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DCRP Review: Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: July 7, 2007
Last Updated: January 17, 2008

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After I reviewed the Canon PowerShot TX1, I received several requests to review the Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2 ($699 list price). Now, I've never used a Sanyo camera before, but I was game for trying the HD2, since it sounded pretty interesting -- at least on the surface.

The VPC-HD2 features a 7.1 Megapixel CCD, 10X optical zoom lens, a 2.2" rotating LCD display, full manual controls, and HDMI output. And did I mention the 720p movie mode that records stereo sound? If that sounds a lot like the PowerShot TX1, you're right. The main differences are size (the TX1 is smaller) and image stabilization (the TX1's is optical, the HD2's is digital and only for videos).

I'm yet to be won over by any of the camera/camcorder hybrids, which include the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-M1/M2 and the PowerShot TX1 that I already mentioned. Will the Sanyo HD2 break the mold? Find out now in our review!

What's in the Box?

The VPC-HD2 has an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 7.1 effective Megapixel Xacti VPC-H2 digital camera
  • DB-L40 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Camera dock
  • AC adapter
  • Lens cap w/retaining strap
  • Wireless remote control
  • Soft camera case
  • Cable adapter
  • Microphone connection cable
  • USB cable
  • Component video cable
  • A/V output cable
  • CD-ROMs featuring Photo Explorer and DVD MovieFactory
  • 212 page camera manual (printed)

Wow, that's quite a list there! I should mention that there's a model known as the VPC-HD2EX that also includes an HDMI cable. I don't believe that this model is sold in the US. One thing that's not included is a memory card, and there's no built-in memory either. That means that, unless you already have one, you'll need to buy yourself a large, fast SD or SDHC memory card. If you're just shooting stills then 1GB is probably fine, but for videos I'd go with something larger.

The camera uses a rather large (physically) rechargeable lithium-ion battery known as the DB-L40. Despite its size, the battery has a relatively modest 4.4 Wh of energy. Here's how that translates into battery life compared to other compact ultra zooms:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon PowerShot TX1 * 160 shots NB-4L
Casio Exilim EX-V7 * 240 shots NP-50
Kodak EasyShare V610 135 shots KLIC-7001
Nikon Coolpix S10 * 300 shots EN-EL5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 * 270 shots CGA-S007
Samsung L77 150 shots SLB-0637
Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2 180 shots DB-L40

* Has optical image stabilization

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

There aren't many compact "big zoom" cameras out there, so this list is fairly short. The HD2's battery life is better than the TX1's, but it's still below average for the group as a whole. Picking up a spare battery is probably a good idea.

Speaking of which, I have to slip in my usual comments about proprietary batteries now. The DB-L40 used by the camera is expensive (priced from $37), and you can't use an off-the-shelf battery when the rechargeable dies. That said, you won't a camera in this class that uses anything else.


The HD2 sits in its cradle


The back of the camera dock

You can use the included camera cradle for battery charging, transferring photos to your computer, or connecting to a television. It takes around ninety minutes to fully charge the battery.

One nice feature on the HD2 is the ability to output both standard and high definition video to your TV. The dock supports all three ways of connection to a TV, via HDMI (cable not included), component, and composite cables. I grabbed the HDMI cable from my PS3 and hooked into the dock, and enjoyed watching photos and movies at 720p on my HDTV. Keep in mind that photos will not fill the screen unless you took them at one of the 16:9 resolutions.

If you want to connect the camera to a power outlet, computer, or TV without using the dock, then you can use the included cable adapter. This has a DC-in and USB + A/V ports, though only standard definition video output is supported.

Regardless of the way in which you connect to your computer, the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol is supported, so file transfers will be nice and snappy.

Oh, and if you want to charge the battery without lugging the bulky AC adapter around, then you can pick up the external charger that I have listed in the accessories section below.

The Xacti VPC-HD2 includes a lens cap with a retaining strap, so you won't harm your lens when the camera is not in use. As you can see, this thing is tiny.


