Sanyo VPC-FH1 Xacti HD Dual Camera

      Photo Review 8.5

      In summary

      A compact, Full HD camcorder that can also record high-resolution still photographs.Sanyo dubs its VPC-FH1 a ‘Dual Camera’ because it fulfils two purposes. With its 8-megapixel sensor and 10x optical zoom lens, it’s usable for shooting stills but it also supports Full HD video recording with a stereo soundtrack. Announced at the end of January with the similarly-featured VPC-HD2000, the FH1 has the traditional camcorder form factor and ergonomics while the HD2000 sports a pistol grip. . . [more]

      Full review


      Sanyo dubs its VPC-FH1 a ‘Dual Camera’ because it fulfils two purposes. With its 8-megapixel sensor and 10x optical zoom lens, it’s usable for shooting stills but it also supports Full HD video recording with a stereo soundtrack. Announced at the end of January with the similarly-featured VPC-HD2000, the FH1 has the traditional camcorder form factor and ergonomics while the HD2000 sports a pistol grip.

      Recording to memory cards provides some real advantages over tape and optical disk technologies. Memory cards take up much less space, allowing camera bodies to be significantly smaller. This makes them ideal ‘take everywhere’ cameras for recording everyday events with the double advantage if being able to record high-resolution stills and video clips.

      Fast memory cards also support faster searching facilities than you get with tape, disk or HDD cameras. They provide quick random access to images and video clips stored anywhere on the card. In addition, both still images and video clips can be recorded without having to switch media and the system supports variable bit-rate recording, enabling high-quality video clips to be captured.

      However, depending on the manufacturer’s approach, both image and video data may be highly compressed. Quality may also be compromised to achieve small enough file sizes to support the long recording times users often require. A typical buyer may wish to record, say, a two-hour concert or a party that spans five hours or more. And while swapping cards is quick and easy, making sure you have enough memory to cover an event requires prior planning.

      No card is supplied with the camera. You need to add at least $70 for a Class 6 8GB SDHC card if you want optimal performance for recording video clips or continuous stills capture.

      Build and Ergonomics
      The black body of the VPC-FH1 is made from plastic with shiny silver accents. Overall finish is good and all components fit together snugly. In the hand, the FH1 feels solid and, although they are few in number, key controls are conveniently placed to make them easy to operate.

      Like most camcorders, the FH1’s body is shaped like a rectangular box with rounded corners. It has a lens at the front, with a narrow electronic flash tube below it. A clip-on cap protects the lens and a tether is provided for attaching it to the grip strap on the right side of the body so it won’t be mislaid.


      Side view of the VPC-FH1 with the monitor closed. (Source: Sanyo.)


      Side view of the VPC-FH1 with the monitor reversed. (Source: Sanyo.)

      The rear of the FH1’s is covered by a large control panel, styled like an arrow pad. The curved top buttons on this controller select between still and video modes while the central button triggers record and play functions. It’s easy to operate these three buttons with your thumb by simply shifting it from one to another.


      Rear view of the VPC-FH1 with the monitor opened for use. (Source: Sanyo.)
      Pressing the Photo button on the left records a still picture, while pressing the Video button on the right starts and stops a video clip recording. To play back a recorded image or clip, simply press the REC/PLAY button between them. This switches the display into playback mode.

      In the lower left corner is a joystick with a central Set button for adjusting camera settings and toggling between recordings on the card in playback mode. Right of it is the Menu button. Below the joystick is a DC-in terminal for charging the battery via the supplied adaptor, which can also be used to power the camera for extended shoots or playback.

      The flip-out monitor, which covers the left hand side, is large (three inches diagonal) but relatively low resolution (only 230,000 pixels). It rotates through 180 degrees to face forward or 90 degrees to point down for over-the-head shooting. Beneath it on the camera body is the power on/off button plus terminals for connecting USB, component A/V and HDMI cables.

