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Sanyo Xacti HD1010 Review/Thoughts

On account of being in the midst of finals week and thus having other things on my mind, I'm going to make this review short and sweet. Additionally, this camera is now nearly four years old, so what's the point? Not that this camera is bad (and it isn't), but I probably would recommend most potential buyers to look elsewhere if they are in the market for a full-HD camera. Probably something newer.

That said, let's get on with it. This camera is what I've used to film many of my recent product reviews. I'm borrowing it long-term from my father, who currently has no immediate use for it. I'm honestly quite glad for that, as this is currently my best-performing video-recording device. It is capable of subtle changes in focus, simultaneous video and picture capture, and manages to perform quite well at the latter despite being obviously geared towards video. The Xenon flash and hot-shoe mount for accessories manage to make this quite a capable camera, despite its diminutive size.

Sanyo has been making cameras like this for quite some time. They originally came to the US market under the product name of Fisher. I remember the first one of these cameras I got my hands on, the FVD-C1, also by manner of my father who had lent it to me, short-term, to use as a (still) camera at the Portland International Auto Show. It was absolutely excellent at the time yet looking back on it now... I can't help but wonder why I thought as much; the thing definitely shows its age now.

A few years and the design of the Xacti cameras is significantly more improved / modernized. (I have no doubt that we'll all look back on this time in five or so years and scoff at the design we call modern, but such is the way norm for all things design.) The Xacti HD1010 almost looks vulgarly utilitarian, with the giant lens barrel, initially overwhelming array of buttons on the back, large pivoting LCD and dark black exterior with some chrome here and there. It's definitely larger than the Fisher that I used in the past.

I believe that the proper way to describe this camera is a pistol-grip style video camera. Hold it like a pistol, flip open the LCD, and away you go. There are many perks to this design, chief among them being how easy it is to keep a grip on the camera, even when recording one's self. A potential downsize might be handshake, or perhaps the amount of difficulty involved with standing the camera up on its own on a surface (such as the above picture, in which it was one small exhale from it falling over). Or, the more pressing elephant in the room, difficulty for lefties or amputees. True, this is a problem for most cameras, but it's worth mentioning.

More importantly related to the camera, this is a device definitely defined by the imaging components. The big lenses (f1.8 aperture on this thing!) make the whole camera's housing bulge off to the right. This gives it the appearance of being defined by its features as opposed to having flair just for the sake of pleasing the eye.

The camera will, by default, turn on when the LCD is opened. This is something of a quick-start feature that ensures the camera is ready-to-go whenever you need it. Alternatively, one can press and hold the power button for a couple of seconds and manually turn it on and off. (Off in this mode means that the camera will not turn on till the button is pressed again, even if the LCD is opened.) Initially, the view presented on the display panel is a bit disorientating, because of its size. The camera has a significantly noticeable amount of zoom and it being displayed on such a large screen has the effect of confusing one momentarily.

Once over this initial confusion, the rest of the camera quickly makes itself intuitive. On the flip-panel-display there is only one switch that toggles between "simple" and "normal." Since all that this button does is change how much information is displayed on the LCD at any time, its placement was quite well thought out. Underneath one's thumb, however, things get a bit... messy. While it appears as if a whole wealth of buttons are at one's disposal, which is quite frightening, in truth there are only 7 actual moving pieces. Two of these are dedicated buttons for either beginning or ending a video recording and the other for snapping a picture. Dedicated buttons for these features is definitely a nice touch. Above these two buttons is a button labeled "Photo View" and its feature is so obvious it almost hurts: the format of the imaging sensor is 4:3, but HD video is recorded at 16:9. Press this button and the full 4:3 is displayed on the display to show all of the extra space that can be snapped as a picture. Nice. Below the shutter buttons is a menu button, who's feature should be obvious. To the left is a zoom toggle and to the right is a record-mode/playback-mode switch. And below all of this sits the 4-way navigation nub.

Actually using the camera, once one realizes that the button array is really not as complicated as it first seems and is in fact extremely logical and useful, is very straight forward. It would be nice if the camera had more of a wide-angle lens on it but I can't exactly complain. The big aperture means that pictures and videos recorded in the dark aren't plagued by mind-numbing picture noise and in the odd case that it simply becomes too dark, there is a built-in flash which pops up at the press of a small button on the side of the lens barrel. Or go aftermarket and attach a light to the hot-shoe mount. Heck, one could even mount the HD1010 to a filming cage and mount a ton of accessories, higher-quality microphones (the HD1010 does have a microphone-in jack), lights, etc. But all of that is outside of the scope of this review, so lets move on.

While useful, the built-in image stabilization is a bit uncanny. It tends to try and lock onto a subject and then doesn't let it go. But then neither is it especially fast to decide to lock onto a subject, let alone the right subject. I'm not sure how the image stabilization on this camera is done, but its plain and simply bizarre. Video quality itself is quite good, though I wouldn't by any means lump this with a more modern DSLR's video quality, even in a brightly lit area. A device this small and compact simply cannot compete with a comparatively massive DSLR. It's comparatively still good, but I doubt we'll see anyone filming music videos with this anytime soon. Audio quality recorded with the built in microphone is quite good as well, speaking of music.

Would I recommend this camera? Today, I probably wouldn't. Used, these are still fetching prices around $500 and at that point, one could get a low-level DSLR (or micro four-thirds format camera) that delivers HD video with that little extra in video quality and bonus full manual control. For the size though, this camera is extremely hard to beat, though I can't say I'm sold on the format just yet. When I was making a cardboard mount/cage for the HD1010 in order to place it in my car (I haven't justified the purchase of a GoPro camera yet), the resulting structure was extremely complex and bulky. Despite being very rigid and featuring many usable mount-surfaces, it proved to be too bulky to actually use and never shot a single scene in my driving video, as I opted to use much lighter and smaller cell phones instead.

Who, then, is going to buy this (or one of the newer versions of this, such as the VPC-CA100 which is also waterproof)? I can think of a few types of people, actually. Because everything related to the lenses is contained, there are a lot less externally moving parts that could get broken. Combine this with the small size of the Xacti and one could easily imagine this being popular near or during sports. A snowboarder might throw this in his jacket pocket and pause here and there to film his buddies without fear of falling snow being taken into the camera on a retracting lens when he is done filming or being bothered by buttons too small to be used in gloves. (The buttons are actually extremely glove-friendly on this, something that should be well noted.)

Would I buy this camera? If I had the money, I might. But I'm a different type of media creator and at this point I have use for a video-recording DSLR with full manual controls, not just a portable camera. As a photographer, I cannot help but grin at the large aperture that this small camera has (I should actually go attempt some bokeh photography, now that I think about it). I'm glad that I have this to use and extremely pleased with the results it creates.