Simple Is as Simple Does
SCX 904 8mm camcorder
105 Challenger Road
Ridgefield, NJ 07660
There is beauty in simplicity. At least Samsung thinks so. With just a bare minimum of features, they’re
aiming their new SCX series at those consumers who agree. A little green "MyCam" logo on the side of
the unit gives the impression that here is yet another point and shoot. But behind the plastic covers,
there’s a bit more of a camcorder here than you might think.
The SCX 904 is a smooth, nice-looking 8mm camcorder. It’s finished in the usual gunmetal gray.
You’ll find the seven main controls where your left hand can easily get to them. They share the camera
and VCR functions, which makes for a very uncluttered-looking unit. Tactile response of these buttons is
good, and the viewfinder indicates all activated control functions.
Images enter the unit through its f/1.4, 12:1 (5.4 to 64.8mm) single-speed zoom lens. Focus is
automatic or manual, and the included guidebook devotes a page to pointing out what type of focus to
use for different subjects. Macro focusing is possible with the focus in automatic mode.
Program AE (auto exposure) circuitry automatically sets the iris and shutter speeds for auto, portrait, sports and H.S.S. (high-speed shutter) modes. The auto and portrait modes work at the normal 1/60th of a second shutter speed while controlling the iris. The portrait mode also shortens the depth of field to isolate your subject. The sports and H.S.S. modes increase shutter speeds as high as 1/1000th of a
second, depending on the available lighting.
You view the images through a black-and-white viewfinder, which includes a diopter adjustment ring to focus the viewfinder to match your eyesight. A bank of switches found close by will turn on indicators in the viewfinder for program AE mode, tape count, zoom and a host of other features.
This bank of switches also controls the date/time settings, the counter setting and the titler. With the titler, you can create two lines and a total of thirty-two characters. The titler, which only works in camera mode, offers only a single page in white characters.
As mentioned, a cluster of seven control buttons share the camera and VCR duties. In the VCR mode,
the buttons control the basic tape transport functions (play, rewind, etc.). In camera mode, the buttons
control several recording features. The fade button will fade the image in or out to or from black. The
backlight button will open the iris about one stop to help compensate for overly bright backgrounds.
There’s also a digital special effects button that offers three levels of digital paint, from simple
enhancement to the full-blown effect.
Another feature is the edit reverse/forward buttons. These buttons allow viewing of recorded images anywhere on the tape while still in the camera mode. You can use this feature to check what you’ve just recorded. You can also combine this feature with the counter memory controls to do accurate combined audio and video inserts.
You’ll find standard RCA-type connectors under a rubber cover. A small switch sets them to either
input or output connectors. An optional RF (radio frequency) unit will plug in here to play your tapes on
a receiver-only TV.
The SCX 904 comes with a small remote control that will operate every VCR function of the unit,
and offers a few more features as well. You may call up the viewfinder data on your monitor/TV screen
to see the settings and control the features. These features include a self-timer which allows you ten
seconds before recording starts. This self-timer will also allow you to set the recording time for either
thirty seconds after starting, or for continuous recording.
The remote also includes an interval record feature. You may record one second of video every thirty seconds, every minute, every two minutes or every five minutes. This acts as a sort of coarse time-lapse record feature, without the smoothness of single-frame recording. Once the interval recording function is set, it will run for up to twelve hours.
The SCX 904 records audio through an omnidirectional condenser mike. The unit has neither an
external microphone input nor a headphone output.
The SCX 904 is quite easy to use and provides sharp images with good color reproduction. The
Program AE adjusts the iris quickly to changing light conditions without the abrupt changes that are so
distracting on some camcorders.
The autofocus is a bit slow at times and occasionally hunts for its focus. In fact, there are times when, for no apparent reason, the unit refuses to focus. This may be why the enclosed owner’s guide stresses using manual focus on certain shots.
The zoom is painfully slow, taking some 13 seconds to travel from full telephoto to full wide angle. With most camcorders, you should always use manual focus in the full telephoto (zoomed in) setting. But because of the slow zoom speed on this model, this may take more time than certain spur-of-the-moment shots allow. Samsung should consider speeding up the zoom a bit on future models.
