There are a range of products on the market these days that include a camcorder function as a feature of the device. The quality of the footage varies but it's generally known that it won't be patch on genuine camcorder footage. And that's true. But things are improving.

The number one gadget to have this camcorder feature is the digital stills camera. While mobile phones and personal media players pull over and ask for directions, the digital stills cam is sitting firmly in the camcorder's driveway like the little upstart it is. And Sanyo's VPC-E6 is no exception. Their Xacti range is constantly growing, with the E6 as one of the newest members of the family, over here in the UK at least.

As soon as you get it out the box, the E6's smooth, curved front casing strikes you as pretty cool. A few minutes later, however, when the novelty wears off, the E6 looks no different than most other digital cams. It's a pretty standard design over all. The flash sits directly above the shutter which snaps open and closed when needed with sharp precision; the shutter feels tight and secure when closed.

Because of its curved shape, the E6 sits in your hand quite snugly which helps the whole device feel sturdy and well built. The buttons, located on the back and top of the cam, support it's pebble-like ruggedness. They're ideally positioned for use and work fairly intuitively.

Probably the nicest feature of the cam is its impressive 3in screen. Because the cam is competent with light, the images on the LCD often look excellent and the size means that it's very convenient showing people your pictures on the cam itself.

Features

The E6 sits marginally above average when it comes to a digital camera. It's light, compact and packs figures that aren't too shoddy for a cam in its price range. The E6 comes with a 1/2.5-inch, 6.37-megapixel CCD and uses SD and multimedia cards as a recording media, coupled with a disappointing 16MB internal memory.

The auto focus is a very nice touch. Something Sanyo call a 'touch sensor shutter button' is actually a very sensitive action button on the top of the camera. Lightly touching it focuses the camera instantly, letting you know via a nice 'ping'. However, the E6 also talks to you, to let you know which modes you're in and when you need to set the date. It's a gentle voice but it becomes grating.

The 3inch screen can either be used entirely as the viewfinder or partially, with image information in the rest of the screen, known as a guidance display. The reduced image size leaves room for various setting to be displayed as well as a focus bracket for easy focusing. There are various viewing options for seeing the images already taken and various effects along with it.

The E6 also features a sequential shooting mode, USB2.0 interface, AV out port and cable, WAV audio recording, a flash with various modes and four image quality modes. All in all a pretty standard, solid stills cam backed up by PictBridge for easy printing and an AV out to slideshow your snaps on the TV.

Quicktime is the format of choice for the E6's video recording. This humble camcorder function supports white balance and a plethora of modes for different shooting conditions. It doesn't end there, though, as the E6 also doubles up as a webcam for video conferencing. Something that no doubt comes with its video capturing mantle.

Before considering the performance of the E6, it's worth remembering that it's basically an entry level to enthusiast level digital stills camera. As that, it's just fine. It also has a pretty solid camcorder function, when on it's highest resolution settings as anything else isn't worth writing home about.

As a quick pic snapper it's ideal. It really is a case of just point and shoot. We came up with some impressive images just by pointing and letting the cam work out the rest. Its Macro mode is a nice touch, focusing on objects up to 1cm. It meant we got some beautiful images of our toy collection. The 36 image index is another very handy feature, a good example of how the E6 packs in an abundance of good stills cam technology for an affordable price.

However, it's the MPEG4 mode that earns it its WDC stripes, recording up to 640x480 pixels at 30 fps. Unfortunately, the E6 doesn't zoom, at all, while filming. The zoom can be set before filming, from 1cm to 8m plus.

Using the Quicktime format is all very well and good; most people have Quicktime on their home computer, but a simple MPEG4 recorder would have been better.

Playing back the footage shot on it produced a nod or two of approval but when it comes down to it, this is because MPEG4 technology is coming on in leaps and bounds. It's no bad thing including it on a stills cam but it is by no means a substitute for a proper camcorder.

The E6 is solid, reliable, has a wealth of mid-level digital camera functions and while it would be nice to find it listed a little cheaper, £209 is pretty good. It's just an average, cam. However, it does a brilliant job of raising the bar in terms of what future stand alone MPEG4 camcorders can do. A jump Sanyo are setting themselves with the rest of their Xacti range. Richard Preston