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|Feb 16, 2007, 10:33 PM||#1|
Join Date: Jul 2005
I was going to skip buying a 5210A, but sort of accidentally got one when I won an eBay auction with a half-serious lowball bid. It is an interesting, if not impressive camera, and well worth the price even if you pay the going rate. The weak microphone is a serious problem with it. And no optical zoom.
Build Quality, Case
The 5120A is larger than I expected. Thinner than the 920, but taller. Unfortunately I have the black one. The black portions of the camera are glossy smooth, which means it is always covered with fingerprints and looks dirty. I strongly suggest choosing the silver version.
The quality feel is similar to the 920, nowhere near as good as the i6. The screen is a little floppy and opens somewhat before the lens head starts moving, despite being connected. The buttons generally don't have quality feel to them, and the battery door is unimpressive. There's been no attempt to contain light leaks from the led's behind the zoom ring.
The 5120A's design is a shameless copy of the Panasonic SV-AV50. It doesn't even look like a camera. A funny thing about it is that the hole in the top allows you to hang it on things.
Although it is thin, easily dented aluminum and grey painted plastic, the little i6 feels like it was cut from solid metal.
The 5120A stands out as the only one of these three to take 720x480 video. And it does it at 30fps, which is even better than the Samsung NV3.
To display this output on normal size computer monitors, and displays such as the 5120A's own, it shrinks the image so you have black bands across the top and bottom.
It boasts a Panasonic CCD sensor, but I see no evident gain in image quality that this spec might suggest.
I took test clips with the 5120A and i6 (my 920 is on loan), of a large orange ball dropping through the frame. Comparing them:
- The 5120A's files were 2.5 times larger than the i6's. This suggests a higher throughput capability of about 3.3Mbps, and less compression.
- Indeed, the 5120A's video output, both indoors and outdoors, was obviously more detailed than the i6's video.
- The 5120A's video was harsher looking. This resulted from more overexposed highlights, while the dim areas were about the same. So the i6 handles contrast a little better than the 5120A.
- The 5120A's output had a greenish bias to it, while the i6 had a blueish bias.
- The 5120A had obvious and very objectionable flickering as the sensor adjusted to light levels and color combinations while panning.
- The 5120A defaults to image stabilization turned off whenever you shut it off. I find this an annoyance because I like to have it on most of the time. The 5120A and i6 zoom the screen to represent the smaller field of view when you turn IS on. The 920 leaves you guessing what is cropped with IS turned on.
- All three cameras have about the same field of view.
- Doing stop-motion on the playback reveals that the ball was less blurred on the 5120A's clip than the i6. In fact, the 5120A's "ball" was almost sharp, like the 920 and the best of the cameras I've done this test on. This suggests it should have sharper images when panning.
- Like the 920, the 5120A shows vertical banding on the brighter highlights. The 920 also suffers from this, and the i6 to a much lesser extent. Apparently it is characteristic of ccd sensors, which all three of these cameras have.
- The i6's video output was noticably blurred and had lots of compression "muddling". I would expect much less of this from the 5120A's larger file size, but the 920 seems to do well anyway with output files half the size of the 5120A's. I was unable to directly compare the 5120A and the 920, however.
- The i6's optical zoom and macro modes offer video opportunities not possible with the 920 and 5120A.
- The 5120A has a REALLY LOUSY microphone, like the S670 and 7000. This is inexcusable, and makes it difficult for me to consider this camera a "keeper".
The 5120A has a 3-zone control for AE metering compared to the i6's 2-zone, and none on the 920.
The 5120A does not suffer from the 920's loud "click" at the end of every video clip.
With both the 5120A and the i6 set to 5Mp for stills, and zoomed far into the images, the i6's photo had the edge on detail. They had the same color bias as for video - the 5120A was greenish, and the i6 was blueish. Both pictures looked quite nice.
I couldn't tell any difference in details in the shadow areas, but the brightest highlights were definitely more overexposed on the 5120A than the i6.
Like the 920, the 5120A's tiny lens results in the center of pictures being more exposed than the corners. The i6 suffers from this too, but to a much lesser degree.
