Many camcorders tout their ability to capture both video footage and still images. But few claim the high resolutions, small size, and low price of the Sanyo Xacti VPC-CG102. This camcorder’s 1920-by-1080-pixel video, 14-megapixel stills, pocket size, and $229 list price present a tempting package. However, cramming that many pixels into such a small space and low price requires making some, though perhaps not too many, compromises.
Acceptable image quality
The compromises start with image quality. The VPC-CG102 gathers images with a 1/2.33-inch CMOS sensor, and encodes moving images to the same MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 format as other Sanyo camcorders. Sanyo’s MPEG-4 lacks some of the metadata bells and whistles of the increasingly common AVCHD format, but it shares the same codecs so it has the potential to look as good.
The camera captures 1920-by-1080 and 1280-by-720-pixel video at 60 interlaced (60i) or 30 progressive (30p) frames per second, and 640-by-480 video at 30p. One compromise: the camera lacks a film-like 24p mode. It records to SDHC and SDXC cards. A 16GB SDHC card costs around $50 and holds two hours of video recorded at the camera’s highest-quality 16Mbps HD setting, and about 8.5 hours at the lowest-quality 3Mbps setting.
In our tests, color accuracy and saturation suffered. Video displayed some motion blockiness and looked a bit soft. Fiddling with the manual controls didn’t produce a look I really liked; it gave one I could tolerate. For most uses, video quality rates good but not great.
Still JPEGs reach an interpolated resolution of 4640-by-3480 pixels and native resolutions up to 4352-by-3264 pixels. But there’s more to image quality than pixel count, and poor exposure control marred picture contrast. Stills exhibited good color accuracy and looked sharp, though a bit overly sharp for my taste. A nice feature: The camera can capture 1920-by-1080-pixel stills while simultaneously capturing 1920-by-1080 video.
The compromises continue with the VPC-CG102’s feature set. A flip-out 2.7-inch LCD screen provides a bigger view than many pocket camcorders, but it’s neither the sharpest nor brightest screen I’ve seen. The camera lacks an integrated lens cover, substituting a removable cover that comes off too easily and leaves the lens exposed to scratches. The microphone does a good job capturing dialog and other sounds. But those other sounds include camera noise (the manual acknowledges the issue, explaining it is not a malfunction).
The camera includes a 5X optical zoom lens that can be digitally extended to 12X. But the zoom control button doesn’t produce smooth moves, and zooms stutter as they cross from optical to digital range. Further, the digital zoom doesn’t produce sharp images (the manual explains this too as not a malfunction).
The image stabilizer doesn’t work well, and camera control buttons require considerable pushing, which moves the camera, resulting in more image shake. The battery provides about an hour of shooting time and must be removed from the camera for recharging. With the battery, the camera weighs about six ounces. The camera and buttons feel light and fragile, though nothing broke during our testing. Operating the pistol-grip camera with my right hand worked well enough, but operating it with my left felt very awkward.
Macworld’s buying advice
The Sanyo VPC-CG102 is not an optimal camera, despite its long list of advantages. Overall, image quality and usability are good, considering the camera’s street price below $200. But that low price means the camera doesn’t deliver the performance, ease of use, or features found in the best consumer camcorders. However, if you can live with its compromises and like the small size, the Sanyo Xacti VPC-CG102 may work for you.
[Jim Feeley is a writer and video producer based in northern California.]