Digital paint is a rather tired and over-used effect. I wish Samsung had considered something else.
But it does offer some extra creative control over your videos.
The audio sounds very good on playback if your subjects are close. I noticed that subjects any further than half a dozen feet from the mike sounded distant and a bit hollow. The lack of any external mike or headset connections means little control over the audio you’re getting, which is too bad. So little
additional circuitry is necessary to add external mike and headphone connectors that all camcorders
should have them as a standard feature.
The edit reverse/forward buttons are a very useful feature. You can use these buttons to check just-recorded material to assure yourself that your camcorder is working properly.
Aside from the few quirks mentioned, the SCX 904 does its job and does it well. If you’re looking for a good, simple 8mm camcorder with a few useful features thrown in, don’t overlook the SCX 904.
Considering its low list price, it may be just what you’re looking for.
Samsung SCX 904 8mm camcorder
- One-speed 12:1 optical zoom, f/1.8, 5.4-64.8mm focal length
- Program AE with switchable backlight
- White balance
- Auto, no override
- Composite video, mono audio
- Composite video, mono audio
- Other Features
- Fader, titler, diopter control, self-timer, interval timer, viewfinder indicators,
digital effects, camera mode edit search, insert control
- 3.9 (width) by 4.1 (height) by 9.6 (depth) inches
- 1 pound, 12 ounces
- Video Performance (approx.)
- Horizontal resolution (camera)
- 320 lines
- Horizontal resolution (playback)
- 270 lines
- Performance Times (30 min. tape)
- Pause to record
- 0.5 second
- Power up to record
- 2 seconds
- Fast forward/rewind
- 2 minutes, 15 seconds
A Shure Thing
VP Wireless Microphone System
Shure Brothers Inc.
222 Hartrey Avenue
Evanston, IL 60202-3696
Wireless microphones are an important videomaking tool. They provide an easy way to take the mike off
the camcorder and put it where the talent is. To help you accomplish this, the Shure Brothers offer the
VP Wireless System. This system includes the Shure VP3 receiver and a number of handheld or lavalier
Our test unit included the VP3 receiver and the TP1 Presenter lavalier mike/transmitter combination.
About the size of a wallet, both of these units are cased in tough black plastic. Each unit includes a
minimum of tiny controls that are easy to access. Permanently attached to the TP1 transmitter body is the
antenna and mini-lavalier.
The VP3 receiver is a very simple unit. It comes with a six-inch plastic whip antenna permanently
attached. An on/off switch is the only basic control. Two LEDs (light emitting diodes) sit next to the
on/off switch. One turns green to indicate operation and power.
When the unit receives a signal, the green LED will turn yellow. In use, this LED should remain
yellow without blinking or flickering; if it doesn’t, the incoming signal is too weak.
The second LED lights up red when the signal is too strong. This is a warning that the signal received
may cause distortion in your recording.
A hole on the back of the receiver offers access to a squelch adjustment. You use this to mute
unwanted radio noises for a good, clean signal reception.
A headphone connection on the side of the receiver allows you to monitor the incoming signals.
Another hole near this connection offers access to the headphone volume control.
Down from the headphone connector is an external power jack. It will accept power from any 12-volt
DC power supply. The included manual suggests that any external power supply be well filtered (against
possible A/C hum).
Rounding out the receiver is a mini three-pin balanced connector for attaching the VP3 to your mixer
or video camera. Shure supplies a cable with the VP3 for this use. It terminates in a 18-inch mini stereo
phone plug (to retain the balanced signal) but works fine with unbalanced camcorder external mike
inputs. The output of the VP3 is mike level.
A single nine-volt battery provides internal power for the receiver. It mounts in a compartment in the
bottom of the unit. The TP1 Presenter transmitter also uses a single nine-volt battery mounted in the
same way as the receiver.
The TP1 Presenter sports two LED indicators. One lights up red when battery power is low. The
second lights up green when you use one of two switches to turn the power on. The second switch is a
mute switch. It turns the mike off without turning the power off. In this way, you’ll send no click or
popping sound to the receiver when turning off the mike.
