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Old Apr 6, 2007, 6:09 PM   #1
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I got my hands on an early CG65. Here is my user review of the Santo Xacti CG65 hybrid 6MP digicam / standard definition digital video camera (with sample photos and videos at the end). For specs and features, see the official web site(s). I haven't come across a review yet, so I'll elaborate a little.

Back in 2005 I posted in the hybrid forum about my wait for the "perfect" shirt-pocket hybrid. The problem with most digicams is that they can only record a few minutes,small clips, of video; a true hybrid should be able to record a full hour of continuous good quality video. I felt I needed to wait another year or two for an ultra compact do-it-all that would hopefully record video using MPEG-4 AVC / H.264. Well I didn't wait; I picked up the Sanyo Xacti C6 to hold me over. (As witnessed in this forum) I really like the tiny C6, despite its known faults and limitations. I'm now a big fan of the thumb controlled "pistol grip" form factor for shooting video; it's much more natural and convenient than the regular digicam format. The optical focus and optical zoom were important features for me as I've been let down by "focus free" (fixed/no focus) cameras in the past. I did learn from the C6 that for a lightweight ultra compact with essentially no inertia, 5x zoom is already difficult to keep steady.

Now we have the improved CG65 that records movies using the cutting edge MPEG-4 AVC (advanced video coding, also referred to as H.264) video format with AAC (advanced audio coding) stereo audio in an MP4 container. Is the CG65 the "perfect" ultra compact hybrid digicam? No, it's not perfect, but it got closer.

The CG65's 6MP still photo capabilities, in my opinion, are very similar to that of the C6 (see Steve's C6 review and samples). It takes good pictures in good light but, like most ultra compacts, it has a weak flash prone to red-eye and if there is movement in a scene with poor light you will get blurry results (it does take good long exposure shots, up to ISO 1600, if tripoded). When the lens is wide angle you do get slight chromatic aberration at the edge of the frame. Also the little sensor can exhibit noise. It's not a high-end shooter but it's perfect for everyday shooting and tourism and the optical focus and optical zoom allow for surprisingly good shots. Macro focus, down to 1cm is very impressive. If you want to take indoor night party stills you'd probably want something bigger with a stronger flash (although the CG65 would do well for video in this case). There are post-processing options for stills to remove red-eye or motion blur, but I haven't played enough with them to comment.

I'm very pleased with the video it records. The video is smooth, clear and the quality is excellent. I would say that the highest quality video is better than most camcorders and the next lowest quality is nearly equal, at half the bit-rate (half the file size)! I really don't know how it works, but it appears to identify all outlines and details, then slightly smoothes the uniform areas. The CG65 does a great job preserving these outlines, edges and details using MPEG-4 AVC / H.264. Edges are always sharp and never exhibit MPEG blocking even during high movement. Only issue I've noticed is if some detail is small and has little contrast the camera might treat it as a uniform area and smooth it out. The good thing is that it appears to smooth out sensor noise. File sizes vary; it seems the CG65 will use lower or higher (variable) bit rates depending on the complexity of a scene, keeping the total bit rates within spec. I will actually be using the lower bit-rate modes now since TV-HQ is very good, especially considering the bit-rate, and WEB-SHQ looks good for 320x240 video, perfect for web video, or portable media players. The amount of video I capture per SD card is always a lot more than I expect with the CG65.

I'll make a point that the software/codecs you use to view the CG65's AVC/H.264 files will have a direct impact on your perception of its videos' quality on your PC. MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 is computationally complex and requires a powerful enough PC and good software/codecs. For example, on my PC using the Nero Digital codec (with auto post-processing) the videos look great, using Quicktime for Windows they don't look as good nor render smoothly. Unfortunately Microsoft doesn't deliver support for MP4, AVC or AAC. Sanyo does supply the basic software you need. Apple users shouldn't have any issues since support for AVC/AAC is built-in all recent Macs. And the CG65 playback to TV-out is good, so that's always an option.

In low light the CG65 manages pretty well with video. For one thing it has the 9 pixel mixture technology (3x3 sensor pixels added up to render one video pixel), another is that (I'm not sure about this) it appears to smooth the noise, and then there is Lamp mode. We've seen before what pixel mixture brings to the table (up to ISO 3600). Lamp mode for video actually works better than I expected (maybe I had low expectations?). Basically in Lamp mode, under good lighting, video works normally, if the light level drops very low then Lamp mode will dynamically slow down the frame rate to 15fps to enable longer exposures (up to ISO 7200). The end result is that the scene you record appears brighter on the LCD than what you see with your eyes; basically if you can see it, it can record it. When there is enough light it resumes to 30fps. Obviously at ISO 7200 there is lots of sensor noise and the image is not clear but overall I'm impressed, especially since we have small optics and sensor here.

