sanyo xacti cg10

Review: Sanyo Xacti VPC-CG10 HD 10MP Dual Camera

cg10-boxAs promised, here is a more in-depth look @ the Sanyo Xacti VPC-CG10 HD 10MP pistol-grip “Dual Camera.” I picked mine up for just shy of $200 (w/ free 2GB SD card from Costco) back in July in anticipation of an upcoming trip to Australia. Besides the lack of optical image stabilization (more on that later), the CG10 produces surprisingly crisp HD video and is overall rather impressive for such an inexpensive gadget.

Before we dive head first into this review, let’s clear up any potential confusion. As I’ve already mentioned twice in the first paragraph, this is a budget HD video camera and should not be confused with or compared to anything costing more than its own MSRP, $200. With that said, Sanyo has produced a very capable, budget-friendly HD solution with its CG10 (rumored to be replaced soon by the CG11).

Hardware

VPC-CG10-blackAlthough clad in fingerprint-friendly black (also available in pink, red, and “white”) glossy plastic, the CG10 feels surprisingly well made and sturdy. As you can see (to the left), the most defining characteristic of the CG10 is its pistol-grip layout (as opposed to a more traditional football-grip camcorder or squarish still camera form factor). While somewhat unusual, it really only takes a few minutes of use to get accustomed to the CG10’s shape and one-hand operation. It’s also worth mentioning that the CG10’s physical layout seems better suited for right-handed users (or ambidextrous folks).

The CG10 is packing a 1/2.33″ CMOS sensor capable of capturing 10MP stills and 720p (1280×720) high definition video @ 30fps (in MPEG-4 format w/ H.264 high quality compression). It also features >a 5x optical zoom lens (photos: f=38-190mm(=35mm) / videos: f=40-200mm(=35mm)) with an aperture range of F=3.5(W)-3.7(T), Auto (ISO 50 – 400) and Manual (ISO 50/100/200/400/800/1600, Switching system) ISO, digital image stabilization, built-in stereo microphone (and mono speaker for local playback), built-in still photo flash (unfortunately it does not work as a light during video capture), and a 3.0″ widescreen LCD display.

The device measures 72.0 (W) x 112.8 (H) x 38.0 (D)mm (maximum dimensions, excluding protruding parts) and weighs in @ 188g (w/ battery and SD card included). It fits easily in most pockets and doesn’t feel too heavy. If you are looking for a great case, check out this padded, EVA molded hard drive case from Case Logic, it works/fits perfectly and provides great protection for traveling.

cg10 hardwareMuch like a dSLR, the lens cap is removable (i.e. very easy to lose if you don’t secure it to the camera with the included lanyard). The camera uses SD / SDHC flash memory cards (up to 32GB), using roughly 4GB/hour of HD video, and includes a 700mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery (lasts roughly 1 hour of HD video shooting). The battery needs to be charged externally via its included charger, and does NOT charge via USB or otherwise. Thus, due to the relatively short battery life and need to use (and schlep) the included wall-charger, I’d highly recommend picking up a second battery; I was able to grab a spare (knock-off) battery that works great (so far) for $5 via eBay.

Performance

cg10 dual shutterWithout question, the most compelling and attractive feature of the CG10 is its ability to capture 720p high definition video. But let’s get the less intriguing, and far less successful function of the dual camera – the 10MP still photo capabilities – out of the way, if you will, first.

Generally speaking, the camera is disappointing, be it “normal” conditions or indoor low light situations. It is important to remember that the primary function (regardless of what the packaging / marketing “say”) of the CG10 is video, NOT still photos. However, that does not excuse the device’s poor still camera function performance. Just about any 10MP Canon or Nikon p/s blows this thing away with regards to still image capture.

The camera seems rather sluggish while in the process of capturing images. However, in regards to start-up time, the CG10 does pretty well. According to the official product page:

Super-fast start-up
The Dual Camera Xacti CG10 is designed for super fast start-up and shooting. With its tapeless design, the CG10 eliminates the need to queue up a video tape, allowing it to begin shooting in as little as 1.7 seconds! When the CG10 is powered on, closing the LCD display puts it in standby mode. Simply open the display and the CG10 automatically powers up and can begin immediately recording in as little as 1.7 seconds.

Upon reviewing images on my computer, I found that many of the photos were not nearly as sharp as I’d hoped. Color reproduction is OK, but not great, and snapping anything not in bright light returns questionable results. However, along with regular shots, it is nice to be able to capture 16:9 still images. With all that said, the CG10 can take moderately passable images, with direct lighting, that are good enough to use on a website or in any other application where clarity and crispiness are not as important (i.e. not printing the photos).

thala beach - cg10

Now for the goods – HD video! This is where the CG10 really shines, especially considering its price point. As mentioned above, the camera captures 720p high definition video @ 30fps. The footage is saved as a MP4 file with high quality H.264 compression. I must say, when watching HD video from the CG10 on my 47″ HDTV, the colors and generally the sharpness are really impressive.

Having read a number of reviews before purchasing the device, I noticed that many users seemed most pleased with their results while shooting video with single-point auto focus enabled (as opposed to multi-point auto focus, which is the default setting). After using the camera during my recent trip Down Under and experimenting with different settings, I can confirm these other users suggestion. The camera, although somewhat sluggish to focus during a quick zoom, definitely captures the best quality high definition video with the auto focus on single-point mode.

Ask any videographer and they’ll tell you that use of a tripod is absolutely essential for top quality video capture. However, using and/or bringing a tripod on a long trip is not always (close to never) convenient or even possible depending on where you are traveling. As such, the inclusion of some sort of image stabilization becomes that much more important when shooting video freehand. This is especially true when you use the zoom, as every little movement will be magnified many times over during playback, providing for a less than ideal (see: nauseating) viewing experience.

And it is true for the CG10. Technically, the camera includes digital (i.e. electronic) image stabilization. However, in practice this “feature” provided little to no noticeable advantage in mitigating the shakiness (whether from myself or from a gust of wind) during video capture. Thus, pretty much all of the videos where the 5x optical zoom is involved seem a bit herky jerky. Because the camera cost only $200, it is hard to complain about it lacking one feature or another, but every VIDEO camera really needs OPTICAL image stabilization, i.e. where the physical lens compensates for human error (to a degree, of course), including the CG10.

Conclusion

xacti-cg10 In recent months, a wide variety of cheap HD cameras have hit the scene (read: Flip UltraHD, Kodak Zi8 HD, Creative Vado HD, and so on), leaving no shortage of choice for the consumer. However, when you start diving further into the details, you will notice that very few (if any) of these other competitors include as many worthwhile features as the Sanyo Xacti CG10.

While the CG10 lacks optical image stabilization, it blows its competition away with the inclusion of a very useful 5x optical zoom lens, stereo audio recording, and infinite storage (via SD cards). Thus, if you are in the market for an inexpensive, relatively idiot-proof high definition video capturing device with an actual OPTICAL zoom (not insultingly poor quality digital zoom) lens, I highly recommend the CG10.