The i6's optical zoom obtained wonderfully detailed and crisp images of distant subject matter.
The i6's macro and super macro, combined with the autofocus, can get you amazing shots like a microscope. This is a whole new world unavailable to the Digilife cameras.
All three cameras have a multisnap mode. The i6 keeps taking photos as long as you hold the shutter.
All three can do a 2-in-1 composite, but the i6 can also do 3- and 4-in-1. The 5120A and i6 offer voice notes on stills, while the 920 does not. All three have a bunch of "frames".
Video - In Mode
The 5120A and 920 have this, and the i6 does not. I've actually been finding uses for this feature.
Startup Time, Time to Switch Modes
The i6 is ready for use less than 2 seconds after you press the power button. The 5120A and 920 conveniently power up when you open the screen, but both take at least 6 seconds to be ready for use. When there's something happening you suddenly want to film, these delays are excruciating and result in a lot of missed shots. Just opening the screen is more fiddly and takes more time than starting up the i6, which can easily be done with one hand.
The i6 can change basic modes, such as going from stills to videos to mp3 by pressing a button, rather than going back to a menu system. Of course, both the 5120A and the 920 have instant changing between stills and video, while the i6 requires that you go to a menu.
All three cameras have 2.5" screens. While the 920 and i6 have crisp screens, the 5120A's screen doesn't look as good. The 5120A is more related to the 810, which had a noticably coarse screen.
In bright sunlight, all three screens seem equally washed out, and all seem viewable from about the same range of angles. The 5120A's screen actually seems excesively bright when used indoors. The 5120A's screen has 5 selectable brightness levels. The i6's screen has a dim and a bright mode, but the bright mode isn't any more readable in bright light than the 920.
None of the cameras seem to suffer noticably from lag while panning, until you turn image stabilization on. Then they all have some lag.
All three cameras have remaining memory/ recording time displays, but the 5120A provides the least such information.
Obviously the 5120A and 920's screens pivot and rotate, while the i6's is fixed. This is a big plus for the Digilifes, allowing you to monitor the screen when holding the cameras in all sorts of postures, plus protecting the screens when closed. The i6's screen has proven to be unexpectedly rugged, however, and has suffered no damage or scratches.
One advantage of the 5120A's peculiar case design is that the lens is protected when not in use. The i6 has an integrated and "intelligent" lens cover that opens and closes depending on whether the camera is powered on, or what mode it's in. The 920 leaves its lens unprotected.
A disadvantage of the 5120A's design, with the lens back from the front of the camera, is a tendency to have a finger in the field of view.
The 5120A and 920 lack optical zoom. Both cameras have (fortunately) limited digital zooms. The i6 has a 3x optical zoom.
I was expecting the i6 to have a larger lens, with all the good things that go along with larger lenses. The 5120A and 920 have tiny lenses, which I believe is the cause of the extra exposure of the center of shots. If you operate the i6's optical zoom while looking into the lens, you can see the elements moving, and the lens ends up looking several times larger than the Digilifes'. But you can't tell, because of the optics.
The i6 has the luxury of autofocus. Taking portrait and closeup shots with the 5120A, 920 and their predecessors is a guessing game that often results in blurry shots. Even worse, the 920's exposed and freely-rotating focus adjustment meant that I spoiled many, many important shots because the darn camera went into the wrong setting as I took it out of its case.
The 5120A does away with the portrait setting for lens focus AND the on-screen icon for lens position. The 920 which has three settings, but no icon for the portait setting. The 5120A's lens button is hidden when the camera is closed, which will prevent being accidentally moved like the 920's. The 5120A has a "focus area" box on the display, which may indicate the portion where the image is in best focus. It's not clear if this is an active system, or if it's just something to make up for having a cheapo lens.
The i6 is my first camera with autofocus, and now I can see how easily people whose cameras have this feature get all those neat sharp closeups. A no-brainer with autofocus. Autofocus means there's no need for a focus setting indicator, as the Digilifes have for closeups, but not distant or portrait mode. The 5120A and i6 sport a bar graph to depict zoom.