Two video cables on top, then the cable adapter, remote control, and camera case on the bottom

Sanyo also throws some other nice things into the box with the camera. They include a wireless remote control, soft camera case, and a microphone adapter. This last item lets you attach most commercially available external microphones.

For a compact camera, the HD2 offers quite a few accessories. They include:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Wide-angle conversion lens VCP-L06WU From $90 Reduces the focal length by 0.6X, giving you a new wide end of 22.8 mm.
Telephoto conversion lens VCP-L14TU From $61 Boosts the focal range by 1.4X, giving you a new telephoto maximum of 532 mm.
49 mm filter adapter VCP-AL49 $20 Allows you to use any 49 mm filter
Compact battery charger VAR-L40U From $28 For battery charging on the go
Holster case

VCP-HCX1

From $20 Holster that camera, son.
* Prices were accurate when review was posted

That's not too shabby!


Ulead Photo Explorer 8.5 in Windows Vista

Sanyo includes several software products along with the VPC-HD2, and all of them are for Windows only. The only things Mac users can use are QuickTime and iTunes, which they almost certainly already have installed. For getting photos and videos off of the camera, and then organizing and editing them, they've provided Ulead Photo Explorer 8.5. While it's interface is a little "old school", Photo Explorer gets the job done. It offers various ways of displaying your photos (calendar style, by folder, or by album), thumbnail sizes are adjustable, and you can rotate and retouch images at the push of a button.

Speaking of editing, above you can see the "adjust image" window. As you can see, it offers nearly every retouching feature imaginable. Photo Explorer also has redeye reduction auto-enhance features available. It can also be used to perform basic movie editing.


Ulead DVD MovieFactory in Windows VIsta

If you want to make a DVD of your movies and photos then you'll want to use Ulead's DVD MovieFactory 5.0 SE. This lets you acquire video, edit it, add effects, and then burn a DVD. You can have chapters and menus, just like a "real" DVD, and the video can be 4:3 or 16:9.

The last piece of software that comes with the HD2 is a bizarre one: Xacti Screen Capture. This lets you capture whatever's on your PC screen and then save the resulting image to your camera. I don't know why you'd ever need to do that, but there you go.

Although the VPC-HD2's manual is nice and thick, it's some of the most user unfriendly documentation that I've seen in some time. The layout is confusing, it's not organized terribly well, and there's a lot of "notes" on each page. The manuals for the software are in PDF form on the included CD-ROMs.

Look and Feel

The Xacti VPC-HD2 is a unique-looking camera that is reminiscent of the vertically-oriented camcorders that are popular these days. It's not as small or as stylish as the PowerShot TX1, which is fine by me. The body is made of a mix of plastic and metal, and it's well put together.

While better than the Canon in terms of ergonomics, the HD2 still isn't great when it comes to ease-of-use. The controls on the back of the camera are quite cluttered, and the four-way controller is way too small and hard to push in the direction you want. There's not a lot of room for your right thumb on the back of the camera -- mine always ended up on one button or another. While the camera can easily be operated with just one hand, it feels more secure if you also hold it by the LCD. Like with all cameras and camcorders of this design, shooting in the portrait orientation is very awkward.

Since its design is so unusual, I would strongly recommend trying out the camera in person before you buy it.

Now, here's a look at how the HD2 compares to the compact ultra zoom competition in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot TX1 3.5 x 2.4 x 1.1 in. 9.2 cu in. 221 g
Casio Exilim EX-V7 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.0 in. 9.1 cu in. 150 g
Kodak EasyShare V610 4.4 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 8.7 cu in. 160 g
Nikon Coolpix S10 4.4 x 2.9 x 1.6 in. 20.4 cu in. 220 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 4.2 x 2.4 x 1.5 in. 15.1 cu in. 232 g
Samsung L77 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.5 cu in. 135 g
Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2 3.1 x 4.7 x 1.4 in. 20.4 cu in. 210 g

As you can see, the HD2 is the "big boy" of the bunch. It's rather unusual shape means that it won't be going into your jeans pocket (something the TX1 could get away with), but it's still small and light enough for a purse or small camera bag.

Alright, let's start our tour of the camera now, beginning as always with the front view.

