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Sony DCR-TRV17 Night Vision Camcorder Review

Sony DCR-TRV17 Night Vision Camcorder Review

You don't need night vision to see how good this camcorder handles


The DCR-TRV17 from Sony is an affordable Mini DV camcorder with good looks and an impressive still-image feature. It comes with the latest input and output functionality of some of the higher priced Sony models and some of their image extras like night vision as well. All of that makes the DCR-TRV17 a serious matter of consideration for the DV beginner or the budget-conscious intermediate videographer who needs a flexible digital image device.

Upon Examination

The DCR-TRV17 is very comfortable to operate. It has easy-to-reach function buttons for toggling from auto to manual modes and for entering the on-screen menus. The VCR transport functions are located under the LCD display, so the LCD must be open to shuttle or play back the tape. We were happy to note that the LCD door can open wide enough to actuate the transport while the LCD display remained off. This allows the operator to view playback through the color viewfinder.

The generous 3.5-inch, 246,000-pixel LCD display is nice to have on a camcorder this size and feels mechanically solid, even though the DCR-TRV17 is all plastic. On top of the camcorder, a small LCD read-out gives time code display and available battery life in minutes. We applaud this Sony display as well as the cam's InfoLithium battery - very useful features. Being able to monitor the status of your battery life is invaluable in the "how to avoid a headache" department. While charging, the battery life displays the amount of record time available if shooting with the viewfinder (not the LCD display). The time adjusts down when the LCD activates and power consumption increases.

Works As a Night Vision Camcorder

Another feature is the obligatory night vision, in the DCR-TRV17's case, Sony's NightShot. The night vision mode, called Nightshot, is a monochrome setting that has a bright square in the center of the frame where the infrared beam is most concentrated. Along for the ride - to supposedly augment its night vision sibling - was Super NightShot, which was Super useless. Super NightShot seemed to add some color in the night vision mode, which looked a little bit sepia and slowed shutter speed down to an annoying slur.

More Than just a Night Vision Camcorder!

The DCR-TRV17, of course, doubles as a digital-still image capture device. It snaps a 640x480 still to tape or to its removable media. The still-image storage media, the Sony proprietary Memory Stick, is slyly located under the pop-up viewfinder. Not wanting to look in the manual for the location, it took a few minutes to surmise its whereabouts. This crafty example of ergonomic use of space illustrates one of the DCR-TRV17's strengths; everything is well placed. We wish Sony (and others) would use non-proprietary memory formats, however, which would allow us to interchangeably use standard memory cards in our PDA, MP3 player and digital camera.

The healthy I/O options are all in the right-front of the camcorder body, not spread about the landscape like some of the super compact cams. In addition to i.LINK (IEEE 1394), A/V and S-video, are headphone, microphone, LANC (edit protocol) and a USB port for computer transfer of JPEG images and short MPEG-1 movies stored on the Memory Stick.

Software Added

To introduce DCR-TRV17 buyers to ways of forwarding their video and still images to computer environs, Sony added a modest software bundle to the purchase package. It includes a CD containing MGI's PhotoSuite (versions for PC and Mac) to transfer and edit still images, and MGI's VideoWave III SE to edit video.

This Night Vision Camcorder has Performance

The DCR-TRV17 captures images well worth the $1,199 suggested list price investment. The Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens featured on Sony Minis of late teams up with the 680,000 gross pixel (380,000 actual) Advanced HAD CCD to produce a smashingly vivid DV picture. We shot footage with the DCR-TRV17 at an alpine lake resort, where stark contrasts of white granite, dark-green pines and cobalt-blue waters were all faithfully represented. The preset exposure settings transitioned well in the varying daylight intensities, from the low-light forest to the squintingly bright sandy beaches. The lens is also setup with a very smooth manual-focus ring. This is a real plus for the DCR-TRV17.

Looking Good

If you are a point-and-shooter, the DCR-TRV17 will make you look good. The electronic image stabilization, called Super SteadyShot by Sony, (again with the Super) worked well and considerably improved our hand-held shots. The 10x optical zoom worked smoothly and the reasonable 120x digital zoom was useful up to approximately the 40x mark.

The on-camera mic worked as well as we expected and we did not notice an undue amount of handling noise in quiet audio moments.

Intro to DV

As a first DV camera, the DCR-TRV17 night vision camcorder is a very nice camera. It shoots fine video, has an adequate night vision mode, and captures decent stills to the memory stick. Yet for a relatively reasonable price, the camera does not skimp on features.

Tech Specs

Format: Mini DV
Lens:10:1 optical zoom, 120:1 digital zoom, f/1.7-2.2, fl 3.3-30mm, 30mm filter diameter
Image Sensor: 1.4-inch, 680,000 gross pixel CCD
Viewfinder: 0.44-inch, color
LCD Viewscreen: 3.5-inch, color
Focus: auto, manual
Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/4,000 sec.
Exposure: auto, manual
Minimum Illumination: 5 lux (also infrared night mode)
White Balance: auto, indoor, outdoor, hold
Digital Effects: 8 modes
Audio: 12- or 16-bit stereo
Inputs: IEEE 1394, S-Video, AV mini-jack, stereo mini-mic
Outputs: IEEE 1394, S-Video, AV mini-jack
Dimensions: 3 (w) x 3 7/8 (h) x 6 7/8 (d) inches
Weight (sans tape/battery): 1 lb. 6 oz.

Performance Times
Pause to Record: 0.27 sec.
Power-up to Record: 4.32 sec.
Fast-forward/Rewind (60 min. tape): 2 min. 40 sec.
Tested Horizontal Resolution: 405 lines*

Strengths

  • Affordable DV
  • Focus ring
  • Image quality

Weaknesses

  • Tape loads from the bottom
  • LCD must be open to use VCR transport
  • Proprietary memory format

Summary

The Sony DCR-TRV17 night vision camcorder performed well and was very pleasant to work with. The night vision mode was a nice extra feature. It should suit the needs of many beginning to intermediate videographers.

Sony Electronics
www.sel.sony.com
$1,199

Tags:  February 2002
Bruce
Coykendall
Fri, 02/01/2002 - 12:00am