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SHARP VIEWCAM VL-H41OH Hi-8 camcorder, Pounds 1,400. It could be the indispensable accessory for the incorrigibly vain the video mirror. Sharp's ViewCam video cameras have been around for about two years now.

But although most people are familiar with the ubiquitous domestic camcorders of all makes now swamping the high street, the Sharp is still capable of wowing otherwise sophisticated technophiles with the immediacy of its instant playback and monitoring facilities. The machine has its own loudspeaker, and the colour liquid-crystal display dispenses with the traditional eyepiece. The rotating lens, which also serves as the hand grip, can be turned by 180 degrees, so you can even gaze at yourself on the LCD screen.

Sharp's new beefed-up ViewCam, the VL-H410H, is no mere novelty, however. It uses Hi-8 videocassettes (roughly the same size as an audiocassette), and the extremely high quality offered by Hi-8 means that the results from editing down on to another videotape are pretty acceptable, unlike fuzzy old VHS which loses an unhappy amount of information in any transfer.

The nice thing about it is its impressive design. The facilities can be as simple or as wide-ranging as you desire. For those who want the basics, the VCR-type buttons, zoom controls (including a handy instant-zoom) and special effects like strobe and fade are simple enough to get you going.

Computer technology now gives these machines their depth of features. And like modern laptop computers it has a "dock", a device it slots into to provide the ViewCam with a number of sockets which could not be fitted on to such a compact camera.

Curiously, the only socket it does not have is the standard RF connector which plugs into a television's aerial socket, the most commonly- used link for videos. If an RF connection is essential you can buy an optional adaptor for Pounds 35.

The screen is apparently brighter than on the first ViewCam, but it can still give problems out of doors, particularly in bright daylight.

But while it can be useful in a school, where more than one pupil at a time can see what is being recorded, the machine is not quite so easy to handle, or as involving, as a camcorder with eyepiece which is perhaps why rivals Sony and JVC are introducing models with both features.

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