      Image and video data is recorded on SD memory cards and the card slot is located at the rear end of the left side panel, under a lift-up rubber hatch. The hatch is tethered by a narrow strap that doesn’t appear particularly solid. However, when pushed in, it lies flush with the camera body, providing good protection against dust and airborne moisture. In addition, you can easily change memory cards when the FH1 is tripod-mounted.

      The top panel carries only a zoom rocker, with a multi-indicator light tucked in behind it. This light glows red while the battery is charging and flashes red to indicate self-timer operation, memory access and battery error or a rise in internal temperature. It is orange when the camera is connected to a TV set and green when connected to a computer or printer. Flashing green indicates the power save mode is engaged.

      Two thirds of the base panel is covered by a slide-off panel that covers the battery compartment. It’s released by a slider below the rear control panel. A plastic-lined tripod socket is located just in front of the battery compartment.

      The DB-L50 battery takes almost three and a half hours to charge up from the depleted status. It is CIPA rated for approximately 420 still images or 150 minutes of video recording per charge. In playback mode it can support approximately 380 minutes of continuous playback.

      Several useful functions are missing. There’s no viewfinder, no microphone input and no accessory shoe so you can’t add an external microphone, video light or electronic flash unit. However, Sanyo does offer three accessory lenses: the VCP-L07W1 0.7x wide conversion lens (RRP $229.99), VCP-L15T 1.5x tele-conversion lens (RRP $229.99) and VCP-L04SW 0.4x super-wide conversion lens (RRP $249.99).

      Sensor and Image Processing
      The 5.76 x 4.29 mm CMOS sensor in the VPC-FH1 has an effective resolution of approximately 8 million pixels for stills, which are recorded as JPEGs (Exif 2.2 compliant). The camera provides seven image size settings for users to choose from when shooting stills. Interpolation is used to provide a high-resolution setting of 12-megapixels, while two compression levels are available at the 8M setting, which reflects the sensor’s native resolution.

      If you wish to shoot with a 16:9 aspect ratio, instead of 4;3, you can choose either the 6M, 2M or 0.9M setting. There are also two burst modes, at 8M and 4M. JPEG compression levels are relatively high, as shown in the table below.





      file size

      Recordable shots
      on a 4GB card



      4000 x 3000





      3264 x 2448





      3264 x 2448





      3264 x 1840





      1600 x 1200





      1920 x 1080





      1280 x 720





      640 x 480



      8M Continuous


      3264 x 2448



      4M Continuous


      2288 x 1712



      Maximum capture resolution drops for video recording to approximately 5.3-megapixels (HD video at 1920 x 1080p) or 2-megapixels (SD video at 640 x 480 pixels). The table below shows frame sizes and rates plus shooting capacities for a 4GB memory card.



      Frame rate

      Shooting time
      on a 4GB card


      1920 x 1080

      60 fps

      21 min. 50 sec.


      1920 x 1080

      60 fields/sec

      32 min. 40 sec.


      1920 x 1080

      30 fps

      43 min. 20 sec.


      1280 x 720

      30 fps

      57 min. 30 sec.


      640 x 480

      30 fps

      2 hr. 45 min.


      448 x 336

      240 fps

      1 hr. 4 min.


      192 x 108

      600 fps

      1 hr. 4 min.

      Video clips are recorded in MPEG-4 format, using AVC/H.264 compression and users can choose between 60 fields/second, 60 frames/second and 30 frames/second. The first of these options indicates an interlaced video mode, which is fine for video capture but can result in ‘jaggies’ and tearing artefacts with still capture (and when frames are ‘grabbed’ from video clips).

      The second and third (60 and 30 frames/second) are frame-based progressive scan formats. Actually, both frame rates are slightly slower, according to the user manual. The 60 fps scan rate is 59.94 fps, while the 30 fps rate is 29.97 fps, although neither makes a perceptible difference to users. Progressive scanning is more suitable for graphics display because it’s not interlaced. Frame-based progressive scan systems also provide better quality for frame grabs and are less susceptible to artefacts.