On the front of the Xacti VPC-HD2 you'll find its F3.5, 10X optical zoom lens. The focal range of the lens is 6.3 - 63.0 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 380 mm. While the lens isn't threaded in the traditional way, you can still add conversion lenses and a filter adapter by "snapping" them into place (or so I think).

Unlike the PowerShot TX1, the VPC-HD2 does not have optical image stabilization. It's digital (meaning not as effective), and is only available when recording videos. That's too bad.

Directly above the lens is the HD2's pop-up flash, which is released manually. As you can probably guess just by looking at the photo, the flash is pretty weak. It has a working range of 0.3 - 2.8 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 1.9 m at telephoto, which is quite poor. You cannot attach an external flash to the HD2.

Jumping below the lens now, we find the receiver for the included remote control.

Over on the LCD portion of the body are stereo microphones. The HD2 records audio at 48 khz using the AAC-LC (MPEG-4) codec, for high quality sound in your videos.

The camera lacks an AF-assist lamp, which usually improves low light focusing dramatically.


As you can probably tell, the Xacti HD2 has a flip-out, rotating LCD display. The screen can rotate 285 degrees, from pointing at the ceiling all the way around to pointing at your subject. If you have the LCD facing your subject, the view on the screen is "flipped" appropriately. You can also put the screen flush with the body for reviewing photos and movies that you've taken, though the controls are awkward in this situation.

I'm a big fan of rotating LCDs. They let you shoot over the heads of those in front of you, or take ground level shots without having to actually be on the ground.

The screen also doubles as one of the two power switches for the HD2. Open it and the camera turns on, close it and off it goes. A rather bizarre voice accompanies power cycling and mode changes, which reminds me of "talking" Datsun/Nissan cars from the 1980's.

Oh, and in case you're wondering why the camera is on a tripod mount in the above photos: it would tip over otherwise.

Here's the back of the VPC-HD2, with its LCD in the position you'll probably use the most. The screen here is 2.2 inches in size, and it packs 210,000 pixels. As you'd expect from a camera with that resolution, everything is nice and sharp. Outdoor visibility was good, but not spectacular. Low light viewing is where the LCD really disappoints -- it's terrible. If you're in low light, you can forget about seeing your subject, as the screen does not brighten at all. I felt like I was using a camera from 1999. Even shooting fireworks was difficult!

As you've probably noticed by now, there is no optical viewfinder on the VPC-HD2. In fact, there's no room for one. This will bother some folks, while others won't care. I'll let you figure out the rest.

On the main part of the camera you'll find buttons, and plenty of them. They're pretty cluttered, so you have to watch where you put your fingers. The four-way controller is one of the worst I've used in some time -- it's way too easy to press it in the wrong direction.

The HD2 has separate buttons for still and movie recording, and between the two is the zoom controller. Those dual buttons allow you to take a still shot while you're recording a movie, but more on that later. The zoom controller moves the lens (which never extends out of the body) from wide-angle to telephoto in 2.2 seconds at "full speed". By putting less pressure on the button, you can move the lens more slowly. I counted over twenty-five steps in the HD2's 10X zoom range.

Below the zoom controller and still/movie buttons you'll find the menu button, with the four-way controller to its left. I already mentioned why I don't like the four-way controller, so here's what it does. It can be used for navigating the HD2's awkward menu system, adjusting manual controls, and also:

  • Up - AF lock
  • Down - Focus mode (Total, normal, manual, super macro) - see below
  • Right - Exposure compensation (-1.8EV to +1.8EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • Center - Set + Quick Review

A few quick notes about those focus modes. "Total" mode (for which no icon is shown on the LCD) covers the entire focal range, including macro. "Normal" mode has a minimum focus distance of 80 cm, which will reduce focusing times considerably. Super macro mode lets you get as close to your subject as 1 cm, but locks the lens at the wide-angle position.


Manual focus

In manual focus mode you'll move the four-way controller left or right to adjust the focus distance. While a focus guide is shown on the screen, there's no center-frame enlargement feature available.