The i6 has a macro mode that goes down to about 1cm, while the 5120A and 920 bottom out at about 20cm. 6Mp photos taken on the i6 at 1cm, with a tripod, allow blowing up to reveal microscopic detail. Or you can take video of ants.
The 5120A and 920 have digital zooms, which aren't worth commenting on. Too bad they have no optical zoom. The 5120A's digital zoom is smoother than the 920's, and seems to preserve detail better. So it may see some use.
The i6's optical zoom is pretty rapid, and there's no way to adjust how fast it goes. In video mode, it cuts out the microphone while zooming.
The 5120A allows selection between spot, averaged, and center zones. While the 920 has no control over the AE metering the i6 has a spot zone and a mode that averages the whole sensor.
Screen Icon Shutoff
All three cameras allow you to turn off the screen icons during playback or filming. The 5120A has a button to easily do this. This is important to get rid of the icons when replaying to a tv. The i6 can be set for some, or all the icons, but this setting is clumsy to access.
Navigating the 5120A's menu system is completely different from the "4 main choices" on previous Digilife cameras. And to get to playback mode, mp3, or games, you can either press a button, or fold the screen around inverted and flat. This gives access to the non-recording modes, and the menus that support those functions. Unfortunately, unfolding the screen will then pop you back out to record mode.
I should mention the 5120A has noticably attractive menu graphics, and, once you get used to where things are, relatively simple to navigate.
The i6 has so many controls and settings I can't possibly list them all here. I'll tend to mention the ones that compare to the 5120A and 920, and that matter to me.
The i6's power button starts the camera immediately on being pressed, and is recessed so it doesn't get turned on accidentally.
I find the i6 far less intuitive to operate than the 5120A and 920. Part of it is that there are 10 times more things you can adjust and set on it, but partly it's just less apparent how to do simple things. Like start the mp3 or take a video clip. You can set the default mode to stills or video, while the 5120A and 920 have both available all the time. It seems that anything you can do with the i6's buttons, you can also do using the menus. After months of use, I still get lost in the i6's menu system, or can only get to where I want to go by shutting off the camera. I have missed many an action shot while bungling around in the i6's control labyrinth.
All three have auto-shutoff with selectable intervals.
When video clips complete, all go back to the start of the videos. I prefer they stop at the end, which allows a smoother transition if you're looking at a series of clips.
All have fast forward/reverse during video playback, but the i6 does it more smoothly and is easier to control.
Oddly, the 5120A's case layout means it is easier to operate in record mode using your left hand. It's just too small for your right thumb to end up resting on the buttons. The i6 pretty well forces you to operate it with your right hand, although it is very well laid out for one-hand usage. The 920 is better in this regard as it works equally well in either hand.
You can't operate the 5120A in record mode with the screen reversed. This seems odd until you realize the lens is retracted in that position. Duh.
The 5120A and i6 have about a dozen preset scene modes for various situations, such as "fireworks", "landscape" and "children".
The screen icons on the 5120A are peculiar. Like other cameras, it shows how long a video is being recorded. But the icon to display remaining time does not have ":" between the figures, leaving you to distinguish between hours, minutes and seconds. It displays the time of day in the lower right corner. What you need this for is beyond me, and it keeps really inaccurate time.
With even more minimalist status led's on the front than the 920, it's even harder to tell what the 5120A is doing when operated with the remote.
Like the 920, the 5120A can display photos or videos, but not mix the two. Therefore you can't review the stills and videos in the order you took them. The i6 has no objection to this.
Of these three, only the 5120A has a histogram. Probably because it's a descendant of the 810, which has a histogram, rather than the 920 which does not. The 5120A's histogram is simpler to read than the 810's, and is transparent so you can see the image behind it.
The 5120A and 920 have no redeye system, while the i6's redeye system annoyingly is always on. While the 920's case design leaves it vulnerable to the user putting a finger over the flash, the i6 and 5120A are ok for this.
The i6 also has a mode to enhance colors and detail in stills taken in dim light, so the flash needs to be used only in the darkest settings. The i6 also adjusts flash intensity to the requirements of individual shots.
All three have date/time functions, which can be recorded on images, or not. The 5120A allows you to select all or part of those numbers.