      Of particular interest are the two high-speed modes for recording ‘slow motion’ clips. Two settings are provided: Web-SHR, which captures clips with a resolution of 448 x 336 pixels at 240 fps and Web-UHR, which records at a very low resolution of 192 x 108 pixels but an ultra-fast frame rate of 600 fps. Both playback as comparatively small displays with a slower than normal reproduction of movement.

      Video clips should be editable in popular applications like Adobe’s Premiere Elements and Pinnacle Studio, regardless of the resolution setting used. They can also be edited in Apple’s iMovie but not (as far as we’ve been able to discern) Windows Movie Maker.

      Shooting Modes
      The VPC-FH1 provides a wider than average range of shooting controls. As well as supporting the P, A, S and M modes required by enthusiasts, it also has a Scene Select sub-menu with pre-sets for Sports, Portrait, Landscape, Night View Portrait, Snow & Beach, Fireworks, Lamp, Monochrome and Sepia.

      The AF system includes a face detection (called Face Chaser) mode that can detect and track human faces in a scene and adjusts brightness and focus accordingly. Manual focusing is also supported across 22 steps right down to 1 cm from the subject. In the Super Macro mode, the focus range extends from 1 cm to one metre, enabling the zoom function to be used for close-ups.

      Nine aperture settings are provided, ranging in half-stop increments from f/2.0 to f/8.0. Shutter speeds as slow as four seconds and up to 1/1000 second can be selected for still capture, while video shutter speeds range from 1/30 to 1/10,000 second. There’s a self-timer setting with selectable two or 10-second delay.

      White balance is set but default to automatic adjustment but pre-sets are provided for Sunny, Cloudy, Fluorescent and Incandescent lighting, along with a One-Push mode for manual measurement. By default, the auto sensitivity setting covers a range of ISO 50 to 200 for still pictures and ISO 50 to 800 for video recording.

      Users can also set ISO sensitivity across a range from ISO 100 to ISO 3200, the latter via a dedicated High Sensitivity mode. However, the ISO 3200 setting is only usable for still shots; video clips and still images captured during video clip recording will be recorded at ISO 1600 when the ISO 3200 setting is engaged.

      A dynamic range expansion function, photo wide F-range, is provided for still capture – but not video. Switching it on disables the flash, stabiliser and noise reduction and sets the exposure mode to Program AE. It also slightly reduces the field of view, because digital processing is applied. Exposures are slightly longer than for normal shooting. Shutter speeds slower than 1/60 second render this mode ineffective

      The digital zoom function can’t be used with the 12M setting because the image is already interpolated as much as it can be without loss of quality. All settings except the self-timer and the exposure compensation are retained even after the camera is turned off.

      Playback and Software
      Pressing the REC/PLAY button on the back panel switches the FH1 to playback mode and displays thumbnails showing the last images and video clips recorded. You can select images or clips to play by toggling with the SET button; shot data are displayed on the lower edge of the screen.

      Most standard playback functions are supported, including single full-screen display of images or video clips, 21-image index displays, playback zoom, resizing, rotating, protecting and deleting of individual files. For video clips, fast and slow playback and rewind are supported and you can trim off unwanted sections of video clips. You can also join clips together to make a sequence and extract single frames for printing.

      Connecting the camera to a computer (via USB cable) or putting the memory card into a card reader lets you view images and video clips on the monitor. Windows Vista users can burn video clips onto a DVD with the supplied Nero Vision Essentials software.

      You can also connect the FH1 to a TV set via either the S-AV or component cable (both supplied). (Note: You can’t use the S-AV and component interfaces at the same time.) For HD video playback, an optional HDMI cable is required.

      In all cases playback is driven from the camera’s monitor. The best video quality is achieved with an HDMI cable and a TV set that can display the 1920 x 1080 resolution. S-video and component output look good on normal widescreen TVs and the highest-quality normal video output is acceptable on a 4:3 aspect standard definition TV set.
      The software bundle contains Nero 8 Essentials, ArcSoft Panorama Maker 4, Xacti Screen Capture 1.1, Adobe Reader 9 and instruction manuals in PDF format for 12 languages. Nero 8 is designed for burning images and video clips to CD or DVD and includes the ability to handle HD video files. This version has a Vista-style interface and is very easy to use.


