VIDEO CAMERA 1993

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

COLOURFUL EYE OPENER

 

INTRO

Take a TR303, swap the monochrome viewfinder for a colour LCD one,  add 100 to the price and what have you got? The Sony TR-333,  but there's more to this one than first meets the eye...

 

COPY

Regular readers may  be aware that we're not terribly enthusiastic about colour viewfinders on camcorders. At best we regard them as a fairly harmless cosmetic feature. At worst they can make a camcorder more difficult to use, but this is the real world, and market research conducted by several camcorder manufacturers,  and their sales figures, clearly suggest that there is a demand for them, so who are we to argue? 

 

Sony obviously know which way the wind is blowing, so it comes as no surprise whatsoever to find that they've taken one of their most popular palmcorders, the TR303, tacked on an LCD colour viewfinder, added 100 to the price, and called it the TR333. If you're feeling a sense of deja-vu that's because they did a similar thing to the TR305 last year, turning it into the TR505. This story might have ended right here had we not decided to take a closer look at the TR333, and discovered some notable differences between this machine and its immediate predecessors. We'll get to that in a moment but first it's worth spending a few moments recapping this machine's other important features.

 

It has a functional specification, as befits a machine that started life as a budget-orientated Sony palmcorder. There's a  2-speed 10x zoom lens, 4-mode program auto-exposure system, mono audio system, IR remote control, world-time clock, built-in lens cover and a Control L socket so it can be used as a source deck with automated edit controllers. The AE system has settings for portrait mode (shallow depth of field), sports mode (shutter speed varies between 1/50th and 1/500th sec), high-speed shutter mode (fixed shutter speed of 1/4,000 th sec), and twilight mode (increases low-light sensitivity). There is no manual shutter control  but it does have a 2-mode fader (fade to/from black or digital mosaic), so there's still some scope for those with a creative bent. The inner focus lens has a manual override and this is controlled from a shall thumbwheel below the lens barrel, that's far from ideal but it's a whole lot better than a pair of buttons, or no manual focus at all...

 

It's fairly chunky for a sub-compact but it handles well and is very easy to use. Not surprisingly the colour viewfinder makes accurate manual focusing unnecessarily difficult, especially in low light. In fact the LCD element used on the TR333 has 103,000 pixels, which makes it one of the better ones, but more about that later on.  One other novelty worth mentioning, this machine comes with Sony's latest compact mains charger/AC adaptor which clips onto the back of the machine, in place of the battery, when it's being powered from the mains. It's an excellent idea but we would have liked to have seen a slightly longer mains lead. It's also about time Sony started fitting dischargers or refresh circuits to their chargers!

 

PERFORMANCE

Far from being a re-run of the 303 the 333 provided one or two surprises when it came to our performance evaluation tests. The first was the marked improvement in white balance accuracy. This was one of the very few machines we can remember that produced natural -looking colours under fluorescent light, without any need for manual intervention. That's just as well because  there is no manual override! The next surprise was the almost complete absence of colour bleed. Sony would probably be the first to admit that it has been a problem on some previous models but they've obviously got it licked now. Thirdly noise levels are well below average and colours, even brightly saturated ones, look unusually clean. There is no apparent improvement in horizontal resolution, and our sample, like the TR303 before it managed to resolve a little above 230 lines, but the picture did look appreciably crisper, due, we suspect  to lower noise levels and improved colour registration.

 

The picture produced by the LCD colour viewfinder on this machine is sharper than most but it is still found wanting when it comes to manual focusing as it simply cannot resolve fine detail. Fortunately the 333's excellent WB system can take care of itself, it would be unwise to rely on the viewfinder to make any colour assessment, it seemed to have trouble with reds and greens which tended to look a little muddy. That said, we're prepared to say that this one is a distinct improvement over what has gone before and if you have convinced yourself that you can't live without a colour viewfinder then this one is worth short listing;  that's as near a compliment as we're likely to get...

 

The program AE system is reasonably efficient, provided there's sufficient light; the twilight mode is simply another name for gain-up, it works well enough, though at the expense of increased picture noise.

 

The mono FM soundtrack is fine, and the mike strikes a fair balance between directionality and sensitivity,  in any case the external mic socket is always on hand for difficult situations.

 

VERDICT

Not even Sony could make us change our minds about LCD colour viewfinders; in our opinion they're an expensive and unnecessary extra for most video movie-makers, but for once there would seem to be some additional merit in the TR.333, as opposed to the TR303, if our performance tests are anything to go by. Mind you, if we had 800 to spend on a camcorder Sony and the others have plenty of other more interesting models in their ranges.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                   SONY CCD-TR333

Recording format           8mm

Guide price                     800

 

OPTICS

Lens                               f1.6, 6.2-62mm

Zoom                              10x  2-speed

Filter diameter               37mm  

Pick-up device               0.3in CCD (290k pixels)

Min. illum. (lux)             2

 

VIDEO DECK

Tape speed (mm/sec)     20.051(SP), 10.026(LP)

Max. rec. time                120 mins (LP mode)

Remote control               full function IR and Control L 

Main facilities                 auto/manual focus, 4-mode program auto exposure, auto white balance, 2-mode fader (black or mosaic),  world time/date recording, edit search, built-in lens cover 

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.6in LCD colour (103k)

Viewfinder info.               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, zoom position, AE mode, dew, head clog

 

AUDIO

System                            mono FM

Microphone                    unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Sockets                           audio and video output (phono), external mic and Control L (minijack

Size (mm)                        109 x 109 x 197

Weight                            1kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries, (nicad, lithium and alkaline), straps, AC charger/power supply, RF converter, remote handset

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                     >230-lines

Colour fidelity                very good

Picture stability              average

Colour bleed                   none

White balance                 very good

Exposure                        good

Autofocus                       average

Audio performance        average

Insert edit                      manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor   N/A

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money         7

Ease of use                 8

Performance               8

Features                      7

 

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(c) R Maybury 1993 1003

 

 

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