Battery / Life
All three cameras charge their batteries inside the cameras. While the 5120A and 920 use the very common NP-60, the i6 uses a much less common SLB-0837. While the 5120A and 920 use a common-size USB port for charging, the i6 has one very unusual port, used for both battery charging and connecting to the computer. My 5120A came with two 1100mah NP-60's, and they seem to have excellent battery life. I got 4 hours using the mp3 player and games, and the battery wasn't dead yet. The 5120A was noticably less warm than the other two, suggesting much less power wasted as heat. I've seen specs that say the 5120A will run with the screen on for 4 hours, or play music for 7 hours. Even if it's not that good, it is still excellent.
The 5120A adds the capabilty to charge the battery by plugging into a computer's USB port. I suspect this will work with other hybrids, but I haven't tried it.
The i6's mp3 player is good for 4hr on a charge. This contrasts with the best the 920 can do, which is about 90 minutes. Probably it means the i6 is using only minimal portions of the cpu in mp3 mode, while the 920 is running full blast.
While the 920's battery is free to fall out when you open the battery door, the 5120A and i6 have retainer tabs for the battery. This also means their battery/memory card covers can be opened without shutting them off. The 5120A adds a spring, so the battery conveniently pops out when the tab is released. Not like the i6, which you have to knock to get the battery out far enough to grasp.
Secure Digial Memory / Memory Use
While the i6 has 45Mb of available internal memory, the 920 has only 8. My 5120A came with a 2Gb memory card, so I assume it works ok. The 920 and i6 are specified for 1Gb sd cards, while 2Gb cards may or may not work.
All three take videos in mpeg4 avi. I was pleased to see the i6 played video clips taken in the 920 without doing anything. No need to rename the files, or the folders, or convert them.
I haven't experimented with cross-camera compatibility with the 5120A. It certainly won't play my .avi output movies from PowerDirector.
When I popped the memory card from the i6 into the 920, the 920 played the i6's video clips with no problem. Not only that, but it mixed the stills and videos, since the i6 puts them in the same folder, and is something the 920 can't do with its own stills and videos, which go into separate folders. I would guess, however, that in this mode, the 920 displays the stills in 640x480.
The i6's manual warns that you will get an error condition if you use a memory card that has been used in another camera and not formatted. I've only occasionally had a problem with the i6 hanging while loading videos from the 920.
The i6 has the best mp3 function. Like the 920, it lacks tone controls, but the i6 has most everything else. It displays artist and track names, song duration, elapsed time, and even has a bar graph for elapsed time. "Wait, that's not all." It also displays the type of track, and the bitrate. The track can be selected from a playlist in PMP or mp3 modes.
The 5120A has mp3 display and controls somewhere between them. The 5120A displays how long a song is, and a bar graph, but does not show incrementing time for long a song has been playing. Like the i6, it does display the album and track names. It has several settings for equalization, such as jazz, pop etc. There's nothing in the manual to tell you what sort of biasing each of these settings causes. I may be old fashioned, but just give me tone and bass controls, thankyou kindly. I mean, even the Aiptek DV4500 had a bass control.
The 5120A's miniature speaker is fairly weak compared to the other two. However, there is more than enough earphone volume. Unfortunately the earphone output defaults to full blast, which is unbearably loud. Using regular impedance headphones will blunt this outburst. In addition, the lowest volume setting isn't very low at all.
The 5120A's earphone output sounded very disappointingly tinny. Then I tried the i6's earphones with it. Huge difference, and almost as good as the i6. That's kind of stupid to cripple the 5120A's sound system with some bad earphones. At the end of each track on the 5120A, there is some very evident and disconcerting burbling noise, and then some hissing just before the next track starts.
The 5120A and i6 have a shuffle function, missing from the 920. Except the 5120A seems to like some songs and plays them frequently. Which renders the shuffle function useless. After a few seconds playing, the i6's screen shuts off, which is partly a shame because it's fun to watch the graphics. But the silly 5120A shuts down according to when you've set the auto-off control. So if you don't want the music to shut off, you have to set the camera so it never powers off from inactivity. Dumb. Even with the power forced on, you still have to manually set whether the screen shuts off during mp3 mode, and how long it waits.
