Sony Digital8 Camcorder

In 1999 when Sony introduced the Digital8 format, video hobbyists and critics alike were impressed with its ability to record a high-quality digital image onto a normal 8mm or Hi8 tape. The bar has been raised in the Sony Digital8 camcorder format with the DCR-TRV820, the gem of their Digital8 camcorders. This baby not only captures still images and stores them on its tiny Memory Stick, but it also prints them. That's right. You could never tell by just looking at it, but there's a color printer built right into its compact body. The TRV820 prints business card-size color images of still images and frames of video.

As amazing as that is, this camcorder isn't for everybody. While it does have some manual control over focus and exposure and both external microphone and headphone jacks, it doesn't have manual white balance, an important feature for intermediate and advanced shooters.

That said, if you've been shooting on 8mm or Hi8 tape and you want a digital solution that's compatible with your 8mm tapes, or you like the idea of printing images without using the computer as a middle man, read on, the TRV820 could be just what you're looking for.

Nuts and Bolts

About the size of a regular Hi8 camcorder, this Sony Digital8 camcorder is well balanced and fits snugly in one hand. It sports a large 4-inch flip-out color LCD viewscreen, with brightness control and a small speaker with adjustable volume control. The large viewscreen makes monitoring your shots or reviewing your footage comfortable. The TRV820 also has a color eyepiece that you can use for more precision or to save battery.

The TRV820 also features a 25:1 optical zoom and 450:1 digital zoom that relies on a 1/4-inch CCD with 460,000 pixels to deliver a decent digital image. The zoom lever sits on top of the camcorder behind the VTR transport buttons and is controlled using your index finger.

Most of the essential control buttons like manual focus, program mode and exposure are conveniently located right on the body of the camcorder. This makes it easy to make adjustments while shooting. Perhaps the most important of these controls is the focus button. Located toward the front of the camcorder, you can easily switch between manual and automatic settings. You can then adjust the focus by turning the easy-to-grasp focus ring, located on the front of the lens where it should be. Although not a true mechanical optical focus (you are actuating servo-motors that move the lens) the focus ring is a nice addition and makes the TRV820 intuitive to use with a natural feel. The automatic focus worked well and adjusted quickly when we zoomed and panned simultaneously.

We were pleased that Sony didn't skimp on the TRV820's ports and jacks. Besides the analog, S-video and FireWire in and outs, Sony also included both an external microphone port and a headphone jack so hobbyists can capture better sound and monitor audio through a set of headphones.

In-camera Tricks

The TRV820 Sony Digital8 camcorder has its share of digital effects and transitions for simple in-camera editing. There are several Fade options – black, bounce and wipe to name a few – which allow you to fade in and out of shots. To activate the Fade function we simply pressed the Fade button located on the back of the camcorder and then pressed Record. When we wanted to fade out, after shooting a series of shots, we had to press the Fade button again, which of course, caused us to jiggle our shot. We recommend adding fades in the editing process. If you're into the digital effect scene, then you'll enjoy the standard image effects like negative, sepia and slim and stretch among others.

The program mode and exposure buttons are conveniently located near the back of the camcorder so you can easily choose the setting you want, even in mid-shot. Though the white balance is fully automatic, it worked well in our tests. There were a couple of times while shooting inside that we found the colors to be a little off. Of course, we would have liked to have been able to adjust it manually. While we're on program modes, it is noteworthy that the TRV820 Sony Digital8 camcorder saves your settings when you power down, which means we didn't have to reset each time we powered up the camcorder.


Stills, Storage and Prints

In addition to capturing fine digital video, the TRV820 can also snap digital still images and save them as JPEG images on the Sony 4MB Memory Stick. This Band-Aid size storage device can hold about 40 digital still images in fine mode. There are a number of fancy things you can do in the Memory Stick setting, like superimpose a still image over video, rapid fire capture that takes nine continuous shots and copy still images from tape to the Memory Stick. Once your still images are on the Memory Stick, you can quickly and easily print your favorites.

The built-in printer is what sets this baby apart. We have to hand it to Sony on this one, it's pretty cool. You just insert the special printing paper that's included and press print. Two minutes later you've got yourself a photo. The TRV820 can print a still image from video, a still from the Memory Stick and it can even print a still from a VCR or television that's properly connected. Pretty cool. The color prints are about the size of a business card and have a resolution of 254 dpi (dots per inch).

It takes just over two minutes to print one image. This is a great feature for video hobbyists who want to augment their video with some precious wallet-sized stills without hassling with a computer. If you can live without the printing function, take a look at the TRV 720. For $200 less, it is the exact same camcorder minus the print feature.

In the End

The TRV 820 Sony Digital8 camcorder produced high quality digital images – images on par with any DV camcorder at this price – and worked exceptionally well in our tests. Though it lacks a manual white balance setting, it has everything else a serious hobbyist could want.

Tech Specs

  • Format: Digital8
  • Lens: 25:1 optical zoom, 450:1 digital zoom, f=3.7-92.5mm, 37mm filter diameter
  • Image Sensor: 1/4-inch CCD, 460,000 pixels
  • Viewfinder: 4-inch color LCD viewscreen, color viewfinder
  • Focus: Manual, Auto
  • Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/4,000
  • Exposure: Manual, Auto
  • White Balance: Auto
  • Image Stabilization: SteadyShot™ (Electronic Image Stabilization)
  • Digital Effects: Negative, Sepia, B&W, Solarize, Slim & Stretch, Pastel, Mosaic, Still, Flash Motion, Luminance Key, Trail, Slow Shutter, Old Movie
  • Audio: 12-bit or 16-bit stereo recording
  • Inputs: FireWire (IEEE 1394), Composite A/V jack, S-video, External microphone
  • Outputs: FireWire (IEEE 1394), Composite A/V jack, S-video, Headphone
  • Edit Controller: LANC
  • Other Features: Electronic image stabilization, Built-in speaker, Still image capture, Memory stick, Serial port adapter, hot shoe adapter, NightShot™ infrared system
  • Dimensions: 4 1/2 (width) x 4 7/8 (height) x 8 5/8 (depth) inches
  • Weight: (sans tape and battery) 2lb. 13oz

Performance Times

  • Pause to Record: 1.4 seconds
  • Power-up to Record: 6.5 seconds
  • Fast-forward/Rewind (30 min. tape): 2 minutes 50 seconds

Strengths

  • Printer
  • Excellent image quality
  • Digital Still capture w/ memory stick
  • Analog and FireWire I/O

Weaknesses

  • No manual white balance

Summary

The TRV820 is the Cadillac of Digital8 camcorders, designed for the beginner to intermediate video hobbyist. With still image capture to memory stick and its built-in color printer the TRV820 is an excellent DV value.

$1,399
Sony Electronics
1 Sony Drive
Park Ridge, NJ 07656
(800) 222-SONY
www.sel.sony.com

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