Below the four-way controller is the switch for moving the camera between record and playback mode, complete with Ms. Nissan confirming the change. Under that is the memory card slot, which can take both SD and SDHC cards. It's protected by a plastic door of average quality.

There is absolutely nothing to see on the top of the Xacti HD2.

At first glance, there's not much to see on this side of the HD2. But flip open the LCD panel and you'll find a few extra buttons:

These buttons are for power, switching between HD and SD quality, and for activating the camera's high sensitivity mode. I couldn't ever figure out the high sensitivity mode on the HD2. The manual says that it boosts the ISO higher than the Auto ISO setting, but when I used it, it didn't choose a high enough setting and my shot was blurry. So, I just set the ISO manually (to 400!), and got the sharp photo I was looking for.

Here's the other side of the VPC-HD2. Above the battery cover (which I'll remove in a sec) is the speaker, with the flash release / flash mode button above that. The flash modes include auto, flash on, flash off, and auto w/redeye reduction.

To the left of that (under a rubber cover) is the port for an external microphone. You will need to attach the included microphone adapter before you can use an external mic, of course.


Here's the same side of the camera, with the battery cover removed. This puppy sure takes up a lot of real estate!

On the bottom of the VPC-HD2 you'll find the dock connector and a plastic tripod mount. The dock connector not only mates the camera to its cradle, but it is also where that cable adapter I mentioned earlier in the review plugs in.

Using the Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2

Record Mode

Flip open the screen and the HD2 is ready to shoot 2.8 seconds. That's nothing spectacular.

There's no live histogram on the VPC-HD2 The boxed area is the video field-of-view. For photos, the entire frame is captured.

Framing your pictures can be really awkward due to the different field-of-view for both still and video mode. If you have the image stabilization mode set to "video preview" and want to take a still, the LCD will black out briefly and then give you a much wider field-of-view than you had before. It makes still shooting very frustrating, so it's best to leave the camera in the "photo" image stabilization mode (though ironically, the IS system is still for video only).

Focus speeds were just okay. The camera locked focus in 0.5 - 1.0 seconds in most cases, though it often took longer than that. Low light focusing was very poor, due in part to the HD2's missing AF-assist lamp. It's not a huge deal, since you can't see anything on the LCD in those situations anyway (sarcasm intended).

There was a bit of shutter lag on the HD2 -- something you don't see much of any more.

Shot-to-shot speeds were average, with the camera taking about two seconds to save a photo to the memory card.

To delete a photo immediately after it is taken, you must first press the center button on the four-way controller to enter an "instant review" screen.

There aren't too many image quality options available on the VPC-HD2. Here's the full list:

Setting Resolution # images on 1GB card (optional)
10M 3680 x 2760 297
7M-High 3072 x 2304 285
7M-Standard 427
5.3M (16:9) 3072 x 1728 568
2M 1600 x 1200 1510
0.9M (16:9) 1280 x 720 3090
0.3M 640 x 480 7740
Sequential

Okay, there are a few things to talk about before we go on. First, in case you've forgotten, the HD2 does not include a memory card, so you'll need to bring your own.

What's the deal with that 10 Megapixel option? Isn't this a 7 Megapixel camera? Well, yes, it is indeed a 7 Megapixel camera, so where are those other 3 million pixels from? The camera is making them up, through a process known as interpolation. As you'd expect, that reduces the quality of the image considerably. I played around with the 10M mode on the HD2 and found that you could get the same results just by enlarging the photo in Photoshop or similar software. You'll find a sample image that you can compare in the photo gallery.

For some strange reason, the camera's burst mode is buried in the image quality setting menu. As you can see from the chart, the camera only records VGA quality photos... and well, that's pretty lousy in 2007. The camera only takes ten photos in a row, though the 3.1 fps frame rate is quite snappy (as it should be). The LCD freezes when the first photo is taken, making it impossible to track a moving subject.

