Camcorder Review Web Exclusive! Sony HDR-HC3 Mini DV

Just plain realism is the lighting style visible in most movies and TV dramas (comedies shot with multiple cameras generally use a different approach). Realism uses the same light-painting techniques, but tones them down so that their artificiality is invisible to the casual eye. Let’s see how to do this with our three-point setup.

HD for the Amateur

Not since Sony’s first HDV camera, the FX1, has an HDV camcorder generated so much buzz. The Sony HDR-HC3 is aimed at the amateur shooter who wants Hi-Def at a Low-Def price. Great 1080i video is recorded to tape and can be viewed nicely on your 16:9 HDTV set using its HDMI connection. The sleek HC3 easily melds tech and usability, but the prosumer or advanced shooter will want to look at Sony’s other offerings in the HVR-A1U (reviewed in Videomaker August 2005) or HDR-FX1 (reviewed in Videomaker November 2004). For a hands-on look, see our Vidcast episode 5. We do have to hand it to Sony for making the smallest HDV camcorder to date.

First Look


The HC3 looks futuristic with its streamlined design and brushed metal coat. The viewfinder is in-line with the body, and shows a 16:9 wide screen image without cropping. Manual controls are accessed by the touch-screen menu and a physical scroll wheel. Though, the scroll wheel is hard to toggle when the LCD is in use. The HC3 is 26% smaller than Sony’s other small HDV camcorder, the HC1. Even so, a substantial area under the viewfinder sits empty, ready to accept a large battery. This looks to prevent the battery from protruding too much and permanently bending your nose. Atop this small device is Sony’s Intelligent Accessory Shoe, capable of accepting balanced XLR audio adapters or Bluetooth receivers.

Pixel Pusher

The picture quality of the HC3 is quite subjective. On one hand, you’ll see that a 1080-line Hi-Def image appears really large compared to your regular video. Two million pixels are a lot to play with! The overall feel is quite different because of this. Common jaggie” edges and color smearing are less noticeable in HDV, leaving your footage looking cleaner overall. On the other hand, the HC3 is in a new group of camcorders that utilize a single CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) sensor, instead of a more common CCD (charged coupled device) to create images. This is not necessarily a bad thing, although it should be noted that Sony’s CMOS isn’t yet a substitute for their 3CCD system. Generally the HC3 handled color very well; much better than other single CCD Sony camcorders, but not quite as accurately as their 3CCD offerings.

Sound in HDV

The sound recorded with the HC3 is crisp and clear for an onboard mic. We only noticed a little bit of noise from the tape transport, which barely warrants this printing. Avid Videomaker readers know that the best sound usually comes in the form of an external mic. And the HC3 allows for this addition–however, it’s by way of a proprietary connection and not a standard 1/8″ mini jack. Still, we recommend using an additional XLR adapter via the Intelligent Accessory shoe for any serious shoot.

As an aside, audio in the HDV format is compressed to MPEG-2 standards. While this isn’t technically as clean as uncompressed DV audio, we’ve been hard pressed to hear a difference.

Our overall experience with the HDR-HC3 was a positive one, especially after we connected it to our 42″ plasma HDTV. We liked having a 1080i camcorder literally fit in the palm our hand. Most experienced users will be deterred by the touch panel LCD and the lack of standard sound inputs, while those looking for a taste of Hi-Def will certainly enjoy the pixel party that is HDV. Since almost all editing software packages now support it, and disc burners are trickling in, making Hi-Def video is more sensible than ever.


TECH SPECS

Format: HDV 1080i

Number and Type of Sensors: 1 1/3″ CMOS (2.103 megapixels)

Lens

Interchangeable Lenses: no

F-Stop: f/1.8

Optical Zoom: 10x

Focal Length: 5.1-51mm

Filter Diameter: 30mm

Focus: auto, manual (touch screen)

Iris/Gain Control: auto

Shutter Speed: auto

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/500

Minimum Shutter Speed: 1/20

Image Stabilization: electronic

Internal ND Filter: no

Video Features

Program Exposure Modes: 5

White Balance: auto, manual, presets

Zebra Stripes: yes

Viewfinder: color

LCD Monitor: 2.7″ (16:9)

SD Progressive Scan Modes: no

Analog Video In: no

Analog Video Out: composite, S-Video (with optional connector), component

Digital Video Connections: FireWire I/O, HDMI out

Analog to DV Conversion: no

Color Bar Generator: no

Audio Features

Audio Modes: stereo

Mic Input: no

VU Meters: no

Level Controls: no

Headphone Jack: no

Speaker: yes

Wireless Remote: yes

External Battery Charger Provided: no

Form Factor: standard

Tape Loading Configuration: top

Onboard Video Light: no

Accessory Shoe: yes, proprietary

STRENGTHS

  • Portability
  • HDMI output
  • DV/ HDV switchable

WEAKNESSES

  • Audio inputs
  • Scroll Wheel

SUMMARY

Sony’s HC3 is stuffed with features and pixels, but may need accessories to complete your shoot.

Andrew Burke has worked in video production on four continents and is currently working on documentaries in South America.

$2,000

Sony Electronics, Inc.

16765 W. Bernardo Dr.

San Diego, CA 92127

www.sonystyle.com

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