VIDEO CAMERA 1993

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STEADY AS YOU GO...

 

INTRO

Optical image stabilisation makes its second appearance this month on an 8mm camcorder. This time it's the turn of the Sony TR-606 Handycam, a machine for the nineties, or should that be the over-nineties?...

 

COPY

Image stabilisers are becoming an increasingly common fitment on mid-market and top-of -the range camcorders, taking over from program auto-exposure and digital effects as the flavour-of-the-month feature. Sony's involvement in this trend can at best be described as sporadic. Their first machine to feature a stabiliser was the TR805, a classy Hi8 palmcorder launched way back in the Autumn of 1992. It used an ingenious system called Steady Shot, which was developed in collaboration with Canon.

 

Unlike purely electronic stabiliser systems, Steady Shot uses optical techniques to reduce camera shake, so there is no reduction in picture quality. Over a year and almost a dozen camcorders later they've finally got around to their second Steady Shot machine, the TR606, an 8mm palmcorder which arrives in the shops this month, selling for a hefty 1100.

 

The price is significant; the 606 costs as much as the 805 when it was launched in 1992. In the last couple of months the 805 has been quietly 're-positioned' and it now costs the better part of 1,300; you have our permission to kick yourself if it was on your shopping list but we have warned you about price increases following last year's currency fluctuations, and as far as we can see it's not going to get any better!

 

The 606 has a conventional 8mm video recording system, stereo sound and four-mode program auto-exposure, and apart from Steady Shot, hardly any embellishments, unless you count the dual-mode fader which goes to or from black, or a mosaic pattern. The AE system is a fairly routine affair with settings for portrait, sports, high-speed shutter and twilight; these are selected sequentially via a button concealed behind a sliding cover on the left side of the machine. For the record the shutter speed varies between 1/50th and 1/2000th second in the portrait mode; 1/50th to 1/500th in sports mode, and it is fixed to 1/4000th and 1/50th sec. respectively in the high-speed shutter and twilight modes.

 

The dominant feature is undoubtedly the big Steady Shot lens; it's protected by a sliding cover which is opened and closed by the main operating switch, on the side of the machine. The lens has a 52mm thread, which might cause problems, or at least limit the choice for anyone who wants to use an adaptor lens with this machine. Behind the Steady Shot's 'variangle prism' (a sandwich made up of two glass plates enclosing a flexible sac filled with a transparent gel), there's an inner-focus lens which can be manually adjusted from a small (very small...) thumbwheel just below the LCD panel, on the right side of the machine.

 

The 606, like all Sony camcorders (record-only machines excepted) has a Control L terminal, so it can be used in conjunction with an edit controller. Sony clearly do not think 606 owners will be overly interested in this feature as it is dismissed in a seven line caption on the page identifying the rest of the machine's plugs and sockets. 

 

The small number of controls reflects the 606's relatively modest line-up of features; secondary functions, such as recording mode, enabling the remote control, switching the beeper on or off, wind noise filter or selecting an audio channel, are controlled from a simple menu-display which appears in the viewfinder. The transport controls are all located under a hinged flap on the top panel; altogether a very unthreatening sort of camcorder.

 

Design and build quality are unmistakably Sony, it has a reassuringly solid feel about it, apart from the viewfinder eyepiece, which on our sample wouldn't easily lock into the shooting position. It either collapsed back to the stowage position at the slightest bump, or detached from the viewfinder module. The supplied IR remote handset is on the chunky side, a distinct contrast to tiny credit-card sized remotes we've become used to lately. It's just a thought, and without wishing to sound ageist, could the larger than normal remote handset, fewer buttons and facilities, and the Steady Shot stabiliser mean the 606 is being discreetly targeted at older users, dare we say senior citizens?

 

PERFORMANCE

Picture quality is a little above average; horizontal resolution on our sample just about reached 240 lines. Noise and grain were all within acceptable limits and colour accuracy, despite having an auto-only white balance system, is reasonable. The WB system stumbles a little when shooting under tube light, there's a distinct colour cast, but in daylight, or even mixed day/artificial light, its hard to fault. The program AE system isn't terribly inspiring, it works adequately well, but backlight compensation, say,  would be more useful than sports or high-speed shutter modes. In any case they only reduce blur on playback when the recording is copied to VHS, or replayed on an 8mm (or VHS)  VCR equipped with stable still and slomo facilities.

