Sony HDR-HC1 HDV Camcorder Review

Consumer HDV Is Here

When Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer, announced 2005 to be the year of HD while on stage at Macworld in January, he told the overflow, Mac loyal crowd at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, “you guys gotta get one of these,” referring to the Sony HDR-FX1 HDV camcorder. The consumer-heavy audience laughed, most probably at the $3,700 price tag on the camera. The other person sharing the stage with Steve Jobs was Sony president and CEO Kunitake Ando, who must have been paying attention. Now, just six months later, Sony unveils the HDR-HC1, a 1080i (1080 lines of interlaced video) HDV camcorder which is rumored to have a street price of around $1,700 (MSRP $2,000) for its July release.

As soon as we heard the news, we raced to the phone. Days later, we received the HC1 camera fresh out of Sony labs (it still had stickered notes the engineers had left on it). No doubt, the designers of this 7.4-inch long, 2.8-inch wide, 3.7-inch tall, 2-pound camera had the consumer (and prosumer) in mind. Far less intimidating than the FX1 with its many buttons and deep menu, the HC1 looks, feels and works like a consumer camcorder with a hint of higher-end sophistication.

First Looks


We should disclose we ran our test without the manual, which hindered us a bit, but the camera is very intuitive. Through exploration and knowledge of past cameras we were able to understand almost everything this camcorder had to offer.

Our first oooohs and ahhhhs came from the size of the camcorder. We had seen photos online but it was even smaller than we imagined. We also immediately noticed its onboard mic with prominent separation of its left and right transducers on either side of the built in flash. It would appear that this configuration would capture distinct stereo sound.

After an initial exploration of the camera body – finding all the hidden flip-open doors that conceal the audio and video in/outs, DC in and hot shoe – we plugged the camera in to charge the battery. Unfortunately, the camera does not ship with a stand-alone battery charger, though you can buy one as an accessory.

The infoLITHIUM M battery charged in a predictable amount of time (with a manufacturer-estimated battery life of 85 minutes), and we were out the door and into our Northern California flower garden for a test. We shot close-ups, quick pans and long shots. We clicked the zoom to manual with a switch located on the front left of the camera that gives users the choice between manual zoom and manual focus (and auto focus) using the single servo ring. In auto, the focus reacted quickly without breathing.

The small 37mm diameter Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens and the mini lens hood did a good job of keeping lens flare to a minimum. You can access the zoom (and record on/off) through the LCD panel’s frame, which we liked; though the multi speed zoom rocker on the index finger seemed small and awkward to use.

When mounted on a tripod, both the tape-loading door and the battery release button disappear between the camera and the base plate. This is unfortunate. Below the focus/zoom switch on the front left part of the camera, are three buttons – tele/macro, expanded focus and backlight – all in places that will become second nature to adjust with time. Below these buttons, again in a very handy place, is the manual exposure lever.

Shooting


We then took the camera into the studio, manually white balanced (through the menu) and shot a color bar chart, a gray scale chart and a standard definition resolution chart. The resolution was sharp and the colors, for the most part, were as well. Sony decided to go with a single 1/3″ CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor, if you must know) chip instead of the usual CCD chip, claiming that it produces richer colors, more vivid detail and less glare from reflected light.

In the studio we cycled through some of the menu items using the LCD touch screen. These included the very cool histogram (an analysis tool to identify contrast and dynamic range), Super Night Shot, Zebra at 70 or 100, color bars, a spot meter and many more. We wish the audio level controls were on the camera body and not in the menus, but this might be appropriate for a camera aimed at the consumer market. We were very happy to see that we could turn the 5-minute standby energy saving function off.


The Results


Next stop, the viewing room. We plugged the camera’s component cable into our 42″ HP plasma HD television and the image was beautiful. The camcorder delivered very nice color saturation, no blurring on the quick pans, incredible detail. While in the studio we tested the stereo microphone by standing in different parts of the room and talking and in the viewing room we were happy to hear how well the onboard mic preformed. We did notice a very subtle ghosting above mostly white images, but all in all, the image and audio were very impressive. The camera did produce a loud, almost musical hum of differing tones during rewind.

Finally, we attached the camera to our Dual 2.7 GHz PowerMac G5 and imported the footage into Final Cut Pro HD. The transfer occurred without a hitch and we were editing HD video ten minutes later.

For soccer parents, indie filmmakers and wedding videographers, HD acquisition is a financial possibility with Sony’s new HDR-HC1. Beginners can start shooting right out of the box on fully automatic settings and more sophisticated shooters will be happy to find many professional bells and whistles. High-end users may what to look toward the more expensive prosumer models. Now, if the DVD folks can agree on a HD format before January, we would agree with Mr. Jobs that this is the year of HD.

Morgan Paar is Videomaker‘s Technical Editor.

TECH SPECS

Format: HDV 1080i

Image Sensor Type: CMOS

Number of image sensors: one

Size of image sensor: 1/3″

Pixels on image sensor: 2.97M

Video Effective Pixels: 1.9M

Focus: auto/manual

Shutter Speed: auto/manual

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/10,000 sec

Minimum Shutter Speed: ¼ sec

Lens f Stop: 1.8-2.1

Optical Zoom: 10x

Focal Length: 5.1 — 51 mm

Image Stabilization: Optical (Super Steady Shot)

Manual White Balance: yes

Viewfinder: color

LCD Monitor: 2.7 in. color, touch-panel, passive matrix, 16:9, 123,000 pixels

Progressive Scan: no

HD Modes: 1080i

Video In: IEEE 1394

Video Out: IEEE 1394, Composite, S-Video

Mono/Stereo Recording: Stereo

Microphone In: yes

VU Meters: yes

Manual Audio Level Controls: yes (in menu)

Headphone Jack: yes

Speaker: yes

Still Shot Media: Memory Stick PRO Duo

Memory Card Included: 16 MB

Flash: yes

Wireless: Remote yes

External: Battery Charger

Provided: no

Battery Type: Li-Ion

Tape Loading Configuration: bottom

Onboard Video Light: flash for still only

Accessory Shoe: Active Interface Shoe

STRENGTHS

  • Relatively low price
  • Small
  • Beautiful HD image and sound
  • Many pro features

WEAKNESSES

  • Tape door and battery release in bad places/li
  • Doesn’t ship with stand-alone battery charger/li
  • Audio levels adjusted in the menu

SUMMARY

A great HDV camcorder for beginners and intermediates at a surprisingly low price.


$2,000

Sony Electronics, Inc

16765 W. Bernardo Dr.

San Diego, CA 92127

1.800.222.SONY

www.sonystyle.com

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