Mini DV Camcorder Review:  Sharp VL-WD650U

The VL-WD650U mini DV camcorder stands proud among Sharp’s new line of Mini DV camcorders. Built for the beginning to intermediate video enthusiast, it is definitely a point-and-shooter’s friend. Sharp’s VL-WD650U mini DV has many design comforts and some bells and whistles for those who like gimmicky options. With a USB port, included 8MB SmartMedia Card for still-image capture and credible low-light video performance, the VL-WD650U mini DV Camcorder is equipped with some of the latest offerings in electronics. Featuring a 26x optical zoom lens and a side-loading tape transport, the VL-WD650U is a definite contender for anyone looking on the sub-$1,000 mini DV camcorder shelf.

This Mini DV Camcorder Is Smooth, but Complex

The VL-WD650U is a healthy handful for a mini DV camcorder and its ergonomically-designed controls feel very good in the hand. A wisely placed tape access on the side of the unit allows for easy tape swapping when it’s mounted on a tripod. Although the large transport door is plastic, the inner workings of the tape-eject mechanism operated very well on our test unit. The controls of the VL-WD650U Mini DV camcorder are easy to access and those with large hands will appreciate the spacing of those controls. Strangely, some of the printing on the camera body, specifically the model name, rubbed off as we were playing with the controls. This did not affect operation, but did dirty our hands and made the new unit look as if it had been heavily worn.

When switching to manual functions (focus and exposure), you must go through the on-screen menus to navigate to the desired attribute before having control over the specific function. Most camcorders have quick buttons to defeat the auto functions at will. The VL-WD650U Mini DV Camcorder, is no different and has an Auto On/Off button that toggles the camera into manual mode and lets you adjust the menus. The camera remains in manual mode, remembering your settings, even if you turn the camera on and off. Unfortunately, each time you return to auto mode from manual mode by pressing the Auto On/Off button, all of your manual settings are lost. These settings will need to be re-selected through the menu every time you return to manual mode. We found this trait more than a bit cumbersome and not much to our liking. The multi-purpose control disk used to navigate the menu system and control VCR functions is also used to adjust focus. However, because the disc is not labeled as a focus control, we had to hunt to locate it. When finally in manual focus mode, we found that our test unit required firm button pushes to adjust focus, but once engaged, the mechanism operated very smoothly.

Near and Far

The VL-WD650U Mini DV camcorder has some nice optical plusses in its corner. The most obvious is the 26x optical zoom, the highest we’ve held in our mitts. And the image that the VL-WD650U captures is very nice with true-to-life color and sharp definition.

The folks at Sharp also gave the VL-WD650U a 780x digital zoom. A digital zoom of that magnitude is impractical, as the image quality at full-zoom is utterly pixilated and virtually useless. To top it off, the 26x optical zoom gets second billing on the camera body stencil. Bigger numbers must be better when it comes to consumer marketing.

We were pleased with the lengthy optical zoom of the VL-WD650U Mini DV Camcorder and enjoyed the macro focus feature as well, which allowed us to shoot extreme close-up footage.

Dark, Schmark

The VL-WD650U has a healthy shutter range of 1/60 to 1/10,000 of a second for good light control in most situations. But, when there is no available light, the VL-WD650U is still up to the task of capturing images. The Zero Lux option on the VL-WD650U is good. Sharp’s IR light, the Super Cat’s Eye, provides a usable monochromatic video image in some amazingly low light-level situations, although autofocus had trouble operating in this mode.

The VL-WD650U is also a digital still camera and uses a standard SmartMedia card for still media storage, which is nice, since many companies use proprietary media formats. You can also save still photos to tape at DV resolution.

This Mini DV Camcorder Has Audio Zoom

The VL-WD650U has two audio recording options: the built-in mike and an included mini-shotgun mike. The built-in pair of stereo capsules at the front of the unit gives a good stereo image. The detachable Zoom Microphone, which fits into an accessory shoe on top of the VL-WD650U, operates as a directional shotgun microphone. As the VL-WD650U Mini DV camcorder is zoomed-in on a distant subject, the expander opens up and raises the gain of the mike to "zoom" the mike in on the source. Since the gain on the microphone increases as you zoom in, camera and zoom motor noise also become more noticeable at telephoto settings, as do any noises that result from touching the camera. The Zoom Microphone offers the user an audio acquisition option to the standard stereo mike setup.


TECH SPECS

Format: Mini DV

Lens: 26:1 optical, 780:1 digital zoom, f/3.5-91mm, 37mm filter diameter

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/10,000 sec.

Image Sensor: 460,000 pixel, 1 CCD

Viewfinder: 3-inch color LCD

Focus: auto, manual

Exposure: auto, manual

White Balance: four-mode auto

Digital Effects: five modes

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

Inputs: FireWire (IEEE 1394), external mike jack (for Zoom Mike only)

Outputs: FireWire (IEEE 1394), composite video, RCA audio, S-video, headphone,RS 232

Other Features: 8MB multimedia card, digital image stabilization, external zoom microphone, IR night recording

Dimensions: 3.5 (w) x 4.25 (h) x 7.5 (d) inches

Weight (sans battery and tape): 1.8 lbs.

Performance Times

Pause to Record: 0.72 sec.

Power-up to Record: 4 sec.

Fast forward (60 min. tape): 2 min. 41 sec.

Rewind (60 min. tape): 2 min. 40 sec.

STRENGTHS

  • 26x optical zoom
  • Macro focal distance
  • Low-light performance

WEAKNESSES

  • Manual controls difficult to engage

SUMMARY

  • The VL-WD650U is a well-priced Mini DV, well suited to the casual shooter, although manual camera functions can be awkward to access.

$999

Sharp Electronics

Sharp Plaza

Mahwah, NJ 07656

(800) BE-SHARP

www.sharp-usa.com

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