Images are named SANY####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

The Xacti HD2's menu system leaves much to be desired. It's confusing and difficult to navigate, and that's without even bringing the lousy four-way controller into the discussion. As the screenshot above shows, if you select an option, it moves to the "front" of the list, which seemed awfully strange to me. In addition, you can never push "left" to move through options, as that will switch to the other page of the menu. Anyhow, here are all the options you'll find in this overlay-style menu:

  • Movie quality (HD-SHQ, HD-HQ, TV-SHQ, TV-SDV, TV-HQ, Web-SHQ, Web-HQ) - the first two options are only available when shooting in HD mode
  • Still quality (see chart above)
  • Scene select (Full auto, sports, portrait, landscape, night view, fireworks, lamp/candlelight)
  • Manual exposure setting (Program, shutter priority, aperture priority, full manual) - see below
  • Filter (No filter, cosmetic, monochrome, sepia)
  • Self-timer (Off, 2 sec, 10 sec)
  • Image stabilizer (Video FOV, still image FOV, off) - see below
  • Focus menu (All ranges, normal, manual, super macro) - discussed earlier, with more below
  • Focus mode (9-point, spot focus)
  • Light-measuring [metering] (Multi-section, center-weighted, spot)
  • ISO sensitivity (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600) - the auto setting range is 50 - 400
  • White balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, fluorescent, incandescent, custom) - see below
  • Option screen - opens the option menu described below

I want to discuss a few of those in more detail before we go on. As you can see, the HD2 has full manual controls, covering focus (described earlier), exposure, and white balance. The shutter and aperture priority modes let you set each of those respectively, while the full manual mode lets you set both at the same time. The shutter speed range is 4 - 1/2000 sec, while the available apertures are F3.5 - F8.

Two important notes about the manual shooting modes. First, the shutter speed is adjusted in 1-stop increments, so there's not much room for precision. Second, the camera a built-in neutral density filter, which cuts down on the amount of light hitting the sensor. This lets you use larger apertures or slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise. You activate the ND filter in the manual shooting modes.

There's also a custom white balance feature, which lets you use a white or gray card to get accurate color, even under unusual lighting conditions.

If the things I just listed confuse you, don't fret: there are plenty of automatic modes on the HD2.

I already described the different field of views on the camera for video and still shooting. This is also a good time to remind you that the "image stabilization" feature is electronic, and only for movie recording.

Now here's the option screen, which is a little more conventional looking, but still difficult to navigate. The options here include:

  • Clock set
  • Info display (Off, show all, counter, date & time) - what info is shown in playback mode
  • Startup display (Off, Xacti, date & time)
  • Operation beep
    • Power on/off sounds (on/off)
    • Shutter sound (A-F)
    • Key sound (A-F)
    • Audio guide (on/off)
    • Operation volume (1-7)
  • Post view (Off, 1 sec, 2 sec)
  • Wind noise reduction (on/off) - for shooting videos when it's windy
  • Noise reduction (on/off) - for long exposures
  • Image quality adjustment (Normal, vivid, soft, soft vivid) - why this is buried here is beyond me
  • Flicker reduction (on/off) - reduces flicker when shooting under fluorescent lighting
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - it's best to keep this off
  • Monitor brightness (-3 to +3)
  • External microphone volume (1-5)
  • Language
  • TV output
    • TV system (NTSC, PAL)
    • TV type (4:3, 16:9)
    • Component/HDMI (480p, 720p)
  • Power save
  • Record mode w/battery (1, 3, 5, 10 mins)
  • Playback mode w/battery (1, 3, 5, 10 mins)
  • Rec/play with AC adapter (1, 3, 5, 10 mins)
  • File number reset
  • Card format
  • Reset camera settings

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

Try as I may, I couldn't get the VPC-HD2 to cooperate with my studio lights. I tried auto, incandescent, and custom white balance, and I still ended up with washed out colors. This is most obvious in the "cloak", which is supposed to be a nice, saturated red color. Thus, the HD2 probably isn't a great choice for those who shoot in unusual lighting conditions. Aside from that, the news is good: the subject is sharp, and noise isn't a problem.

There are two macro modes on the HD2. When you're using the "total" focus distance, you can be as close to your subject as 10 cm at wide-angle and 1 m at telephoto. If you want to be right up against your subject, try super macro mode. This locks the lens at the wide-angle position and reduces the minimum focus distance to just 1 cm.

