RCA CC6394 S-VHS-C ET Camcorder Review

$599

Thomson Consumer Electronics

10330 North Meridian Street

Indianapolis, IN 46290-1024

(800) 336-1900

www.rca.com

With most serious hobbyists moving to DV, manufacturers are creating fewer video cameras for the analog crowd. The RCA CC6394 makes video easy for those who’d like to keep it simple, recording to a format that can easily be played back on a standard VHS VCR (with an included adapter). The RCA CC6394, packed with bells and whistles, is switchable between VHS and S-VHS and can even double as a digital still camera.

The Examination Begins

Over eight inches in length, the camcorder is a little longer than others in the compact category. We had trouble fitting it in our smallish camera bag at first, but the extra surface size makes for easier access to basic camera controls. The buttons are spaced nicely and located on the top of the unit. Advanced controls are accessed through a series of menus.

The 16:1 optical zoom is more than enough for most situations and better than many cameras. The digital zoom ranges from 50x to 400x. We found that limiting it to 50x gave better results, since it noticeably degraded after going above 30x. The zoom control also worked better when limited to 50x; at 400x, it became difficult to control.

Automatic Cam

The RCA CC6394 can be used as a fully automatic camcorder. It has auto focus, auto shutter speed, auto white balance, and auto iris. This makes it very easy for beginners to simply turn the camcorder on and get a well-exposed in-focus picture. The automatic features all adapted quickly and reasonably to changing conditions.

For more adventurous shooters, the unit also allows manual control of focus and exposure, and white balance presets from a dial in front of the viewfinder. There were also a number of pre-programmed exposure modes. On the test model we received, the two sports modes "breathed" very badly in fluorescent lighting situations, resulting in the image noticeably fading in and out over the course of a few seconds. When shooting in bright sunlight (as when filming outdoor sports), we did not experience this problem. This mode may be useful for shooting outdoor sports like soccer or football, but may be better left "off" when shooting indoor sports like basketball, volleyball or ice skating. Full manual-exposure control worked well and was easy to use indoors and out.

Image stabilization worked well, even at the limits of the optical zoom, although the size of the image in the viewfinder shrunk noticeably when it was engaged. The motions associated with walking, panning and zooming were all noticeably dampened with the image stabilization engaged.

Imperfect Audio

The CC6394’s audio system was one of its weakest areas. There is no external mike input, so users are limited to the built-in microphone. The built-in mike is positioned on the front of the unit, just below the lens, but still picked up a great deal of unwanted operator and cam noise as well. In quieter situations there was a noticeable hum from our review unit, and this hum manifested itself on the tape as a high-pitched whine. Unfortunately, because there is no headphone jack, there is no way of knowing what you have recorded until you play the tape back on a TV monitor.

If we limited ourselves to acquiring audio within a close range, the sound played back crisp and clear. But the mike didn’t handle audio too well when it came from beyond the 10-foot range, which is typical of built-in mikes on cameras in this price range.

Focus on Image

The CC6394’s image quality was impressive when compared to other VHS-C camcorders, especially in S-VHS ET mode, rivaling Hi8. The "ET" designation in S-VHS-C ET of this unit means that the S-VHS video is recorded on standard video tape. One thing to keep in mind with this camcorder is that although it can easily switch between VHS and S-VHS ET, most VCRs can’t. Although the viewfinder clearly indicates that the camera is in S-VHS ET mode when a tape is inserted, it may be easy to forget you’re shooting in S-VHS ET mode, which will be a problem if you want to play back your tapes in a standard VHS VCR.

One very enjoyable feature of the CC6394 is its still shot capability. While it doesn’t have as much memory as most dedicated digital cameras on the market, it does hold up to 60 images (30 in Fine mode) at 640×480 using internal memory, which is more than enough for most occasions. The convenience of having a digital still camera in an analog video camera is difficult to ignore. The unit ships with Picture Navigator software to download still images to your PC. While the software isn’t very robust, it is easy to use and you can run a slideshow of your pictures quickly and easily. We tested the software on a Pentium II 300 with 96MB of RAM with no problems.

Is This VHS-C for Me?

The RCA CC6394 is a capable camcorder designed for the casual user. It doubles as a video and a still camera with the push of a button. With RCA’s automatic features, there aren’t a whole lot of manual controls required to create quality video. The big 3-inch LCD viewscreen and a fast power-up-to-record time make it simple to operate as a point-and-shoot. The switchable format feature provides high-quality images, and the manual controls are available when needed.

If you want to connect your camcorder to your new iMac computer to edit your footage, this camera is not what you’re after. For a couple hundred dollars more, you might consider a Digital8 or Mini DV model with a FireWire connection.

If, however, you are a casual shooter looking for a camcorder to simply capture the moments and memories of life, the CC6394 may be just what you’re looking for. Its ease of use, high image quality, still shot feature and reasonable price all make it a good choice for those who want to keep it simple.

TECH SPECS

Format: VHS-C, S-VHS-C ET

Lens: 16:1 optical zoom, 400:1 digital zoom, f/1.6, focal length 3.9-62.4mm, 40.5mm filter diameter

Image sensor: 1/4-inch CCD

Viewfinder: 0.44-inch, color

LCD viewscreen: 3-inch, color

Focus: auto, manual

Maximum shutter speed: not provided

Exposure: auto, manual

White balance: auto, manual

Digital effects: seven modes

Audio: mono

Inputs: none

Outputs: S-video, RCA A/V, RS-232 (for stills)

Dimensions: 4 7/16 (w) x 4 11/16 (h) x 8 1/8 (d) inches

Weight (sans tape/battery): 2 lbs.

Performance Times

Pause to Record: 0.7 sec.

Power-up to Record: 9.3 sec.

Fast forward/Rewind (60 min. tape): 3 min. 5 sec.

Tested Horizontal Resolution: 337 lines*

STRENGTHS

  • S-VHS quality image
  • Digital still camera feature

    WEAKNESSES

  • Flawed program AE sports modes
  • No external audio inputs and noisy mike

    SUMMARY

  • A good camcorder for the casual videographer who wants something easy to use without sacrificing bells or whistles.
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