The i6 can play music during slide show replay of stills. You can take stills while the mp3 player is running, and it has a resume feature so that you can come back to your place in the music list where you left off. Even after powering the camera on and off. The 5120A and 920 do none of these things.
Mp3 playback will continue on the 5120A if you reverse the screen, or leave it open. But if you move it from the reversed position, the camera goes into record mode. And if you try to move the screen from the open position to the closed position during mp3 playback, the camera will shut off. So you're forced to have the screen vulnerable while playing music.
The 920's screen can be shut off during mp3 use by closing it, but it still has two very bright led's. This would waste power compared to the 5120A and i6's single and tiny slowly blinking leds. The 5120A's blinks blue then red a few times, then rests for a few seconds.
You can delete individual songs or all the mp3's from the 5120A and the i6, which is something I really dislike about the 920, on which you can't delete mp3's in the field without formatting the whole card.
ice Memo / Audio Recording / Speaker / Microphone
The microphone on the 5120A is horribly insensitive. You have to shout at it to record anything, and this cripples the value of the camera. Maybe I should stick a funnel on the mic opening. The microphones are about equally sensitive on the i6 and 920. The i6 captures higher frequencies better, while the 920 seems to prefer lower frequencies. They all suffer from wind noise.
In the face of loud sounds, the i6's microphone overloads and goes tinny and badly distorted. The 920, on the other hand, copes with high noise levels very well.
The 5120A and 920 have remotes, the i6 does not. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it seems like such a great feature, but on the other hand I almost never used it.
Of these cameras, only the 5120A comes with a motion detection system. I had trouble getting this to work properly. Every time I set motion detection on, the camera would start filming immediately. I could stop it, but it would just start another clip. It was almost impossible to stop it or turn off the camera, and sometimes I had to pop the battery out. Which results in a corrupt file.
So it looked like it was defective. I played with sorts of settings to no avail. Eventually the motion detection started working properly, but I didn't know why. More fiddling eventually resolved it.
To put it in motion detection mode, you click the Menu button, push the joystick up to get to the video setup mode, click up twice more to get to the motion detection setting, right click to select "ON", center click to confirm, Menu to go back to record mode.
When you return to record mode, often the camera will begin recording, even if there's nothing moving. It did this for me even with the lens covered. I found that if you turn image stabilization on (and it defaults off whenever you power off the camera), the motion detection system is far more likely to initiate and continue recording. So leave IS off for motion detection. You're likely to be using motion detection with the camera stationary anyway, such as on a tripod. Also, if the camera is pointed at more distant scenes, motion detection is less likely to activate.
If it starts recording immediately, it looks like it's stuck, and you can't stop it. The trick is to wait. If there's nothing moving, it will stop eventually, even if it takes 20 seconds. From then on, it will act normally. It is possible to stop recording while in motion detection mode even if things are still moving. You press the menu button, navigate to the motion detection control, and shut it off. Then go back to record mode and just stop the video recording. Powering off will default to disabling motion detection.
So it really does sit there in standby mode until either it sees something moving, or the camera itself is moved. Then it starts recording. When no movement has been detected for a few seconds, it goes back into standby mode. Neat. In combination with the remote control, this could see some very creative use.
While the 5120A and 920 have tripod sockets, the smaller i6 does not.
While the materials that come with the 5120A and 920 seem almost ashamed to mention who made the camera, of course Samsung is not shy about making the i6. This is what you expect from a first-tier manufacturer, and something the second-tier makers have to get on the ball about.
Software and PMP
All three come with the usual photo and video management and editing software.
For some reason, the i6 comes with text recognition software. This allows you to put the camera into text mode, take photos of text, and the software will convert it into, presumably, something like ascii/WordPad format. Does anyone actually do this, I wonder?
Processing an avi file through Digimax Converter produces files that will replay on the i6. This is only the second time in over two years, with seven different cameras, I've been able to do this. And with the 920, the final conversion took 14 hours. The converted i6 movie is half the size of the original, because some detail is lost. This isn't apparent on the i6's screen, but is if you replay to a tv.
