Sanyo's Xacti FH1 is a high definition camcorder that records 1920 x 1080 video at 60fps to SDHC memory cards (there's no internal memory). It features a 10x optical zoom lens, a 3-inch LCD display and costs $499.
Sanyo Xacti FH1 at a Glance
The Good: Low cost, compact and lightweight, simple to use.
The Bad: No optical stabilization.
High Quality High Definition Video
Unlike other camcorder makers who play fast-and-loose with the term "Full HD," Sanyo's FH1 actually delivers 1920 x 1080p video resolution with a frame rate of 60fps. It uses an 8-megapixel 1/2.5 inch CMOS sensor. At the highest quality setting, it offers a bit rate of 24MBps and records in the MPEG-4/H.264 format.
These are impressive specifications, at least on paper. In the real world, the FH1 delivers just about up to the promise of its eye-grabbing specs. There was a little more noise indoors than I'd have expected but the FH1 does offer a noise-reduction function which helps a bit (at the expense of some sharpness in the detail).
I found that while it reproduced colors very accurately, blues would appear slightly more muted than other colors (see here). Overall, your average user would certainly be happy with the quality from the FH1.
A Dual Camera
Sanyo calls their FH1 a "dual camera." Unlike traditional camcorders, you don't have to put the FH1 into photo mode to snap a picture. There are a pair of buttons on the back of the camcorder - one for video and one for stills. Press stills and it snaps a photo. Press video, and you're recording video. Very elegant. You can also snap lower-resolution stills while simultaneously shooting video.
As far as the camera goes, it snaps high resolution, 8-megapixel stills, but isn't very responsive. You'll have to wait a bit for the camera to actually fire. Still, there's a good selection of features including face detection, scene modes, burst shooting, control over ISO, a wide dynamic range mode, and a flash.
Beyond the iFrame Hype
When Sanyo announced the FH1, it made a big deal about a recording format dubbed iFrame, which is the default recording mode for the camcorder. It's a video format compatible with Apple's iMovie and is easier to manage than the large HD video files that can slow a computer to a crawl. But aside from the Apple-friendly name, there's less here than meets the eye. iFrame records video at a resolution of 960 x 540 at 30fps. In other words, it's easier on your computer because it's lower quality video.
Unless your computer is seriously incapable of handling HD videos (which begs the question of why you're considering an HD camcorder), it's hard to see why you'd want to use iFrame when you've also got the option to shoot in 1080p. The basic rule of the thumb when it comes to video is that you can always shrink a video file (i.e. lower its quality) after the fact - but you can't add quality. So it's always better to capture the best quality recording you can.
The Sanyo FH1 gets mostly high marks for its design. First, the camcorder is extremely light (12oz with battery and memory card) and compact.
The button layout is simple and sparse: you'll find controls for recording video, shooting stills, playback, a joystick control, and button for accessing the menu on the back of the camcorder. Flip it open, and you'll find a power button (the camcorder can also be turned on and off by opening and closing the LCD). The joystick control can be programmed to access certain camcorder functions as well, which is very helpful.
Sometimes you can see where Sanyo cut corners on the design to hit the attractive price point. The SD card slot cover is flimsy and doesn't open or close easily. The battery cover comes off completely, instead of swinging open on a hinge, which means there's a chance you could misplace it.
No Optical Stabilization
Sanyo had to sacrifice something to bring a 1080p camcorder in under $500, and one of those things is optical image stabilization. Instead, it uses the digital variety, which isn't terribly helpful. As you zoom out with the lens, you'll definitely see some shake (see here, for example).
The FH1 has a 10x optical zoom when shooting still photos and a 16x "enhanced zoom" when shooting video. The enhanced zoom uses certain portions of the CMOS sensor to capture video to bring greater detail to light without the ungainly magnification effects of digital zooms.
Strong Feature Set
Sanyo did a very nice job packing the FH1 with a variety of features advanced users will like, such as control over the aperture and shutter speed, ISO, white balance, and focus. These are all arrayed in an easy-to-use on screen menu which you toggle through with the joystick control on the back of the unit. The combination of the joystick and streamlined menu make it quite easy to access and set the camcorder functions you're after. The joystick is also used to manually focus or set the aperture/shutter speed when you're tweaking your exposure.
Another plus, you can put the FH1 into a simplified menu if you don't want to navigate through all the various functions.
The Bottom Line
The Sanyo FH1 is a very affordable entry into the high-end, HD camcorder market. If you're just aching to buy the more expensive Canon HF-S10 but have been brought low by the recession, the FH1 can deliver a very solid HD experience on a budget - provided you're willing to live with a few cut corners along the way.