      The Start screen for Nero 8 Essentials.


      Options available for burning data to optical disks.
      ArcSoft Panorama Marker is a straightforward stitching application that can be used to join still shots to create panoramic images. It’s straightforward to use and appears to be effective. You can choose whether to save the resulting image at full size, 1/4 size or 1/16 size.


      Opening image files in ArcSoft Panorama Marker.


      A stitched panorama.

      Shooting Stills and Video
      The small size and light weight of the VPC-FH1 have advantages and disadvantages. For starters, some kind of stabilisation is necessary, particularly for recording video clips. Unfortunately, the monitor isn’t particularly bright and it can be difficult to compose shots on the screen when you’re shooting outdoors, particularly on sunny days because it’s overwhelmed by the ambient lighting. The displayed image isn’t particularly sharp and, as with all LCDs, the image almost disappears if you’re wearing polarising sunglasses!

      To complicate matters even further, it’s not easy to compose shots precisely when shooting still pictures because your view of the scene can change when you half-press the shutter button. If you’ve selected a 16:9 aspect ratio for recording video, your view for shooting high-resolution stills in 4:3 aspect ratio will contract horizontally and may expand vertically to take in between 20% and 30% more of the scene than was visible initially.

      In fact, you only see the scene the sensor will capture just before the shutter is released. This makes it difficult to be sure you’ve recorded all of it until the shot is taken and you can review it. The only way to see a similar view to what you’ll capture is to have the aspect ratios the same for both video and still modes in the camera’s menu.

      You can overcome this problem to some degree by assigning the field of view setting (photo view) to the SET button. This allows you to toggle between the photo and video views and provides a much closer approximation of the scene that will be recorded in each shooting mode. When both aspect ratios are the same, the LCD monitor also displays most of the scene as it will be recorded.

      Autofocus lag also makes shooting still pictures difficult, with average lag times of more than one second causing many missed shots, particularly when you’re shooting moving subjects. Pre-focusing shots reduces lag times to roughly 0.1 seconds, which is acceptable – but not always possible.

      The ‘Face Chaser’ function was reasonably effective but failed to overcome the problems listed above and many shots taken in slightly challenging conditions (dim lighting, moving subject) were blurred. The two slow-motion modes were easily accessed and fun to use but only the Web-SHR, which records at 448 x 336 pixel resolution and a frame rate of 240 frames/second, produced acceptable viewing quality on a computer screen – albeit at a reduced playback size. But you’re restricted to 10-second clip lengths with these modes.

      We had widely variable results from our still image tests with the review camera. In bright sunlight it was possible to capture well-exposed photographs that were sharp enough to print at snapshot size and recorded a full and natural-looking colour balance. However, in cloudy conditions where contrast was lower, still pictures invariably looked flat and required post-capture editing to produce acceptable results.

      The electronic stabilisation on the review camera was not particularly effective and we found a tripod necessary when shooting with the lens zoomed in, even when fast shutter speeds are used. An example of a shot where the stabiliser failed despite a fast shutter speed is shown below.


      Even at the fast shutter speed of 1/530 second, the stabiliser failed to prevent blurring with the 59.5mm focal length.

      Use of a tripod is also advisable with almost all focal lengths in low light levels. A tripod is also necessary because the stabiliser is disabled when you set the camera to the S, A or M shooting modes and when you switch on the wide D-range setting, noise reduction or continuous shooting functions. It’s also switched off with certain scene present in both photo and video modes.

      We observed relatively high levels of artefacts in all the still shots taken with review camera. They were even evident in the 12M and 8M settings, where resolution is highest, indicating they are probably associated with still image processing.