A hole on the back of the unit allows access to a control for gain adjustments. If the receiver’s red
indicator stays lit, or if the yellow indicator flickers, the gain of the transmitter may require adjustment
through this control.
The Shure VP Wireless System produces a very clean, high-quality sound and I could find no real faults
with it. I tested the system both indoors and out at distances up to an average city block (about 350 feet
line-of-sight) with no problems, although Shure Brothers states the average working range is only 100
I did have some difficulty when transmitting through objects such as building walls (especially when
there was a lot of metal in the walls). Since most shots will have the subject in view, this shouldn’t be a
I tested this unit both in my home and at the Videomaker offices (in a busier part of town) and I
discovered that the VP3 receiver was sensitive to a lot of external signals. Undoubtedly cellular phones,
traffic lights and other objects creating external noise near the VP3’s frequency were causing the
interference. Adjusting the VP3’s squelch took care of this problem.
Both units have belt clips for attachment to your body. This is fine for the transmitter, but it would be
preferable to mount the receiver on your camcorder or tripod. You may have to rig up a different mount
If you’re looking for a good wireless mike system to use with your camcorder, you can’t go wrong
with the Shure Brothers VP Wireless System.
Shure Brothers VP Wireless Microphone System
- Audio Frequency Response
- 80-15,000 Hz +/-3dB
- RF Carrier Frequency
- 171.845 MHz
- Operating Range
- 100 feet average; up to 300 feet in optimum conditions
- Power Output (TP1)
- 50 mW maximum
- TP1 Presenter (transmitter): none; VP3 (receiver): audio out, 12-volt DC in,
- Other Features
- TP1: low battery indicator, mute, gain adjust, power on LED, electret
condenser lavalier mike, fixed antenna; VP3: headphone jack, headphone volume, 12-volt DC adapter
jack, squelch adjustment
- TP1: 2 1/2 (width) by 3 1/4 (height) by 1 1/32 (depth) inches; VP3: 2 1/3 (width)
by 5 (height) by 1 (depth) inches
- Weight (with battery)
- TP1: 5 ounces; VP3: 8 ounces
TM-900SU 9-inch Color Monitor
JVC Professional Products Co.
41 Slater Drive
Elmwood Park, NJ 07407
Over the months, we’ve had the chance to review a few professional monitors. We’ve done so in response
to the growing number of serious videomakers who need monitors that present accurate colors and create
displays that allow you to identify signal problems. These monitors show you just how stable your sync
really is while allowing you to set up precise color and see the overall quality of your images.
Your final product dictates your quality as a videomaker. But you need to be able to "see" what your final product is. Because of this, professional monitors should be recognized as an important tool in the videomaking arsenal. Many monitors have come down in price to the semi-pro or even the consumer
level, causing a growing interest in these markets.
JVC offers a whole family of TM series monitors ranging from 5 1/2 to 14 inches. As the number
indicates, the TM-900SU is a nine-inch color test monitor. The usual dark gray finish covers the sharply
square metal cabinet. Cooling slots run along the top, sides and back. The handle mounted to the top is
necessary on this monitor–at nearly twenty pounds, the unit tends to get heavy rather quickly.
At the heart of any monitor is its CRT (cathode ray picture tube). The TM-900SU uses a 9-inch high-
quality picture tube with over 310 lines of resolution. Though the screen size may seem small, it provides
good viewing for quite some distance, and is a perfect size to monitor shooting or editing sessions.
In a shallow depression running under the bottom edge of the screen are the major display and test
controls. The display controls include the usual brightness and contrast, as well as phase and chroma.
The phase control on the TM-900SU is the same as the tint control on a television receiver. Similarly, a
receiver’s color control equals the chroma control here. The TM-900SU also accepts mono audio, so
you’ll find an audio volume control alongside these other knobs.
Under each of these knobs is a small hole with a fine adjustment pot inside. A technician will use
these to fine-tune the control above it, except for the hole below the volume knob, which is the vertical
hold adjustment. These controls require a special tool to access the fine adjusters, and it seems clear that
JVC doesn’t think that untrained people should be twisting these controls.
