Benchmark:Sharp Electronics VL-SD20U Mini DV Camcorder

Lookin Sharp

VL-SD20U Mini DV Camcorder


Sharp Electronics

Sharp Plaza

Mahwah, NJ 07430

(800) 237-4277

Continuing their easy-to-use line of Viewcam camcorders, Sharp Electronics introduced its latest addition to the family with the new VL-SD20U Mini DV camcorder. Smaller than Sharps Hi8 Viewcams, the VL-SD20U has the same easy-to-view rear-panel viewscreen.

Although it has manual focus, white balance, iris and shutter speed, Sharp seems to have designed this 1-chip Mini DV camcorder with beginner and casual video shooters in mind. More advanced users may feel a bit disappointed with its menu-driven manual controls and its lack of a headphone jack to monitor audio.

Easy to See

Sharp designed the VL-SD20U for use with two hands. The right hand controls the on/off and record/pause buttons and the zoom controls, while the left hand controls the onscreen menu, manual focus adjustment and playback.

It sports a 3-inch color LCD viewscreen and has no viewfinder. The viewscreen worked well; we could easily see our subjects. The only time we missed the smaller viewfinder was when we had our backs to the sun and glare washed out the viewscreen. Because the body of the camcorder rotates independently of the lens, we were able to easily remedy this by changing the viewscreens angle, without affecting the lens angle. The viewfinder can also flip 180 degrees in either direction so you can shoot yourself or so your subjects can see themselves while you shoot.

The VL-SD20U features a 10:1 optical zoom and a 100:1 digital zoom. At 10:1 the image looked great. At 100:1, the image was pixelated and jumpy. If youre desperate and you need to use the digital zoom, try a tripod to help keep the image steady. Youre better off moving closer to your subject.

Its Automatic

For beginners who simply want to pop a tape in and shoot, the automatic mode is good to go. The automatic focus system worked well and adjusted itself quickly even as we panned rapidly across the room.

Unfortunately, the only control buttons on the body of the VL-SD20U besides on/off and record/pause are the zoom control and playback buttons. To access any of the manual controls (and any other control for that matter) we had to go to the menu. This was inconvenient for quick access to the various controls. The playback control buttons, located below the viewscreen, double as the menu systems onscreen control buttons to help with ease of use.

There are four different menu screens that access the different camcorder controls. The fourth screen actually houses most of the normal operating controls. Its here where you can turn off the time and date, select the type of fade, choose between digital and optical zoom, adjust the audio mode, change the tape speed and turn the image stabilizer on and off.

Another screen allows you to choose between manual modes: focus, shutter speed, white balance and iris. Once we selected a mode, the VL-SD20U kept that information in memory so that even when we turned the camcorder off, the settings were saved. This is a time-saving feature that wed like to see more camcorders include. Great job Sharp! We were also happy that Sharp provided manual focus, though the focus slider was difficult to adjust precisely.

The automatic white balance worked well and it was simple to adjust manually. We scrolled to the manual mode menu, selected white balance, filled the screen with a white card and hit the white balance lock selection on the menu. It was equally easy to adjust the manual shutter speed. Again we accessed the manual menu, chose shutter speed and then scrolled through the different speeds from 1/30 to 1/10,000 of a second to select the speed we wanted. We controlled the iris manually in the same fashion as we did the white balance and shutter speed.

Other Features

The VL-SD20U has four special program modes to choose from: Sport (for fast-moving subjects); Sunlight (when the background is very brighton the slopes or at the beach); Dusk (to compensate for low-light circumstances); and Party mode (when the illumination originates from a spotlight).

It also has seven digital effects that you can use as in-camera filter effects. Theres black and white effect, sepia tone to simulate old-time movies, mosaic for a tiled effect, Solari to enhance the colors, creating a posterized effect, Stretch and Slim to make subjects wider and shorter or taller and thinner, and Negative which inverts the colors of an image. In-camera transitions are limited. The VL-SD20U fades only to white or one of four animated titles. The Happy Birthday title has an image of a birthday cake that bounces across the screen. The other titles include: Happy Holidays, Happy Vacation and Happy Party. Youll probably be happier if you ignore these silly options and create your own inventive titling and transition solutions.

The VL-SD20U can record still images in two different ways: it records a still image to tape in 6-second intervals with no audio or still images with audio that continues until you press stop. Another feature included is Quick Return, which locates the end of the last scene you recorded. This is handy when youve been reviewing footage and you want to start shooting again.

The Ins and Outs

The VL-SD20U has a FireWire port for easy DV in and out, though you might not think so at first. Its awkwardly located, almost hidden, between the camcorders body and the swivel lens. It also has S-video and A/V out, but no analog inputs. So if you were hoping to use the VL-SD20U as a converter to digitize old analog footage, youll be out of luck. It also has an RS-232 port to connect to a PC for transferring stills. Sharp included the all-important external microphone jack to capture high-quality audio, but failed to provide a headphone jack to monitor the sound.

All in all, the VL-SD20U is an affordable and easy-to-use Mini DV camcorder that would please most beginner and casual video hobbyists. Though it has many manual controls, the extensive menu system and lacking headphone jack might put off more sophisticated shooters. DC


Tech Specs

Format Mini DV

Lens 10:1 optical zoom, 100:1 digital zoom, f=4.5-45mm, 30mm filter diameter

Image Sensor 1/3-inch CCD, 660,000 pixels

Viewfinder 3-inch color LCD viewscreen

Focus Manual, Auto

Maximum Shutter Speed 1/10,000

Exposure Manual, Auto

White Balance Manual, Auto

Digital Effects 5 modes

Audio 12-bit stereo recording, 16-bit stereo recording

Inputs FireWire (IEEE 1394), External microphone

Outputs FireWire (IEEE 1394), Composite A/V jack, S-video

Edit Controller No

Other Features Electronic image stabilization,built-in speaker,

Dimensions 6 7/32 (width) x 3 7/8 (height) x 2 29/32 (depth) inches

Weight (sans tape and battery) 1 lb 4oz

Video Performance (Approx.)

Horizontal Resolution (camera) 400 lines

Horizontal Resolution (playback) 400 lines

Performance Times

Pause to Record 1.5 seconds

Power-up to Record 4.9 seconds

Fast-forward/Rewind (60 min. tape) 2 minute 35 seconds

Test results


  • Easy to use
  • Manual controls
  • Memory saves settings


  • No headphone jack
  • Relies on menu for most controls
  • No analog inputs


  • A relatively inexpensive and simple Mini DV camcorder for the beginner or casual video shooter.
  • Videomaker
    The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

    Related Content