      In addition, some still pictures showed strange doubling in parts of the image, which may be related to the CMOS sensor and the electronic shutter technology.

      Unfortunately, Sanyo provides no information about these factors apart from the following statement: If the subject moves or the camera is moved during recording, a distorted image may sometimes occur. Not a malfunction. This is a characteristic of the CMOS sensor. Illustrations of this phenomenon are reproduced below with the doubled areas circled in red.


      12M resolution, 6mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/205 second at f/6.8.


      8M-H resolution, 59.5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/585 second at f/9.5.


      8M-H resolution with digital zoom, 59.5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/409 second at f/7.8.

      Conducting our standard Imatest tests was difficult due to problems with framing test shots accurately. Consequently, we are unable to provide the usual graph covering lens performance across its aperture and focal length range. However, we were able to confirm the edge and corner softening we observed in many test shots.

      Imatest showed the camera to be capable of matching the sensor’s native resolution under optimal conditions. It also showed colour accuracy to be generally good but revealed shifts in skin hues and elevated saturation in reds, orange and purple. Resolution remained relatively high at ISO 50, 100 and 200 but began a progressive slow decline at ISO 400, which levelled out at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200. The graph below shows the results of our tests.


      Little noise could be seen in 4-second exposures at ISO 100, but slight pattern noise could be observed at ISO 400 and colour noise was visible at ISO 800 and higher. By ISO 3200, 4-second exposures were also slightly blotchy. However, flash shots at ISO 3200 showed little obvious noise, although contrast and sharpness were visibly reduced.

      Lateral chromatic aberration was generally low and little evidence of coloured fringing was found in outdoor shots. However, the tendency of the lens to edge softening and the presence of JPEG artefacts reduced overall quality and sharpness outside of the central zone in images.

      Close-up performance was generally good, although the ergonomics of the camera made it quite difficult to focus and frame shots of small subjects. Slow autofocusing and problems with image sharpness meant many video clips required aggressive trimming to remove blurred segments and best results were obtained when the camera was tripod-mounted or stabilised in some other way.

      Digital zoom shots were artefact-affected and generally slightly soft. White balance performance was similar to many digicams. The auto setting failed to remove the inherent colour biases of both incandescent and fluorescent lighting while the pre-sets tended towards slight over-correction. Acceptable results were obtained with the ‘one-push’ mode.

      Video quality was very good with the HD settings but less impressive in the SD modes, particularly in bright outdoor lighting. However, good results were obtained indoors in the HD modes, although overall contrast in shots was relatively low and saturation was subdued. Playback of HD video clips was occasionally jerky; less so with the non-interlaced capture modes than the Full-HD mode.

      Soundtracks were generally clear with a reasonably good stereo ‘presence’, provided the recording conditions were suitable. There’s no wind-cut filter so it’s inadvisable to rely on audio recorded in windy conditions.

      When switching to SD mode we noticed an immediate loss of image sharpness, contrast and colour saturation and video clips recorded in the Web UHR mode (192 x 108 pixels at 600 fps) were very blotchy and unsharp. Zooming while shooting video clips was mostly problem-free; mechanical noises from the camera were only audible in very quiet situations.

      We conducted our timing tests for still shots with a SanDisk Extreme III Class 6 8GB SDHC card. As mentioned above, we measured an average capture lag of 1.2 seconds, which reduced to 0.1 seconds with pre-focusing. Each JPEG image took approximately one second to process and store.

      Switching to the continuous shooting mode enabled us to record 10 shots at 0.15 second intervals with the 8M Continuous setting and 10 shots at 0.08 second intervals in the 4M Continuous mode. It took approximately seven seconds to process each of these bursts.

      Buy this camera if:
      – You want a compact camcorder that can record both still pictures and HD video clips.
      – You’d like P, A, S and M shooting modes.
      – You enjoy shooting close-ups of flowers and other small objects.
      – You require good performance at moderately high sensitivity settings.
      Don’t buy this camera if:
      – You require high quality, distortion-free still pictures for printing at larger than snapshot sizes.
      – You require fast response times for action photography.


