Sharp VL-NZ100U Digital Camcorder Review

$700

Sharp Electronics

Sharp Plaza

Mahwah, NJ 07430

(800) BE-SHARP

www.sharp-usa.com

If you’re new to the world of making your own video, Sharp offers its new VL-NZ100U Mini DV camcorder. It has a straightforward, unintimidating design and a wide complement of automatic features to get you started making video right away. It doesn’t leave intermediate users behind, either. There are just enough manual settings to whet your appetite. And if you were also thinking about a digital still camera, the NZ100U has you covered, and includes an 8MB SD (secure digital) card.

Getting to Know You

With its new family of camcorders, Sharp has gone back to its previous Viewcam format, with the tape mechanism and screen attached to the swiveling camera section. Indeed, this camcorder would be difficult to distinguish from the NZ10U we reviewed in March if it wasn’t for the extra "0" in the model name.

Following the recent trend in ultra-small camcorders, the tape transport is the largest part of the whole camcorder. It’s designed to be held with both hands, with your thumbs performing all of the video control functions. The exception is the Still-Shot button, which was easily triggered with the right index finger. We had no problems actuating the zoom control, Start/Stop button or menu controls, but users with smaller hands or limited thumb motion may have a little trouble accessing everything.

The unit has no viewfinder, which we found awkward at first, but didn’t miss after awhile. The 3-inch color viewscreen was quite clear, even in bright sunlight.

A small, spartan remote control was provided, and handled transport controls, start/stop, zoom and volume controls.

The NZ100U’s simple design and limited buttons means that a lot of controls are nested in menus. Fear not, though, the menus were quite easy to navigate. The Menu button could also remove all of the prompts from the display, allowing us to concentrate on our subject. The manual controls for focus, white balance and exposure had buttons of their own, making them quick to access.

Back to Basics

To get to the manual focus, we pressed the Manual button and then used the up/down arrows. The manual focus responded rather slowly, though. If you’re making fine adjustments, you may overshoot if you’re not careful. The auto-focus worked well and with a centered subject or a subject that filled most of the screen, it performed just fine. It even coped well with pans and zooms.

The electronic image stabilizer worked pretty well, considering we weren’t quite used to the camera’s layout. While we were shaky, the camera tried hard to get a stable shot. It worked best when we zoomed all the way out, but it didn’t do much at full optical telephoto. Of course, the image stabilizer was no substitute for a good tripod, but it was a great help while shooting hand-held. Sharp also provides a tripod adapter, which is necessary if you’d like to swivel the viewscreen and access the battery while the camera is attached to a tripod. The small plastic adapter was awkward, but functional. It seemed apparent that Sharp assumes most users of this camcorder will shoot without the use of a tripod.

The NZ100U features a 10x optical zoom. We could engage the digital zoom in two steps: 40x or 300x. The quality was passable below 30x. In general, the zoom worked smoothly, at variable speeds, depending on how far we slid the control.

The on-camera stereo mike (your only option since the cam has no mike jack) was extremely sensitive. Holding the camcorder out at chest level, our test subject’s breathing and quiet mutterings were clearly audible. Even conversations recorded in a noisy neighborhood were crisp and clear. Unfortunately, since the mike is right above the lens, noise from the zoom motor was clearly audible on the tape. The focus motor was also audible at times, but usually only for short periods and only during more extreme changes in focus. Button presses were also apparent on the sound track. Overall, though, the positioning of the mike was good. Somewhat isolated from the tape motor and head drum, it caused very little motor noise on the tape. We found that the NZ100U defaulted to recording 12-bit, 32kHz audio. For higher quality audio, we toggled through the menu and changed the settings to record 16-bit, 48kHz audio.

The NZ100U had a good sense of contrast. We shot into a hedge in late afternoon sunlight to see the bright, shimmering, green leaves against the dark branches inside. A manual white balance feature is provided, but we found that the auto white balance worked surprisingly well. The cam also did a fine job of picking out the fine details. We thought light skin tones were slightly subdued, though, but acceptable.

The unit had an exposure control, though it was unclear what its numbers referred to. As with many other consumer camcorders, an automatic combination of iris (aperture) and shutter speed controlled the exposure. Independent manual control of these variables was not possible.

We really liked the built-in shooting guides, especially useful for beginners (although even experts could benefit from a reminder about the fundamentals). We especially liked the built-in Rule of Thirds shooting guide. This could help you cultivate solid composition habits.

Cam it Up

For the $700 sticker price, you get a good, solid camcorder that is a pleasure to use and yields good-quality results. It’s a haven for button-phobes, but its thorough, easy-to-navigate menus will satisfy those wanting some control. On the downside, it’s not designed for any kind of serious production work, as it lacks an S-video connection, as well as mike and headphone jacks. But for beginners or casual shooters, the NZ100U could be just what the doctor ordered.

TECH SPECS

Format: Mini DV

Lens: fl=3.6 to 36mm, f/1.8, 10:1 optical, 27mm filter

Image Sensor: 1/4-inch CCD, 460,000 pixels

Viewfinder: none

LCD Viewscreen: 3-inch color

Focus: auto, manual

Exposure Control: auto, manual

Program AE modes: 4

White Balance: auto, manual

Digital Effects: 5

Audio: 12-bit or 16-bit stereo

Inputs: composite video, stereo audio, IEEE 1394

Outputs: composite video, stereo audio, IEEE 1394, USB (for stills)

Edit Interface: LANC, IEEE 1394

Other Features: on-screen shooting guides, SD card slot and USB port for digital stills (8MB SD card included)

Dimensions: 5 9/16 (w) x 3 11/32 (h) x 2 5/16 (d) inches

Weight (sans tape and battery): 1.03 lbs.

Performance Times

Pause to Record: 0.93 sec.

Power-up to Record: 4.31 sec.

Fast forward/Rewind (60 min): 2 min. 46 sec.

Tested Horizontal Resolution: 400 lines

STRENGTHS

  • Price
  • On-screen shooting guides, including Rule of Thirds
  • Straightforward, logical button arrangement

    WEAKNESSES

  • No S-video input/output

  • No mike or headphone jacks

    SUMMARY

  • A good model for beginners, but there’s not a lot of room to grow.
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