This is one of the most notable differences. While the Digilife etc. cameras promise full PMP functionality, the reality falls far short. I wasted a good part of my life trying to get movies made of clips taken on the cameras, and processed with software bundled with the cameras, to replay in the cameras. This was basically a failure, although eventually I determined a method that worked, it was too cumbersome to use. My solution was to burn the movies to DVD in the computer, and play these on tv with a dvd player. Lately I've found the DVD-R's so produced won't play on most people's DVD players. Great.
The i6 also comes with a conversion program that is supposed to make any file that will play in Windows Media Viewer, play on the i6. The MPVR comes with something like this, but the 5120A and 920 do not, and getting external pmp stuff to play on the 920 is hoplessly painful. In fact, the manual and ads for the 5120A make no mention of being able to play movies, and no conversion software is included.
More 5120A Features
Similar to the i6, you can crop, rotate or frame stills in the camera.
The 5120A comes with four games. I found the explanations of all them incomperhensible except Tetris. I figured out Moving Boxes, and I understand Sudoko, but only my child claims to know how to play Lottery.
For its part, the i6 has a long list of worthwhile features lacking from the 5210A and the 920. But since this is a review focussed on the 5120A, you'll have to check this section of the i6's review to see the list.
The 5120A's weak microphone is a big sore point for me. I'd say that what "makes" video valuable is 1/3 recording sound, 1/3 recording motion, and 1/3 being able to pan. If you kneecap the audio system, you seriously impair the camera's potential. This is a real shame, since the camera is so good otherwise.
The 5120A comes with a cheesy black velvet bag instead of even a cheapo case. You don't realize how much you appreicate the cheapo cases until you don't get one. The 5120A's odd shape means it won't fit any of the other cases I have. And chuck those crappy earpbuds for some decent ones.
If you need the 5120A's 720x480 video output, or the motion detection function, and can live with the useless microphone, then it's the best choice of these three. If you can live without those two features, and audio is important, then the 920 is a better choice than the 5120A. If you do lots of video in dim light, then avoid the i6. If the higher video compresson of the i6 is ok for you, you don't need video-in, or you need to take super closeups, or you'd use the optical zoom a lot, then the i6 is the best choice. The i6 also is easily capable of replaying pmp material, unlike the Digilifes.
Like my reaction to the 810, all this makes me wonder if the people who design these cameras ever use them, or check out other cameras. How they can keep designing new models with so many annoying "recessive traits" that can't possibly be difficult to fix, or making up new problems, is beyond me. Too bad no one seems to be able to combine the best features of all three onto one camera.
I'm probably going to get rid of the 5120A, keep the i6 and 920, and wait for a Digilife like the 5120A but with a proper microphone.
|Feb 17, 2007, 10:13 PM||#2|
Join Date: Jul 2005
Great review, sgspirit!
I had already given up on the Digilife 5120A (SVP 8900), not wanting to spend big $$ for just adding D1 to the features of the 1000/920. I didn't see the seller that allowed a low bid.
The crummy mike appears to be a tend in newer models. My SVP 8600 (Digilife 6000)has a tiny pin holes for the mile on the back of the LCD and sound is poor.
I've got a lowball bid in on a black SVP 8800 (Digilife 6120A), but I don't expect it to hold up.:-)
|Feb 17, 2007, 11:06 PM||#3|
Join Date: Jul 2005
Thanks for the thanks. I know some people aren't interested in all that stuff, but I also know that some like to hear those details.
I have to fix the bit about the 5120A having a remaining memory readout. It seems to have little or nothing for that feature, which is another important problem.
As for the weak mics, I recently composed some canoe footage taken three years ago with the Aiptek DV4500. You can clearly hear the water in each paddlestroke, indicating it had a better microphone than even the Digilife 920.
And I recently bought an ATC-2000 helmet cam. Users of it have been complaining that the microphone is useless. I'm wondering if it uses the same internals as the 5120A.
And like you, I sure wouldn't feel it worthwhile to get a camera with a lousy mic unless I got it very cheap.
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