the Xacti VPC-WH1 powered up using the power button, the swivel LCD screen can be closed shut to temporarily put the camera into standby mode. It’s features such as this that make the WH1 a good choice if battery life is a requirement and you’re good to go for over 3 hours providing you have a suitably large SD memory card (there’s also an internal memory space of 43MB).
Although this camera is one of the more rugged on the market and is waterproof to 3 metres there is quite a large compromise when it comes to picture quality. With HDMI output, the Sanyo Xacti WH1 is capable of shooting 1280 x 720, 30fps MPEG-4 footage. This is pretty standard for a video camera of this budget and matches the likes of the Flip Mino HD. However, considering the Flip retails at under half the price of the Xacti WH1 and does a much better job of capturing vibrant colours and sharp details, Sanyo’s efforts are disappointing.
Most evident is the fact the Xacti WH1 seems to struggle with detail in low light. For a dual camera that’s designed to cope with shoots in extreme conditions, this poses a problem for both video and stills photography. A lot of our recordings looked very muddy and noisy indeed. Things weren’t so bad when shooting in plenty of natural light in terms of exposure, but there was still a disappointing lack of detail.
You can’t argue with the fact the Sanyo Xacti WH1 copes very well when underwater. The seals did a good job of keeping out any moisture and on inspection after shooting, the battery and memory card components were bone dry. It’s a bit of a pain that only a cloth, non-waterproof handgrip has been supplied with the camera, though. If you were shooting on holiday you would want to keep a tight hold of the camera, but if it did venture underwater you would have to put up with a soggy strap for the rest of the day.
On paper the opportunity to double up your video camera to shoot stills sounds great, especially when the specifications boast a sequential frame rate of 13fps. However, the 2-megapixel camera on the VPC-WH1 is something of an empty gesture. Features you’d expect to be included on any standard compact camera are present including sensitivity up to ISO 1600, dedicated scene modes, Aperture and Shutter-Priority as well as full Manual and Program modes. But you can’t get away from the fact that the shots taken with this device look no better than something you could achieve on a camera phone (and one that’s getting long in the tooth, at that).
When shooting sports or fast-moving subjects it is essential you can adjust settings quickly to ensure you get the best results without missing any opportunities for a cracking video or photo. We found Sanyo’s menu set-up to be unintuitive and a little clunky. The menu options are fairly straightforward, but we often found it difficult to work through them quickly, especially as the directional control pad is awkwardly placed.
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