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The amazing shrinking camcorders

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

The amazing shrinking camcorders

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1990, The Syracuse Newspapers

The amazing shrinking camcorders are here.

Sony and Panasonic, the two big rivals in the home video-gear business, are making combined camera-recorders that are the same size as 35mm still cameras. And two other companies are selling a camcorder that's shaped just like a pair of binoculars.

All four models were introduced this month at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago. After seeing them close up, I am convinced that they are trendsetters. Within a few years, nearly all camcorders probably will be small enough to carry in a pocket or a purse.

The smallest of the four is made by Matsushita and sold here under the Panasonic name. It comes in a variety of models, starting with the PV-10 and going to the top-of-the-line PV-40.

The design isn't particularly good-looking—that's just my opinion—and from some angles the Panasonic camcorder looks like an old wind-up 8mm movie camera. And the removable battery sticks out of the back like an afterthought.

But otherwise the little camcorder is a winner. It's easy to hold and has the main features everyone seems to want these days—auto focus, back-light compensation, high-speed shutter, six-power zoom and more. The PV-40 adds an eight-power zoom lens and an anti-jitter circuit to keep klutzy relatives from ruining the tape of you and the kids when they try out your camcorder.

Sony's tiniest camcorder, with models ranging from the CCD-TR4 through the CCD-TR7, uses 8mm tape instead of the Panasonic's VHS-C. It looks more like a traditional camcorder but has the same basic features as the Panasonic. The top model has an eight-power zoom lens and a stereo hi-fi sound track.

Typical discount prices for both the Panasonic and the Sony camcorders start at about $800.

Olympus and Fisher sell an identical camcorder, made by Olympus, that looks like a pair of military binoculars.

It uses 8mm tape and has the standard features, 6-power zoom, backlight compensation, high-speed shutter and so on but adds artificial-intelligence microprocessors to control the two most important functions of the camcorder, auto focus and auto exposure.

The AI circuit chips use "fuzzy logic," an American development that the Japanese have improved upon for the control of industrial robots. Fuzzy logic is a way of describing how decisions are made when obvious choices aren't clear. Fuzzy logic allows the camcorder to adjust itself the way you would yourself (a little tighter focus here, a little more exposure there).

Fisher sells its version as the FVC-880. Olympus calls its model the VX-81.

They're likely to sell in the $1,200 to $1,400 range.

All of these camcorders are light and easy to carry. Although the two binocular models are larger than the Sony and Panasonic camcorders, they would be my choice to take along on a trip, since I could wear it on a neck strap. The Olympus/Fisher model also a better choice for "point and shoot" video because its fuzzy logic is likely to keep the pictures sharp and well exposed.

A final note: 8mm camcorders are finally beginning to take a large share of the market, and this may help bring down prices of both the camcorders themselves and of 8mm tape.

In terms of convenience, I see no advantage in one format over the other; both 8mm and VHS-C use tiny, easy-to-carry cassettes. Picture quality is slightly better at VHS-C's fast speed, but sound quality tends to be better on 8mm camcorders.

But the differences are minor. It's clear from the latest models that both formats have come of age.

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