Despite fashionable talk about convergence, few devices pay more than lip service to the concept of integrated digital imaging. Most cameras include a basic movie mode and many camcorders can capture sub-mobile phone stills, but Sanyo's Xacti range attempts to succeed at both.
The VPC-CA6 is Sanyo's latest addition to the family. Weighing in at just 175g, its gently curving pistol-grip design will be familiar to camcorder users but may feel awkward to anyone coming from a photo background.
Flip the smallish screen out and the VPC-CA6 wakes up almost immediately. The screen doesn't tilt up (or fold screen-side in for safety) but its meagre 86,000 pixels look surprisingly sharp and natural. In fact, the 2-inch display has a smooth, luminous quality that outshines many larger LCDs, but it performs poorly in low light.
The splash-proof (but not ruggedised) VPC-CA6 is ideal for one-handed use. It's actually difficult to use two hands even if you want to, except perhaps for steadying the screen. All the controls are centralised in one, somewhat crowded zone under your right thumb.
The zoom rocker is large, fast and silent in operation, but a little stiff for small adjustments. On either side are dedicated photo and movie shutters - you can hit either at any time to capture still photos or MPEG-4 video clips.
Pressing the photo shutter causes the screen to flicker a couple of times, and there's an irritating lag of around a second. Even more annoying is the way that the Sanyo zooms out slightly before tripping the shutter, potentially spoiling perfectly composed scenes. There's little processing lag, however, which is fortunate as there's no burst mode on board.
The menu button brings up a nice, overlaid vertical menu, complete with help notes. The small joystick is one of the best of its kind, rewarding firm presses with speedy navigation. You can also set one-touch joystick shortcuts for focus, exposure compensation, flash and self-timer, although sadly not ISO and white balance, which require trips to the menu.
Its schizophrenic character means the Xacti omits some key photo features (such as Manual and Priority exposure) in favour of scene modes, but you still get a range of metering choices and great focusing options, including spot and a useful 1cm macro. Half press the photo shutter and the screen also flashes up shutter speed and aperture - always a nice touch.
The 5x zoom lens is extremely flexible, with a closest focus of 80cm even at full extension. Autofocus is fast but does suffer unexpected lapses, even with high-contrast subjects. You wouldn't expect such a cheap lens to be without problems and purple fringing is prevalent at wider focal lengths. Softness blurs the edges of the frame, although distortion isn't too bad.
While the Xacti can interpolate images up to 10MP, stick to native 6MP for acceptable results (although here detail is still weak). Noise is missing only at ISO 50, but even at ISO 400 it's usable, if you don't mind a splash of chroma noise. Colours remain strong at all sensitivities.
You'll be pleased to hear that MPEG-4 video clips are enjoyably brisk, crisp and colourful, too. The electronic image stabiliser doesn't do very much but audio is clear and you can zoom smoothly while filming.
Attach the wrist strap and you can take the VPC-CA6 pretty much anyway you go - it's small; wind, rain and snow proof; and has virtually all the functions that you could want from a pocket imager. Battery life's impressive (we got over 100 shots, a handful of movies and a week's use out of one charge) and the generous 1GB card in the box is just the icing on a very appealing budget cake.
The Sanyo adds a touch of unnatural, but not unflattering, rosiness to cheeks, and then spoils it all with a dash of noise.
Spot-on exposure and good colour reproduction ensures a tricky subject is well rendered. While the silhouetted trees show noise, a drop to ISO 200 would have helped.
Beautifully judged exposure makes the most of the hanging gloves, but nasty crosshatched noise in the shade makes close viewing inadvisable.