The night scene turned out okay, though it could certainly be better. Since the maximum shutter speed is 4 seconds, I couldn't bring in as much light as I would've liked. Also, the shutter speeds move in full stops, which makes it even more difficult to get the proper exposure. The buildings are nice and sharp, but they're noisy -- and this is ISO 50. Purple fringing was not a problem.

There are two ISO tests in this review. The first one uses the night scene above, so you can see how noise levels look at high ISOs in low light. Here goes:


ISO 50

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

The ISO 100 shot looks a lot like the ISO 50 one, but with a bit more noise. At ISO 200, noise reduction really starts to kick in, smudging details and reducing your print sizes considerably (down to 4 x 6 territory). Details are quite mushy at ISO 400, and things go downhill rapidly after that. Therefore, I'd recommend keeping the ISO at 200 or below in low light.

You can see how the camera performs in better lighting in our second ISO test below.

There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the VPC-HD2's 10X optical zoom lens. To see what this does to your photos in real life, check out the building on the right side of this photo. I did not find vignetting (dark corners) or corner blurriness to be a problem on the HD2.

As you can see, the HD2 has a pretty bad redeye problem. I wasn't too surprised to see this, as the lens and flash are close together, which is a recipe for trouble. There's no in-camera redeye reduction, aside from the usual pre-flash reduction feature (which I used here), but you can remove it fairly well with the included software.

And now it's time for ISO test number two, which is shot in my "studio". You can compare this test with those in other reviews on this site. While the crops below give you a quick view of the differences at the various ISO sensitivities, it's a good idea to view the full-size images as well. As with the macro test, the colors are washed out here, probably due to crummy custom white balance.


ISO 50

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

The ISO 50 shot looks pretty good -- everything's sharp, though there is some noise visible. The image softens at ISO 100, a sign of noise reduction kicking in. This continues at ISO 200, but there's enough detail for mid-to-large prints at any of these first three sensitivities. At ISO 400 things get noticeably softer, and details start to get smudged. Still, you can get a nice looking 4 x 6 inch print at that setting. Things go downhill rapidly after that, with ISO being very soft and muddy, and probably not usable. ISO 1600 is a mess, and should be avoided at all costs.

Overall, the Xacti HD2's photo quality was good, but not great. Photos were well-exposed on most occasions, though it really blew out the highlights in our purple fringing torture tunnel shot. Colors were generally pleasing, and purple fringing was well-controlled. The bad news is that the camera is applying a lot of noise reduction to your photo, even at ISO 50. This results in a loss of detail on things like grass, hair, and solid areas of color. For a wonderful example of this, compare a photo taken at the same time with the Xacti VPC-HD2 and the Canon PowerShot S5. This isn't a big deal if you're sticking to small prints, but keep in mind that there are ultra zooms out there that take better quality photos.

Now, I invite you to take a look at the photo gallery I put together for the VPC-HD2. Be sure to view the full size images, and print a few of them if possible. Then you should be able to decide if the HD2's photo quality meets your needs.

Movie Mode

Without a doubt, the biggest feature on the Xacti VPC-HD2 is its ability to record high definition video clips. At the highest quality setting, the camera records video at 1280 x 720 @ 30 frames/second (70p) with stereo, 48 kHz sound. You can keep recording until the file size reaches 4GB. Since it uses the efficient MPEG-4 codec, the HD2 lets you record a lot more video than the PowerShot TX1, which uses Motion-JPEG. For example: the HD2 can store over 14 minutes of video on a 1GB memory card, with the TX1 storing a measly 3.5 minutes. That means that the HD2's file sizes are a fraction of the size of those from the TX1.

The camera allows you to use the optical zoom while recording, and there's also the digital image stabilization feature that I mentioned earlier.

But wait -- there's more. The camera also allows you to take a still photo right in the middle of video recording, though the movie will "freeze" for several seconds (while the still image is saved) before it picks up again.