You hear the optical auto-focus (if enabled) in quiet environments, it is a little less noisy than my C6. What I'm really impressed with is that the optical zoom on the CG65 is quiet, it's barely audible, and it's fast to boot. Sometimes it doesn't auto focus as fast as you would like, depending on the scene and the amount of light. It's like it needs to see clear edges to focus. The macro focus mode is fantastic, practically microscopic. I'm not sure but it seems like the digital image stabilization works better, I haven't tested it enough yet.

There are a lot of options in the menus; you can have a lot of control with modes, white balance, manual focus, etc.. Most of the time you'll use full auto, but it's nice to have more control when you need it. The menus can take time to navigate but you can customize shortcuts on the thumb joystick to quickly access your most frequently used functions such as auto focus lock, flash on/off, exposure, etc., it's your choice. I use the shortcuts a lot, they're great, I just wish there were more.

The CG65 has a stereo earphone plug. This plug also serves dual-purpose as TV out, which is built in. It also has a standard mini USB plug on the bottom (next to tripod mount) which can be used for connectivity and charging the battery although there is an external battery charger included which is better suited (faster). This means that the CG65 can be recharged on the road with any USB power device/adapter. No dongle or docking station required since the CG65 is all self-contained.

The CG65 has a small amount of internal memory (~18MB). Perhaps since it doesn't come bundled with an SD card, it's intended to allow people to play with the camera immediately. It does serve an interesting purpose as storage space for background music you can select to play during photo slide shows. I've successfully loaded music files into the camera after I converted them from MP3 (using third party tools) to the AAC (MPEG-4) format supported by the CG65. Audio sounds good played out to earphones, TV or amp. I guess you could also keep pictures or small videos you would like to be able to show on a regular basis in the internal memory. Note that it is a digital still and video camera, it is not sold as a do-it-all media player. The camera has an earphone jack, a 2.5" LCD and TV-out; could have been a general media player, but as delivered is only intended to playback its own media. I'll point out that of the existing all-in-one digicam/media players, few do anything well, so at least Sanyo is focusing its energy on making a good hybrid. The CG65 might actually be a good companion for a PMP like an iPod or PSP.

Overall the CG65 is a great ultra compact portable hybrid. It's something you can carry around everywhere with you ready to capture anything at anytime. It's fast overall, especially out of no-brainer standby mode, ready to shoot in an instant. I love the fact that you can record literally hours of good quality video per SD card. Of course, given its small size, lenses and sensor, don't expect it to rival good full size cameras, but it does pretty well. I'd take this over a camcorder and digicam any day.

Directly compared to my C6 I have these observations: Stills are similar. Video is better on the CG65. Lower bit-rate modes are significantly better on the CG65 (no MPEG blocking of edges during movement on the CG65 where there is on the C6). The C6 looks more like jewelry (it does have those two little gems inside), the CG65 looks more like a gadget. The C6 is slightly taller, the CG65 is slightly fatter. The C6 LCD is sharper, the CG65 LCD is bigger. C6 zoom is noisy and slow, CG65 zoom is fast and quiet. The C6 had a dongle and docking station for charging, USB connection and TV Out, the CG65 eliminates the need for these by having all built-in and includes an external battery charger, but it also lost the remote for playback.

Wow, that was more than I expected to write. (if you're still with us...) I've uploaded a mixed bag of samples; sorry they are all on free hosting sites…

Some stills taken with the CG65:
- Outdoor sunny shot 6M-S
- What happens when you shoot handheld in low-light without flash (blurry / noisy) 6M-S (note: partial nudity)
- Cat, indoor light 6M-S
- Macro focus on fleur-de-lys of Scottish shilling 6M-H

Some videos taken with the CG65:
- Optical zoom indoor test TV-HQ (total bitrate 1.32 Mbps)
- Detail indoor test TV-HQ (total bitrate 1.4 Mbps)
- Indoor macro focus test TV-SHQ (total bitrate only 1.82 Mbps)
- Far optical zoom TV-SHQ
- Far optical zoom, another TV-SHQ
- Junk car WEB-SHQ
- Junk car TV-SHQ
- Cat, indoor TV-SHQ (background noise is dishwasher)
-Poor indoor lighting, inside thrift store
- Wasp, 5cm manual focus, editing in-camera (cut/join)
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Old Apr 8, 2007, 9:08 AM   #2
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Caelum,

Great review! Thanks for all that trouble. I gather you think that overall the CG65 video is superior to the C6? I looked at one of your zoom samples and it seemed better than my C5, less focus hunting in the zoom, for one thing.

