Sony HD Camcorder Review: Sony HDR-HC7 HDV Camcorder

Little Sony HD Camcorder That Can

Compact, capable and affordable. The new Sony HD HDR-HC7 is bound to spark interest among beginning or casual shooters looking for their first HDV camcorder and even serious hobbyists looking for an unobtrusive second camcorder. But don’t let the size fool you; this little HDV/DV camcorder is packed with features, good optical quality and, in the right hands, it could even be pressed into doing some serious work.

Form and Function of the new Sony HD Camcorder

The Sony HD camcorder HC7 is light, well balanced and sparsely outfitted with external controls. Zoom, mode and photo controls are within easy reach of your right index finger, and your thumb hovers naturally over the Record button. Only five other buttons and one switch are on the camcorder’s body; one button is assignable to different tasks. The small color viewfinder pulls out about 3/4″ from the body, giving you reasonable clearance from the battery below.

The spring-tensioned mode dial cycles through selections for camcorder, playback and photo. When the Sony HD camcorder HC7 is on a table, a small indicator light adjacent to descriptions for each mode lets you know which feature is engaged. However, we found our fingers covered the descriptions while the camera was in use, which is not a big deal, since both the viewfinder and LCD temporarily flash a large description during mode changes.

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Sony designers have done a good job balancing accessibility with function in such a compact Sony HD camcorder. You access most functions using the HC7’s 2.7-inch-wide touch screen. In the default mode, you have three pages each with six large touchscreen function buttons. Press the Easy button on the left side of the Sony HD camcorder, and you get only one page of four main functions. A nice feature if you want just the basics.

This is one of the first Sony HD camcorders we’ve tested that has a built-in guide to assist beginning users with tips on general usage, shooting, connection and display options. The guide is just one touch away on the LCD screen, giving you a short description of each function and a shortcut to its controls.

We particularly liked the option of assigning manual control (though not at the same time) of focus, exposure, shutter and AE shift to a single button on the side of the lens barrel.

Performance of the new Sony HD Camcorder

The Sony HD camcorder HC7 uses a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T lens and a single 1/2.9″ CMOS sensor with 2,280,000 effective pixels. We were impressed with the overall image quality. Colors are vibrant but not over-saturated; sharpness is very good, even to the edges of the frame; and, while some noise is apparent in dark areas of a normally lit scene, it is not objectionable. Noise does, however, become more noticeable in dark scenes, where the camcorder’s auto gain attempts to bring levels to a minimum exposure. If you find yourself frequently shooting in low-light conditions, you’ll engage a cool infrared night mode with the flip of a switch.

The optical stabilization system works well, removing the usual minor hand jiggles, especially on medium to moderate zooms. Larger movements, including pans at certain speeds, can suffer from occasional image stuttering when the stabilization system attempts to lock onto or unlock from a target. You can, however, quickly disable this function.

The audio quality of the built-in mic gives you good sound quality close-up, but it falls off quickly at distances beyond six feet. You can use the HC7’s mini mic jack at the front of the camcorder to connect an external mic for better quality. If you are using adapters to connect an XLR cable, you will need to devise a support method, such as looping through the hand strap or using gaffer’s tape. An Active Interface Shoe on top of the lens barrel can be also be used for an optional mic, video light or even flash for the 6.1 megapixel still image capability.

Sony HD Camcorder uses AutoMagic

The HC7 is a user-friendly Sony HD camcorder, offering automatic control of all main camcorder functions. Auto focus is quick to lock onto most subjects, but it can be a little sluggish when zoomed in. Like most AF systems, low contrast and low light are more challenging for consistent focus. For these and other cases where the AF may not capture your subject tack-sharp, you can switch to a spot focus mode or simply to manual.

Auto exposure gave us accurate exposures for all normally-balanced scenes we shot. We could easily compensate for strongly backlit scenes by pressing the backlight button or switching to manual. If a subject is predominantly bright or dark, the AE shift does a good job adjusting for these extreme values.

You select white balance (WB) modes through menus. The default requires four steps, but you can move this and other buttons to an earlier menu page if you prefer. Our WB tests shooting a Macbeth ColorChecker chart revealed that manual WB is somewhat more accurate than auto. Manually white balancing provides a one-percent average variance from color neutral toward blue-green. Auto WB gave us a nine-percent average variance toward red-green. The included WB shift feature will get you even closer. The HC7 buffers its auto WB adaptation to different lighting conditions by taking about ten seconds to fully adjust.


Final Notes

Since final output of HD footage outside of our computers continues to be a challenge, most of us need to simply play back our edited projects from the camcorder to either an SD or HDTV. The HC7 makes either option easy, by real-time down-conversion through A/V composite or component cables or by using the HDMI connection.

We are surprised to see what were previously pro-level features appear in such a small camcorder. Color bars, built-in spot meter, manual control of all basic functions, super slow-motion, zebras, external mic jack and manual control of audio levels and lens filter threads are just some of the many powerful options crammed into the HC7. Along with shooting in HD, that certainly makes it a camcorder worth your consideration.

TECH SPECS

Format: HDV

Image Sensor: 1/2.9″ 3200K gross pixels ClearVid CMOS sensor

Video Effective Pixels: (Actual)2280K pixels (16:9), 1710K pixels (4:3)

Interchangeable Lenses: No

Lens f-stop: 1.8-2.9

Optical Zoom: 10x

Focal Length: 2.2-55mm

Filter Diameter: 37mm

Focus: Auto/Manual (button-driven)

Iris/Gain Control: Auto, manual

Shutter Speed: Auto/AE mode-selectable

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/500

Minimum Shutter Speed: 1/2

Image Stabilization: Optical

Internal ND Filter: No

Program Exposure Modes: 8

Manual White Balance: Yes

Zebra Stripes: Yes

Viewfinder Color: 123K pixels

LCD Monitor: 2.7″ 211K pixels (16:9)

Video In: FireWire

Video Out: AV cord (component, stereo RCA), USB port, FireWire, HDMI

Color Bar Generator: Yes

Audio Modes: Stereo

Microphone In: Yes

VU Meter: Yes

Manual Audio Level Controls: Yes

Headphone Jack: Yes

Speaker: Yes

Wireless Remote: Yes

External Battery Charger Provided: No

Battery Type: Lithium ion

Form Factor: Standard, horizontal

Tape Loading Configuration: Side

On-board Video Light: No

Accessory Shoe: Yes, active interface

Strengths

  • Good image quality
  • Reliable automatic modes
  • Manual control options

Weaknesses

  • Most functions accessed through touchscreen menus

SUMMARY

Sony’s HDR-HC7 HDV Camcorder is a feature-rich but user-friendly HDV camcorder that produces good-quality images at a reasonable price.

Contributing editor Brian Peterson is a video production consultant, trainer and lecturer.

Sony
16530 Via Esprillo
San Diego, CA 92127
www.sonystyle.com

$1,400

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