Since there are so many video resolutions on the HD2, I decided to "chart them":

Setting Resolution Aspect Ratio Frame rate Amount of video on 1GB SD card
HD-SHQ 1280 x 720 16:9 30 fps 14 min 22 sec
HD-HQ 21 min 20 sec
TV-SDV 720 x 480 35 mins 49 sec
TV-SHQ 640 x 480 4:3 41 min 23 sec
TV-HQ 1 hr
Web-SHQ 320 x 240 2 hr 38 min
Web-HQ 15 fps 3 hr 49 min

In case math wasn't your favorite subject, I'll tell you that a 4GB SD card can hold just under an hour of 720p video. Nice! The difference between the SHQ and HQ options is the amount of compression applied to the video clip. You can record for longer at the HQ setting, but the video won't look as good.

The HD2 also records audio only, with a 1GB memory card holding nearly 17 hours of sound.

I have three sample movies for you in this review. The movies recorded by the HD2 are a bit soft, but they're still way better than what most digital camera produce. Enjoy!


Click to play movie (18.5 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, MPEG-4 format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime
.


Click to play movie (11.4 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, MPEG-4 format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime
.


Click to play movie (6.7 MB, 640 x 480 , 30 fps, MPEG-4 format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime
.

Playback Mode

The VPC-HD2 has a fairly standard playback mode. Basic features include slideshows, DPOF print marking, image rotation and resizing, thumbnail view, image protection, and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge an image by as much as 48X (!) and then scroll around the blown-up image.

The camera offers some basic video editing features. You can trim unwanted material off of a clip, or join two clips together. I found the former to be difficult due to the oversensitive four-way controller. You can extract a still image from a video clip, but don't expect miraculous quality (example). There's also a "smooth playback" feature, which is supposed to "suppress the video flicker that occurs... when playing back video clips that were recorded with camera moving fast" (direct quote from the manual). I didn't try that one.

By default you won't get much information about your photo while in playback mode. Hold down the menu button for a full second and you'll get the info screen you see on the right.

The HD2 moves through images at an average clip. You'll wait for less than a second before the next image is shown.

How Does it Compare?

The Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2 is the fourth "hybrid" camera/camcorder that I've reviewed on the DCRP, the others being the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-M1/M2 and the Canon PowerShot TX1. All four of these cameras have disappointed me in terms of ergonomics, with the HD2 also throwing in sub-par image quality and a clunky menu system, which firmly puts it in into my "mediocre" category. It has its nice features, but it was never really much fun to use. With a price tag of around $600, it's hard for me to recommend the VPC-HD2.

The Xacti HD2 is a larger, more plastic version of the PowerShot TX1 -- and that's fine with me, as I found that camera to be way too small. It shares many of the same features as that camera, including a "vertical" design, 10X optical zoom lens, and a flip-out, rotating LCD display. Unlike the TX1, there's no optical image stabilization on the HD2 -- it's digital, and only for videos. Like all of the hybrid cameras, the VPC-HD2 is somewhat of an ergonomic nightmare. What few buttons it has are crammed together, and the tiny four-way controller is truly awful. Shooting in the portrait orientation is quite difficult, as well.

The camera's LCD is 2.2 inches in size, and is quite sharp. Outdoor visibility was average, but low light viewing was very poor -- it was way too dark to see anything (though boosting the ISO helps slightly, but you know what comes along with that). The camera does not have a viewfinder, either electronic or optical. The HD2 is the only digital camera that I know of that supports three ways of connecting to a television. You can use composite, component, and HDMI cables, and Sanyo includes the first two right in the box. Speaking of bundles, Sanyo should be commending for throwing in all kinds of fun stuff, including a remote control, cable adapter (so you don't need to haul the dock around), and carrying case.

The VPC-HD2 is the most full-featured of the hybrid cameras that I've tested. In addition to offering the usual selection of automatic and scene modes, it also offers manual control over exposure, focus, and white balance. The manual white balance didn't do a very good job though (at least with my studio lights), and the shutter speed can only be adjusted in full stops, limiting your options. In order to select any of these options you'll need to use the HD2's bizarre menu system, which is an exercise in frustration. While the camera offers a continuous shooting mode, it's limited to ten VGA-sized shots.