Did you get a chance to try the LCD outside in bright sun to see if it's okay? Does it still have the backlit screen like the C5 and I'd guess the C6?

These user reviews are so much more valuable to me than the pro reviews, especially when done as a comparison like yours was.

Thanks again!
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Old Apr 8, 2007, 10:43 AM   #3
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Hi Setter, Thanks. Yes I think video is superior on the CG65. Stillsome focus hunting sometimes, but it is faster (in the "detail indoor test TV-HQ", when I pull back you notice the focus starts to hunt in the wrong direction, but it recovers quickly). In low light, it can have a more difficult time focusing, one trick I found is to semi-press the photo button to quickly focusprior to video recording(perhaps because it uses the full 6MP?). I did use it in full sunlight and the LCDis clear and works very well,it's about 65% biggerand is brighter (brightness isadjustable); only negative things I can sayof the LCD is the pixels are a little coarse (although brighter)and like most LCDs, viewing angles are limited(but LCD rotates in all directions).
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Old Apr 8, 2007, 10:55 AM   #4
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Caelum,

Thanks again! I really appreciate the trouble you went to. It will save disappointments for lots of us! I especially appreciate the LCD info since that has been a problem for me in other cameras.

The CG65 looks like a winner to me.
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Old Apr 9, 2007, 11:55 PM   #5
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Thanks for the quick review caelum.

I notice the video bitrates for the TV-SHQ and TV-HQ are about 3 Mbps and 1.5 Mbps respectively. Do you know the actual video bitrates quoted in the manual? The highest video bitrate of 3 Mbps is the same as the C6/ CG6 I guess. A rough estimation of the "minutes per Gb" from your sample videos also shows similar number as the C6/ CG6.

Agree that the H264 videos are definitely much more computer hardware dependent - my newest PC with Athlon X2 3800+ (2 GHz) have a few dropped frames with Media Player Classic, but VLC player works quite well. In fact I notice older versions of these programs don't work very well, and I have updated them to the latest version.

Agree that the H264 videos are much smoother (less digital noise) than the CG6 (which is also slightly worse than the C6, IMO). Low light is very good (but I don't know how dim the light was, say in your "Indoor macro focus test" of the figurines in the museum). Now I start to regret buying the CG6! Well at least one consolation: I haven't had a bad pixel yet unlike my old C6!!

I found an excellent freeware video converter that works for the H264 codec:

http://www.erightsoft.com/SUPER.html

"SUPER © Simplified Universal Player Encoder & Renderer. A GUI to ffmpeg, MEncoder, mplayer, x264, mppenc, ffmpeg2theora & the theora/vorbis RealProducer plugIn."

It would be nice if MP4CAM2AVI will update to work with H264, but I really doubt this because H264 is apparently very different and much more advanced than the older MPEG-4 family of video codecs. This means MP4CAM2AVI will have to evolve into a full-blown video converter.
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Old Apr 10, 2007, 8:17 AM   #6
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Can you say anything about the CG65's image stabilization? Can you notice the Gyro sensor?
For me that was the biggest issue of the C6,because it somehowcaused a pumping effectduring panning and that's why I just sold it. With stabilization turned off the video was much too shaky most of the time.
I am thinking about buying the Panasonic SDR-S150, having 3CCDs and usingMPEG2 on SDHC card with a signifcantly higher bit rate. But different reviews have different conclusions about this one. I would stick also to the HD2 but first impression reviews told that it is similar (bad) as the HD1a...
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Old Apr 10, 2007, 11:41 AM   #7
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Blindsight: those are the quoted bitrates, but TV-HQ is much better on my CG65 (quoted 1.5Mbps) than it is on my C6 (quoted 2Mbps), andTV-SHQ (quoted 3Mbps) is better on the CG65 as well. As I mentioned it appears the bitrates are variable. Notice the first three videos have actual total bit rates lower than the quoted bit rates, especially the "Indoor macro focus test" as TV-SHQ (which is rated 3Mbps),its actual total bit rate is only 1.82Mbps. Certainly if you use TV-HQ, which is good, you will record much longer per SD card.