To the right of these knobs are the two video input control buttons. The first button controls the type of input signal, either composite or Y/C. If you choose the Y/C input, the second button has no effect.
But if you choose composite, the second button switches between composite A and B inputs.
An external sync button comes next. It allows you to switch between the internal sync generated by the monitor, or an external sync signal such as the "house sync" used in a studio, or the sync from a test
generator. It’s not too likely you’ll be using this feature very often, unless you’re a repairman using this
monitor for testing.
Next comes a color off switch for testing resolution and other signal parameters. Professional
technicians often use this setting when registering large three-tube studio cameras.
Finally, we come to the three features that make a test monitor worth its weight in gold-plated
connectors: cross pulse, underscan and blue check.
When you push the cross pulse button, both the horizontal and vertical blanking bars become visible, forming a cross on the screen. If you know what to look for, you can use these bars to find problems in your recordings or your equipment. You can also use them to set proper tracking for your VCR and roughly time two mixed signals in A/B roll editing. Any of numerous video engineering books will teach you what to look for.
Next is the underscan button. This button shrinks the picture slightly until the blanking bars just show at the edges. Underscan is quite useful during production in centering graphics or titles, or to make sure that mike booms are out of the shot. Technicians also use the underscan setting in certain alignment
The final control found under the CRT is the blue check button. Pushing this button turns off the red and green guns in the CRT, causing only the color blue to show on the screen face. If you send a color
bar signal to the monitor while the blue check button is on, the signal will appear as alternating light and
Here’s how you use the blue check button: while viewing color bars, you set the phase and contrast controls until all of the dark blue bars are uniformly dark and all of the light blue bars are uniformly light. This works because every other bar has an equal content of blue in it (the light blue bars). Now, when you release the blue check button, your color bars will demonstrate nearly perfect color. With your monitor adjusted, you’ll be able to verify proper white balance in your videos.
On the back of the monitor are the input connections. All of these have looping outputs (which simply
means you can pass the video signal through the monitor for use by other equipment). Each of the three
inputs has a 75-ohm terminator that you switch on if you’re not using the looped output. This helps
balance your signal strength to your monitor alone, or between all components used.
All composite video connectors are BNC. All audio connections are RCA phono. The Y/C connectors are of the 7-pin variety. An adapter cable is necessary to connect consumer S-video equipment to the Y/C input.
An AFC switch below the connections sets the time constant between normal and fast. Put simply,
you can use this switch to correct any skewing (bending of the image) seen in the top of your picture.
Lastly, a setup switch collapses the picture for adjustments by trained technicians. The enclosed four
page manual warns you not to reset this switch.
A 4-pin XLR-like connector allows the use of batteries to power the TM-900SU. Any 12-volt DC
source at 3 amp hours will work.
This little monitor may not have the screen size or the resolution of its bigger brother (the TM-
1400SU), but it’s no slouch on performance. When set up properly, colors are right on target.
I would have preferred a bit more than the TM-900SU’s 310 lines of horizontal resolution, especially in a test monitor (broadcast television offers about 350). This is the only fault I see on the unit.
While the monitor is not light, the ability to operate it on battery power and carry it into the field is a great benefit. To be able to study all facets of your video signal while shooting certainly eliminates any
guesswork. The manual gives the proper pin assignments in the event you wish to make a cable to adapt
a battery belt or other battery power source.
For both production and post-production use, the JVC TM-900SU monitor is definitely worth your consideration.
JVC TM-900SU 9-inch Video Monitor
- Video Inputs
- 7-pin Y/C (looped), composite (x2, looped)
- Audio Inputs
- Mono (x3, looped)
- 9-inch (diagonal), 76o deflection, in-line gun, vertical pitch; stripe phosphor of
- Horizontal Resolution
- More than 310 lines
- Screen View Size
- 6 3/4 by 5 3/8 inches
- Other Features
- Blue check, color off, cross pulse, underscan, AFC adjust, setup, loop
throughs and terminators at all inputs, battery power capability
- 9 (height) by 8 3/4 (width) by 12 7/8 (depth) inches
- 19.8 pounds