The HD2's biggest feature is its high definition movie mode. Here you can record video at a resolution of 1280 x 720 (at 30 frames/second), with high quality, stereo sound. The optical zoom can be operated while you're filming, and a digital image stabilizer helps to smooth out "the shakes". Since it uses the efficient MPEG-4 codec, the HD2 can fit nearly an hour of video on a 4GB SDHC card. The camera also has a filter to block out annoying wind noise, and it supports an external microphone. VIdeo quality is a bit soft, but still a whole lot better than what you'll find on a typical digital camera.

Camera performance was average, at best. The HD2 takes 2.8 seconds to start up, which is on the slow side these days. Focusing wasn't what I'd call snappy, and it was really lousy in low light situations, as there's no AF-assist lamp to help out. I noticed a bit of shutter lag, as well. Battery life was below average for the compact ultra zoom group. On a more positive note, the camera supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for quick data transfer to your Mac or PC.

Photo quality was a mixed bag. The camera generally took well-exposed photos, with pleasing colors and minimal purple fringing. The HD2 applies a fair amount of noise reduction to its photos, even at ISO 50. This smudges fine details and gives photos a "soft" look (see the comparison with the S5 IS for a great example of this). Once you get past ISO 400, the photos become to soft and muddy to be useable, in my opinion. If you're keeping the ISO low and making small prints, then this isn't a huge deal -- but there are cameras out there that can do a better job. Redeye was also a big problem on the HD2.

There are a couple of other negatives that I need to mention before wrapping things up. The HD2's flash is quite weak, and while you can increase the ISO to compensate for this, I wouldn't recommend it, for reasons that I just mentioned. The camera has different field of views, depending on whether you're taking movies or stills. If you're in video FOV mode, the switch to still shooting can be quite jarring. Finally, being a Mac guy, I'm required to point out that Sanyo didn't include any video or photo editing software in the box with the camera, though iMovie and iPhoto are at least as good as what they gave Windows users.

The Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2 is one of those cameras that sounds great when you read the press release, but ultimately disappoints you when you use it. About the only things really going for it are the 720p video mode and HDMI out -- for just about everything else, other cameras do it better, and for less money. Though I'm not a huge fan of the PowerShot TX1, it does take better photos, and it's an all-around better performer in most respects. If you are interested in either of these cameras, do try them out in person, as their unconventional design isn't for everyone.

What I liked:

  • Good photo quality when ISO is kept to minimum
  • 10X optical zoom lens
  • Flip-out, rotating 2.2" LCD
  • Top-notch movie mode: high definition 720p resolution with stereo sound, wind filter, and use of optical zoom; can take a still photo while recording a movie
  • Full manual controls
  • Three forms of video output: HDMI, component, and composite
  • Doubles (triples?) as an audio recorder
  • Support for conversion lenses, filters, and external microphone
  • Lots of extras in the box
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • Expensive
  • Poor ergonomics: cramped buttons, lousy four-way controller, and difficult portrait shooting
  • Noise reduction smudges details, even at ISO 50; images are soft compared to other ultra zooms
  • No optical image stabilization
  • Overall sluggish performance; slow focusing, some shutter lag
  • LCD nearly impossible to see in low light
  • No AF-assist lamp; poor low light focusing
  • Weak flash, lots of redeye
  • Below average battery life
  • Custom white balance wasn't great; manual shutter speed controls move in full stop increments
  • Different field-of-view for stills and video is awkward in practice
  • Weak continuous shooting feature
  • No optical or electronic viewfinder
  • No Mac video/photo editor included
  • Poor documentation

Some other compact ultra zoom cameras include the Canon PowerShot TX1, Casio Exilim EX-V7, Kodak EasyShare V610, Nikon Coolpix S10, Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3, and the Samsung L77. For larger ultra zooms, please visit our Reviews & Info database.

Given its unusual design and awkward handling, I strongly recommend trying the VPC-HD2 out in person before you buy it.

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

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Feedback & Discussion

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation or technical support.

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