Mini DV Camcorder Review: Sharp VL-NZ10U

Known for its innovative line of Viewcam camcorders, Sharp has introduced the VL-NZ10U, a Mini DV model that touts enhanced still-image capture capabilities and an accessory zoom microphone. Though it includes many features that should appeal to beginners, such as point-and-shoot operation, a speaker for in-camera audio playback and the overall ease of use that characterizes all of Sharp’s Viewcams, the VL-NZ10U packs plenty of video muscle. What distinguishes this Viewcam from its ancestors is not just new technology, but size: it’s as small as any Mini DV camcorder we’ve seen.

Reviewed from the perspective of a beginning videographer who wants a camcorder that won’t be outgrown as abilities and needs increase, the VL-NZ10U performed well and met most of our expectations. It includes such key features as manual exposure control and the accessory zoom microphone for more advanced users. Perhaps its biggest drawback was the lack of an external microphone jack; the inclusion of the zoom microphone was a nice feature, but it unfortunately wasn’t a sufficient substitute for a mike jack.

Hands On

One of the chief selling points of the Viewcam line of camcorders is the innovative design that breaks away from the conventional camcorder in a number of delightful ways. The Viewcam was the first camcorder to take the eyepiece away from the user’s face and put the monitor image on an LCD screen that you hold out in front of you. The VL-NZ10U follows this pattern; it represents the latest version of a tried-and-true design. When we held the camera to shoot, all the controls fell naturally under our fingers, and the swivel-body design made it easy to shoot from above or below a normal vantage point. We were even able to swivel the monitor around and shoot ourselves.

Most of the camcorder’s functions reside in its menu system, which we easily navigated with the small joystick-style thumb control on the right side of the unit. While many camcorder menu systems are less desirable than simply having the controls somewhere on the camera body, the VL-NZ10U’s menu system was easy to use, and for that, we gave it positive marks.

Ready, Steady, Shoot

Shooting images with the VL-NZ10U was a joy; all its features, with the possible exception of the manual exposure control, which is buried in a menu, were easy to access and operate. The zoom toggle, which offers 10:1 optical zoom and a whopping 300:1 digital zoom, moved smoothly at several speeds, from extremely slow to very fast. As expected, the image at 300:1 was hopelessly pixelated and digital-looking, but the image out to about 40:1 looked pretty sharp.

Viewing the 3-inch LCD monitor in full daylight was not a problem. The LCD monitor is one place where Sharp doesn’t skimp on its current Viewcam camcorders. Images on the LCD look sharp and colorful, and we didn’t find ourselves covering the screen with our hand just to see it in daylight.

The control pad on the right side of the camera handled manual image focusing. The focus system was responsive, but not as easy to use as a manual focus ring located around the lens (which, granted, is hard to find on any camcorder these days). The auto focus system also worked well, and motion or competing objects entering the frame did not easily fool it.

The VL-NZ10U’s electronic image stabilization system was good. It compensated well for walking while shooting and hand-held operations.

As the accessory zoom mike is one of the featured components of this camera, we decided to put it through its paces. On the whole, it performed well, successfully zooming in on subjects’ speech and rejecting sounds coming from the sides. The mike didn’t work quite as well as a bona fide shotgun mike, but did represent an improvement over the included on-camera mike.

The most bothersome thing about the camcorder was the trouble we had to go through to mount it on a tripod. Since the battery pack mounts to the bottom of the camcorder, a small adapter unit (provided) was necessary to mount the VL-NZ10U to a standard tripod mounting plate. This held the entire camera about two inches above the tripod, leaving the unit unstable and difficult to level. This camcorder was clearly designed for hand-held shooting.


Good Results, Good Camera

As with most camcorders in the Viewcam series, the VL-NZ10U offers ease of use and overall quality. Images and audio came out clear and sharp, and there’s room for user growth. The inclusion of exposure control was a nice feature, and the zoom mike worked well. If it weren’t for the lack of a mike jack and a good stable way to connect it to a tripod, it would be an outstanding camcorder. Even so, it is still an excellent choice for the on-the-go videographer who shoots without a tripod.

TECH SPECS

Format: Mini DV

Lens: 10:1 optical 300:1 digital zoom, f/1.8, fl 3.6-36mm, 27mm filter diameter

Image Sensor: 1/4-inch CCD (680,000 pixels)

Viewfinder: 3-inch color LCD monitor

Focus: auto, manual

Image Stabilization: digital

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/10,000 sec.

Exposure: auto, manual

White Balance: auto, manual

Digital Effects: 10

Audio: 12- or 16-bit stereo

Inputs: IEEE 1394, S-video, RCA A/V

Outputs: IEEE 1394, S-video, RCA A/V,

headphone

Edit Interface: IEEE 1394

Other Features: 8MB SD Memory Card for stills, zoom microphone

Dimensions: 2 3/4 (w) x 3 3/8 (h) x 2 5/16 (d) inches

Weight (sans tape and battery): 1 lb. 0.3 oz.

STRENGTHS

  • Zoom mike
  • Bright LCD
  • Headphone jack

WEAKNESSES

  • Requires flimsy tripod adapter
  • No microphone jack

SUMMARY

  • An excellent choice for the casual, on-the-go videographer who shoots hand-held.

$1,200

Sharp Electronics

Sharp Plaza

Mahwah, NJ 07656

(800) BE-SHARP

www.sharp-usa.com

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