Sony Camera and Camcorder Review

Perhaps the most exciting product announcement of 1999 so far, has been Sony’s new Digital8 format. Promising the picture quality and i.LINK transferability of the Mini DV format, combined with the general availability of 8mm and Hi8 tapes, Digital8 could be the digital video format of the consumer future. One of Sony’s initial Digital8 offerings is the DCR-TRV510, a full-featured camcorder for experienced videographers.

Taking 8mm Digital

Before we look at the DCR-TRV510 in depth, we’ll address a couple of basic questions about this new format. Digital8 uses a new way to write information on an older tape format. With nearly the same resolution ability as Mini DV (our test showed that the DCR-TRV510 Digital8 gets approximately 380 horizontal lines of resolution, versus 400 for most Mini DV camcorders and 300 for Hi8s), Sony poised Digital8 as an easy upgrade choice for current 8mm and Hi8 owners looking to go digital.

Originally, we thought you could take a tape recorded on an older analog 8mm or Hi8 camcorder and digitize the footage through the i.LINK (FireWire) port of the camcorder to an i.LINK-equipped computer. After initial testing however, we found this to not be quite the case. While the Digital8 camcorders will play tapes originally shot on 8mm or Hi8 camcorders, they remain in the analog format and can’t be digitized through the i.LINK port. To use the i.LINK port of the Digital8 camcorders, you have to dub your original Hi8/8mm footage into the Digital8 format, which seems like a fairly uninventive solution to the problem. An exception to this rule is when you use a Sony Digital8 camcorder with a Sony VAIO Digital Studio computer. When you use the DVgate Motion capture utility on a VAIO, you can make it capture analog video through the i.LINK port by making a couple adjustments through a pull down menu that puts it into a manual capture mode. This manual capture mode will write time code along with the video information, and it gives you the ability to capture footage shot on an 8mm or Hi8 camcorder through the Digital8 camcorder.

The TRV510 in Action

The DCR-TRV510 is a solidly built camcorder that most camcorder users will love to operate. It has a manual focus ring around the lens, which is a feature that’s unfortunately left off of most consumer camcorders. The TRV-510 also sports a 20:1 optical zoom, and a near-ridiculous 360:1 digital zoom. Why anyone would want to digitally magnify a subject 360 times escapes logic, but if zooming into a single pixel is your gig, the TRV-510 will take you there.

The DCR-TRV510 uses Sony’s SteadyShot image stabilization system. Like other Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) systems, SteadyShot doesn’t use all of the pixels on the CCD. It saves an outside portion to compensate for unintended camera movement (see "Image Stabilization: High-tech Help for Shakey Shots" in the November 1998 Videomaker for more information on EIS). However, Sony packs extra pixels onto their CCDs, so the loss of image quality that is noticeable on some other EIS systems isn’t apparent on the DCR-TRV510.

Another nice feature on the DCR-TRV510 is the intelligent accessory shoe. This mount, located on top of the camcorder, allows you to attach a variety of Sony accessories. The shoe provides power and synchronizes the on/off function of accessories such as the video light. In addition, it can also provide more "intelligent" responses, such as changing the pickup pattern of the Sony "Zoom" microphone to match the zoom on the camcorder.

The DCR-TRV510 also has an edit search feature that allows you to rewind and forward the tape while in camera mode. It’s not anything too important, just one of the little features that saves you time in the long run.

It’s a Still Shooter too

In addition to its video capabilities, the TRV510 also doubles as a digital still camera. It has a 2MB flash memory chip that holds 20 higher-quality JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) images or 33 standard-quality JPEGs. The DCR-TRV510 also has a digital I/O port. This port allows you to send JPEGs to your Mac or Windows PC through the serial port (you’ll want to make sure you use a PS/2 or USB mouse to use this feature, or else your mouse will be plugged into your serial port). Another nice bonus: Sony includes a copy of its PictureGear Lite software to help you get your stills onto the computer. You can also use the photo mode to take stills from the video footage that you’ve already shot.


The Final Verdict

If you’re looking for an answer to the Digital8 versus Mini DV question, it’s still far too early to reach a solid conclusion. Mini DV is already firmly in place as the digital video format standard, but with Digital8, there’s a good chance that you’ve already got a bunch of tape that you can use. With the availability of 8mm and Hi8 tapes, you don’t have to mail order tape stock (something Mini DV users in remote areas are stuck doing).

As far as camcorders go though, the DCR-TRV510 is a solid camcorder. With a manual focus ring, the necessary audio ports, i.LINK, SteadyShot, NightShot and the rest of the features, this camcorder is packed with the power that more advanced Videomaker readers look for. With the exception of the lack of manual white balance, this camcorder has all the features you need.

TECH SPECS

Format: Digital8
Lens: 20:1 optical zoom, 360:1 digital zoom, 3.6-72mm focal length, f/1.4-2.9, 37mm filter diameter
Image Sensor: 1/4-inch CCD, 460,000 pixels
Viewfinder: 4-inch LCD monitor, color viewfinder
Focus: auto, manual
Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/4000 of a second
Exposure manual: , auto, 7AE modes
White Balance: auto
Digital Effects: Still, Flash Motion, Luminance Key, Slow Shutter, Trail, Old Movie, Slim, Stretch, Mosaic, Solarization, Monotone, Sepia, Neg. Art, Pastel
Audio: PCM stereo 12- or 16-bit
Inputs: S-video, composite video, composite audio, i.LINK, mini mike, digital mini plug(for still photos), LANC
Outputs: S-video, composite video, composite audio, i.LINK, headphone, digital mini plug (for still photos), LANC
Edit Interface: Control-L
Other Features : NightShot, LaserLink, InfoLithium Battery, Serial Cable for still photo transfer
Dimensions: 4 3/8 (width) x 4 5/8 (height) x 8 1/8 (depth) inches
Weight: (sans tape and battery) 2 pounds, 3 ounces

Video Performance (approx.)
Horizontal resolution: (camera) 380 lines
Horizontal resolution: (playback) 380 lines

Performance Times
Pause to Record: 0.5 seconds
Power-up to Record: 7 seconds
Fast-forward/Rewind: (60 min. tape) 7 minutes 27 seconds

Strengths

  • mike and headphone jacks
  • i.LINK
  • manual focus ring
  • tapes easy-to-find and inexpensive

Weaknesses

  • difficult i.LINK transfers for older 8mm and Hi8 tapes
  • too much digital zoom
  • no manual white balance

SUMMARY

The DCR-TRV510 is a great camcorder, paving the way for more Digital8 camcorders.


Sony Electronics

Sony Drive

Park Ridge, NJ 07656-8003

(888) 531-SONY

www.sel.sony.com

$1399

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