Yes, slightly older versions of free AVC/H.264 software/codecs do not work well, the VLC version I have doesn't do a good job of it, I would need to update it, assuming they include the latest H.264 decoder. I did get good results on a new Vista PC with the most recent "ffdshow tryouts", which is constantly updated and appears to have the latestopen sourceH.264 decoder. But it seems Nero Digital has given me the best results so far, I haven't really done serious tests, just my impression.

The light was bad in that thrift store and the museam figurines just had a little warm spotlight from the ceiling in adim room. I took lots of footage over Easter of the family and I can say that it's definitely much, much better than my C6 with night time indoor lighting. I'm very impressed with it's performance in low light; it's brighter, has little noise, I'm almost positive it smoothes it out now, always clear under normal indoor lighting. You do get muddled noise in very dark areas, or if you record candle lit, but it's perfectly acceptable. Icompared a Sony camcorder under the same conditions and it was full of noise.

puper78: I never used digital image stabilization on my C6 because of the issues with it. I haven't been using the one on the CG65 because of my preconceptions. However I did try it and it is better. For one thing it doesn't stutter when you smooth pan, I did a direct comparison to make sure. Perhaps there is a gyro in there that helps with this. The stabilization is a little different, I'm not quite sure what it is, but it appears to glide more smoothly when you do small adjustments. When it doesn't help is if you just shake the camera too much, beyond what it can stabilize, then it looks like the image will shake more than if the DIS was off. I still am still personally apprehensive to use it because it sacrifices some sensor resolution (outside frame), but I should try to use it more to keep steady when shooting straight, especially when zoomed in.
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Old Apr 10, 2007, 1:44 PM   #8
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I'm assuming that the stabilizer is the same on the CG6 and the CG65, so here are some comments.

First, I really doubt that there is any actual "gyroscope" involved, I'm sure that they use some of the solid state accelerometers that are used in optical mice.

The stabilizer is basically the same as on the previous models, except that they seem to be using the input from the accelerometer(s) to modify the behavior. How the thing works is that the video frame is cropped smaller, then an actual frame (lower resolution) is selected with software to compensate for motion. They are now using the input from the "gyro" to modify this behavior. For example on previous models if you panned the image would jump as the software tired to compensate for your motion. Now the camera seems to know that you are moving and turns the stabilizer off during motion.

In fact, any but the slightest motion seems to turn the stabilizer off, sort of like it is an all or nothing thing. I kind of suspect that it is not actually getting any vector information from the "gyro" like in a real optical image stabilization system, it just knows that you are moving the camera and that it should not try to stabilize the motion the stabilizer is just turned off if the motion is greater than a certain amount. This does eliminate the problem of jumping during panning, but it does not help regular hand held shots be any better stabilized than with the old models. It is sort of like if you had a little button on the top of the camera that could turn the stabilizer on and off and you were smart enough to press it each time you moved the camera.

I do think that it is an improvement though, but no where near as good as a real optical image stabilizer would be.
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Old Apr 10, 2007, 2:27 PM   #9
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What's the minimum hardware/OS requirements for cg65? I couldn't find it online.
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Old Apr 10, 2007, 2:53 PM   #10
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brachiopod, thanks for clarifying that,it does seem likethe CG6 and CG65 are essentially the same camera except for the video engine (processing/encoding/codec) used.

bluedragon,I guess there are no general minimum requirements for the CG65 because, like with a camcorder,a computer is not really necessary considering a user could do everything using the camera, a TV, DPOF printer (or printer with SD card slot) and a bunch of SD cards (they could treat them like tapes). But there are some minimum specs in the software manual for computer users (I posted links to both the instruction and software manuals in a previous thread about the CG65onMarch 18th). They are listed in there as follows (PC and Mac):

Windows® 2000/Windows® XP/Windows® Vista (provided with USB)
CPU Pentium 4 3.0 GHz or later
512 MB RAM or more (1,024 MB or more recommended)
64 MB video RAM or more (256 MB or more recommended)
Direct X9.0 or above
CD-ROM

Mac OS X 10.3.6 or later (QuickTime 6.5.2 or later)
Power PC G5 1.6 GHz or later
256 MB RAM or more
64 MB video RAM or more
CD-ROM

ButYMMV depending on the software/codecs you use.

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