Sony DCR-TRV950 Mini DV Camcorder Review

$2,600

Sony Electronics Inc.

1 Sony Drive

Park Ridge, NJ 07656

(201) 930-6972

www.sel.sony.com

The Sony DCR-TRV900, released in 1998, is an undisputed classic in the world of serious consumer Mini DV camcorders. We were understandably excited when Sony announced, and then sent us the new TRV950. Facing more competition than the $4,000 TRV900 had back in ’98, the TRV950 is a solid 3-CCD camera with professional features at a better price. If you have outgrown your first DV camcorder and are ready to go pro (or at least get serious about your hobby), the TRV950 is worth a look. The first thing we noticed about the TRV950 was its physical presence – it’s a brick. It isn’t heavy; it just feels very solid.

Sound Matters

The on-camera mike is just under the lens and while it did pick up a small amount of tape-motor noise in an absolutely quiet room (especially when the sound reflected off a nearby wall), zoom and focus motors were perfectly silent. The big news is that the automatic gain control (AGC) can be disabled (from a menu) and the audio level (both channels together) can be set manually with the push of a button. The simple audio meter with clipping indicator on the LCD and in the viewfinder allowed us to objectively monitor sound. The TRV950, like most Sony camcorders, defaults to 12-bit (32Khz, 4-channel) audio in order to enable audio dubbing, which few people in the United States use. Our opinion is that it would be much better to have the higher quality 16-bit (48Khz) audio as the default on all DV camcorders.

Automagical Manual Madness

You can access almost all TRV950 features without navigating on-screen menus, including setting the level of the zebra stripes (for exposure – OFF, 70 or 100 IRE), color bars and audio levels. The only manual feature we missed seeing on this camcorder was an explicit iris/aperture control allowing us to adjust f-stop by number. Instead, an Exposure control with a simple slider (+/-) adjusts the overall exposure, but does not give you specific feedback on the iris diameter (e.g. f/11).

Not only does the TRV950 give the artist access to an array of manual options, the automatic features on this camcorder truly are outstanding. In Auto mode, we were able to shoot in bright sunlight, move into the shade and continue on indoors into fluorescent lighting, and the camera continuously adjusted the exposure and color balance quickly and flawlessly. The picture quality remained startlingly sharp and clear. In our tests the Program AE modes worked very well, indeed.

We really enjoyed the semi-automatic Flexible Spot Meter, which allowed us to press a finger (or provided stylus) on the LCD touch-screen at the location where we wanted proper exposure. We positioned an indoor subject against a bright window to create a classic backlit situation (the subject’s face is underexposed) and by merely touching the subject’s face (on the LCD screen, of course), the camera immediately adjusted the exposure.

Likewise, we loved the Spot Focus feature, which allowed us to point to objects on the LCD and accurately adjust the focus accordingly. When we used a light touch on the LCD, we could perform a very nice simulated rack focus (e.g. focus on a woman across the room reading a book and then snap-focus to an extreme foreground telephone ringing) that would have been very difficult to pull off with the manual-electronic focus ring on any other DV camera. Taken together, these automatic assists really give the intermediate videographer access to important manual features with a minimum of effort.

Bluetooth

We aren’t going to talk at length here about the Bluetooth networking features in this review, since we examined this technology in detail in our July 2002 review of the Sony PC120BT. In summary, Bluetooth is the hottest new networking technology that allows you to wirelessly upload still images and highly compressed MPEG video to the Web or by e-mail, provided you have a $10-per-month account and are within range of a Bluetooth network. Since that review, many more devices are now available, including PDAs, cell phones and printers, so this may turn out to be more than just a techno-fad. On the TRV950, the large 3.5-inch LCD (about 600×400) and included stylus made Web browsing and e-mail quite usable, certainly no harder than the PDAs we’ve tried. If you don’t need, can’t use, or don’t want to pay for wireless networking, you might consider Sony’s TRV940, which is the same camera without Bluetooth. The TRV940 may or may not be available from Sony-authorized dealers in the United States at some point in the future.

Another interesting networking feature of the TRV950 is the ability to send (stream) video and sound over a USB connection to a computer and around the world live via the Internet. With the appropriate software (e.g. Microsoft NetMeeting), you can use the TRV950 as a WebCam, albeit an extremely high-quality one.

Picture Perfect

The TRV950 is a worthy heir to the TRV900 at a price that would have been unimaginable four years ago. The automatic imaging features on this camera are second to none and yielded stunningly clear and sharp video in our tests, even matching the professional Sony PD150. We liked using the giant LCD touchscreen for manual adjustments. There were some great little extras that made shooting a joy, such as a guide frame that lets you line up subjects using the Rule of Thirds, a pop-up flash for still images, interval recording for time-lapses and the convenient LCD battery-charge and time-code indicator on the outside of the camera. The TRV950 is an excellent camcorder that will give the serious hobbyist or professional superior imaging quality with a minimum of trouble.

TECH SPECS

Format: Mini DV

Lens: 12:1 optical zoom, fl=3.6 to 43.2mm, f/1.6-2.8, 37mm filter

Sony Video Lens

Image Sensors: 690,000 pixels video;

1 million pixels still

Image Stabilization: optical

Viewfinder: .44-inch color (180,000 pixels)

LCD Viewscreen: 3.5-inch color (246,400 pixels)

Focus: auto, manual, Spot Focus

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/10,000 sec.

Exposure Control: auto, manual, Flexible Spot Meter

Iris Control: auto

White Balance: auto, manual

Inputs: i.LINK (IEEE 1394), S-video,

composite, RCA audio, 1/8″ mini

Outputs: i.LINK (IEEE 1394), S-video,

composite, RCA audio, USB, headphone

Edit interface: LANC, i.LINK (IEEE 1394)

Other features: 8MB Memory Stick, 1,152×864 stills, pop-up flash, touch panel

Dimensions: 3 3/4 (w) x 4 (h) x 8 (d) inches

Weight (sans tape and battery): 2 lb. 2 oz.

Performance Times

Pause to Record: 0.41 sec.

Power-up to Record: 4.37 sec.

Fast-forward/Rewind (60-min. tape): 2 min. 30 sec.

Tested Horizontal Resolution: +530 lines

STRENGTHS

  • Crystal-clear video
  • One-touch manual controls

  • Automatic features

    WEAKNESSES

  • Default audio set to 12-bit

    SUMMARY

  • A solid camcorder that produces stunningly sharp video.
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