      Still photographs:


      Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.


      Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.


      6mm focal length, ISO 50, 1/423 second at f/4.7.


      59.5mm focal length, ISO 50, 1/357 second at f/3.9.


      Crop from the above image enlarged to 100% to show coloured fringing.


      Digital zoom; 59.5mm focal length, ISO 50, 1/364 second at f/3.9.


      Macro mode; 59.5mm focal length, ISO 50, 1/367 second at f/4.9.


      Super-macro mode; 59.5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/322 second at f/3.9.


      6mm focal length, ISO 100, 4 seconds at f/2.0.


      6mm focal length, ISO 1600, 4 seconds at f/5.1.


      6mm focal length, ISO 3200, 2 seconds at f/5.1.


      Flash exposure at ISO 100: 8.9mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/38 second at f/2.5.


      Flash exposure at ISO 3200: 8.9mm focal length, ISO 3200, 1/63 second at f/8.5.


      59.5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/420 second at f/9.5.
      Frames from video clips:















      Low-light video clips:


      Full-HD, full frame.


      Full-HD, crop at 100% magnification.


      Full-HD, close-up.




      Image sensor: 5.76 x 4.29 mm CMOS sensor
      Effective Sensor Resolution: Approx. 8 megapixels (stills); approx. 5.31 megapixels (HD video) or approx. 2 megapixels (SD video)
      Lens: 5.95 -59.5mm f/2.0-2.8 zoom lens (35.7-357mm in 35mm format for stills; 41.7-666.9mm for video)
      Zoom ratio: 10x optical; up to 10x digital
      Video format: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264
      Video recording modes: HD – 1920 x 1080 at 60 or 30 fps, 1280 x 720 at 30 fps; SD – 640 x 480 at 30 fps, 448 x 338 at 240 fps, 192 x 108 at 600 fps
      Sound recording: MPEG-4 (AAC compression); 48 Hz sampling rate, 16-bit stereo format
      Still Image file format/sizes: JPEG (Exif 2.2); 4000 x 3000, 3264 x 2448, 1600 x 1200, 640 x 480; 16:9 aspect: 3264 x 1840, 1920 x 1080, 1280 x 720; 2288 x 1712 (in 4M sequential mode)
      Shutter speed range: Stills:1/2 to 1/1000 second; up to 4 seconds in Lamp scene select mode; Video: 1/30 to 1/10,000 second
      Self-timer: 2 or 10 seconds delay
      Image Stabilisation: Electronic
      Focus system/range: TTL-AF with 9-point range finder; Normal range: 50 cm to infinity; macro 1 cm to 1 metre
      Metering: Multi-section, centre-weighted, spot modes
      Exposure controls: Program AE, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual; Scene Select (Sports, Portrait, Landscape, Night View Portrait, Snow & Beach, Fireworks, Lamp, Monochrome, Sepia)
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 1.8EV in 0.3 EV steps
      Minimum illumination: 6 lux in auto mode; 2 lux in High Sensitivity and Lamp modes
      Sensitivity: Auto (ISO 50-800); ISO 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
      White balance: Full auto TTL; manual setting possible
      Flash: GN 4; range 50 cm to 4 metres; auto-flash, forced flash, flash off modes
      Storage Media: SD/SDHC memory cards
      LCD monitor: 3.0-inch low-temperature polysilicon TFT colour LCD with 230,000 pixels
      Power supply: DB-L50 rechargeable lithium-ion battery; CIPA rated for approx. 420 shots/charge or approx. 150 minutes of Full HD video.
      Interface terminals: USB 2.0 Hi-Speed, Component/AV, HDMI, DC-in
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 53.3 x 57.3 x 105.0 mm
      Weight: Approx. 257 grams (without battery and card)





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      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 8.5
      • Ease of use: Stills – 7.5; Video – 8.5
      • Still image quality: 7.5
      • Video quality: 8.5
      • OVERALL: 8.5