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Sony squeezes hi-def into travel-friendly package

Sony squeezes hi-def into travel-friendly package

When Sony released its HDR-TG1 camcorder here in May, it claimed the crown of ‘lightest and most compact’ high definition camcorder available.

The camcorder is still among the lightest when it’s stacked up against rivals available locally – Panasonic’s HDC-SD9 seems to be the only model that beats the Sony weight-wise, with the Panasonic weighing 275 g, which is 25 g less than the HDR-TG1’s 300 g.

Other ultra-compact HD handycams are JVC’s Everio GZ-HD6 at 590 g with dimensions of 79 x 73 x 138 mm, and Canon’s HF10 at 73 x 64 x 129 mm, and 430 g.

The difference with Sony’s offering is the upright form factor. Sony says that makes it pocket size, and while it definitely won’t fit into your trouser pocket, it would sit comfortably zipped into your backpack.

If you laid the HDR-TG1 down, there wouldn’t be much in it length-wise against Panasonic’s HDC-SD9, with the Sony camcorder coming in at 119 mm high, compared to the Panasonic’s 126 mm horizontal form.

It’s easy to start shooting video on Sony’s unit once the camcorder is charged using the supplied Handycam station, which connects to mains power and to your PC via USB.

After you have flipped out the 67 mm LCD touchscreen and taken hold of the base, your thumb is within easy reach of the zoom dial, start/stop, still photo and easy-mode buttons.

You have to use the LCD screen as the viewfinder as there is no eyepiece, while the touchscreen buttons are small and it can be fiddly to get your menu selections right.

Although vendors are competing to make handycams as convenient in size as their digital still camera counterparts, the quality you experience when you sit down to watch your footage is of course a key consideration over size.

Recordings on the HDR-TG1 are made in AVCHD format, with full 1080i output (1920 x 1080 resolution). The Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar lens offers 10x optical zoom, with a lens aperture of F1.8-2.3.

There are a number of manual settings, but using the autofocus always brought speedy picture clarity for movie capture, particularly with fast-moving subjects.

Picture quality was better when the camcorder was used in outdoor light or fully-lit indoor areas, whereas noise showed up in low-light conditions.

The built-in face detection technology was effective for true to life reproduction of skin tone. It can detect up to eight faces per shot and automatically alter the focus, colour and exposure to suit.

There were no problems with still image quality – these can be taken at up to 4 MB (2304 x 1728) resolution.

There are also burst record and slideshow features, while still and moving images can be captured simultaneously.

Audio is Dolby 5.1 channel, with a built-in microphone and speaker, but there’s no external microphone jack.

The device shipped with a 4 GB Memory Stick Pro Duo card, so users who want to use other formats will have to look for other models. At default resolution the card should net about 60 minutes of recording time. Sony says a 16 GB Memory Stick allows nearly two hours’ recording and up to 7700 still images at 4 MP size.

You can get more from the lower capacity card though, by using reduced quality settings including AVCHD 1440 x 1080 and MPEG2.

Basic editing and comprehensive indexing features are available on the unit, however Sony’s Picture Motion Browser software and an AVCHD player for PC are bundled. Potential buyers have to consider the extra cost of full software and a high-performing PC required for editing AVCHD footage, along with a high-def player other than the PC.

There are plenty of connectivity options other than USB, including S-video and component video, along with an HDMI port.

To store your files, there’s a button on the Handycam station for burning AVCHD disks or DVDs, while the Easy PC backup software will automatically creates a copy of new videos on your PC.

Sony claims up to 100 minutes’ of camcorder use from the supplied battery, although this was closer to an hour or less on one charge, depending on LCD usage.

The unit is stylish looking in maroon and silver, and users will be happy with the toughness of the titanium body and the scratch-resistant coating.

The HDR-TG1 is well priced for the feature set at $1699.


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