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Samsung's SCL91 8mm camcorder

Samsung SCL91 8mm Camcorder

Big Screen Pointing and Shooting

Korea's Samsung has jumped into the LCD camcorder market with a pair of units, the SCL90 and SCL91. It's a crowded and well-established field in which the company is trying to find a niche, but after a short visit with the higher end SCL91, we're confident the company will be able to keep up.

The SCL91 is a little bigger than some of its competition, but only a little, and our initial impression was of a well-built unit that performs as advertised. We were a little taken aback by the placement of the zoom button, which is often a rocker switch accessed by your index and third fingers. Instead, Samsung has chosen a smaller control that's placed where your index finger falls and only requires the one finger to use it. It's also pressure sensitive, so the harder you press it, the more quickly you zoom. All in all, it works well.

Naturally, one of the big selling features of this unit is its LCD monitor screen, which lets you watch what you're shooting without having to stick your eye into the little viewfinder. This feature is now common in the camcorder market, and it's always a nice touch. The screen can also be switched around to face forward, which lets you put the camcorder onto a tripod and get into the action yourself while monitoring the shoot at the same time.

Samsung has included a 3 inch LCD screen, and it's quite a good one. When using the LCD, the little colour screen inside the more traditional viewfinder cuts off (which makes sense, since you're not using it anyway). And yes, even the traditional viewfinder's sceen is colour, which is a very nice touch.

Another advantage of the LCD screen is that it makes playing back your footage on location easy - and more than one person can watch it at a time.

Of course there's more to a camcorder than its monitor, and the SCL91 is chock full of other neat stuff. For instance, you get a 32X digital zoom (16 optical), though you'd better have the thing on a tripod if you're going to get that close. If you don't, be prepared for a shaky picture: your hand can't hold the unit nearly still enough. There's also a built in title generator, digital signal processing, a manual focus dial for those who choose the second guess the little robot inside the machine, and a selection of digital special effects - including a setting that mattes your picture into a widescreen format that budding Steven Spielbergs will love.

The camcorder also includes a remote control, which is really handy when you're getting in on the action yourself, and there's an auto fade in/fade out to give you smoother transitions between shots. And, as if that weren't enough, the 8mm Hi-Fi audio is in stereo, which is another nice touch. Stereo Hi-Fi audio can sound really cool if you play your movie's soundtrack through a surround sound A/V receiver, in "simulated surround" or "concert hall" settings. You get a neat ambience that really helps make you feel like you're part of the action.

But we digress...

Another nice touch is the unit's built in speaker with volume control, which means a sales rep can also use the camcorder to play back promotional tapes for prospective clients (once you get them converted to 8mm, of course).

We had one minor complaint about the SCL91, and that was the poor labelling of its VCR tape direction controls. The labels, which are the normal icons for Play, FF, REW, etc. are black and are mounted on black buttons, and therefore hidden until you go hunting for them (or you've looked them up in the manual). The same buttons have other uses, and they're labelled very clearly, hence the confusion. However, once you've figured that out you're off to the races. Battery life is typical, which means that - as with most camcorders - you should switch it off when you're not using it so you don't wear down the battery. And, as with all camcorders, you should always have a second battery on hand.

We hauled the Samsung around with us for a couple of weeks and found it a pleasant unit to use. It also has plenty of features for its competitive price, including many we haven't had space to mention here. We wish Samsung luck in its assault on the home camcorder market.

 

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Updated May 13, 2006