 

Steady Shot works well, cancelling out small, steady movements. It's not quite as fast-acting as some of the wholly electronic systems but it does seem able to cope with a greater degree of movement. Although it doesn't affect picture quality it does have a marked impact on power consumption and the instruction book rightly suggests that it should be turned off if not needed. 

 

The 606's stereo audio system works well, and the side-facing mikes actually help to create something approaching a stereo image. The microphones pick up their fair share of handling noises but it has an external microphone socket, and headphone monitor facility, for those who want to take full advantage of the system.

 

VERDICT

There's nothing wrong with the 606, it works well, Steady Shot is effective, and it is very easy to use, but if we were spending eleven hundred pounds on a camcorder we'd want to see a bit more for our money. That is, of course, unless we had a stability problem of our own, in which case the extra cost of an image stabiliser might be justified.

 

THE RIVALS

If an optical image stabiliser is your main priority the Canon E700 is 100 cheaper, but you will have to say good-bye to stereo sound, and the undoubted kudos of a Sony TR machine. Several other camcorders in the 1000-plus price bracket also have image stabilisation and compared with the 606 the Panasonic NV-S7 looks like a very good deal indeed, because in addition to stereo sound it has a high-band (S-VHS-C) recording facility. If you can live without the stabiliser then you can do a lot better, when it comes to creative facilities and gadgets and Sony's FX700 would be high on our list of alternatives.

 

SIDEBAR 1 -- IMAGE STABILISATION

We're still not totally convinced about the need for image stabilisation. User-induced camera shake is known to be a problem on ultra-lightweight machines, weighing substantially less than 1kg, which are not heavy enough to damp out involuntary muscle movement. The irony is that most stabiliser systems -- Steady Shot in particular -- carry with them a significant weight penalty, which more often than not takes the machine over one kilogram. To be fair they do have their uses, though, and the one we have found most effective is when shooting from a slow-moving car, though none of the systems we've tried, -- and we've used them all --  can cope with very fast bumps or sudden undulations in the road surface.

 

There's no doubt image stabilisers, especially systems like Steady Shot, which do not impose any performance penalties, may be of benefit to people who, for whatever reason, have problems holding a camcorder steady for any length of time. However, anyone reasonably in control of their hands and arms would do better save their money and buy a tripod instead, or take the usual precautions to avoid camera shake, by leaning against a wall or stable object. We hesitate to say it but there's a real danger that image stabilisers could become the electronic equivalent of the Zimmer frame! What next, big viewfinders for the visually impaired? Hmm, maybe they're here already....

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                       SONY CCD-TR606  

Recording format           8mm

Guide price                     1100

 

OPTICS

Lens                               f1.6, 6.1-61mm

Zoom                              x10

Filter diameter               52mm  

Pick-up device                0.3in CCD (320k pixel)

Min. illum. (lux)             2

 

VIDEO DECK

Long Play (LP)                          yes

Max. rec. time                                          240mins (LP mode)

IR remote control ?                                    yes

Edit terminal?                                              yes Control L

           

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto Focus?                              yes

Manual focus?               yes

Auto exposure?             yes      

Manual iris?                               no

Programmed AE?                  yes (4-mode)  

Auto white balance                          yes

Manual white balance?            no

Power zoom                              yes      

Manual zoom?               no

Backlight compensation            no

Insert edit?                                no

Audio Dub?                               no

Character generator?            no        

Digital Superimposer?            no

Image stabiliser?                     yes, optical

Video light?                               no        

Battery refresh?                            no

Accessory shoe?               no

Record review                yes      

Fader?                          yes black/mosaic

Digital effects                             yes (see above)       

Digital zoom?                            no

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, record review, tally lamp

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.6in monochrome

Sportsfinder eyepiece?   no

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

 

AUDIO

Stereo?                                       yes

Audio dub?                                no

Wind noise filter?                yes

Mic socket?                              yes

Headphone socket?             yes

Microphone                                      single-point stereo

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                  video and audio out (phono), ext. mic., headphones (minijack), Control L (sub-min jack),

Size (mm)                               109 x 109 x 197

Weight                                   1.14kg (inc. tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

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

 

video light?                    no        

remote control?            yes

cassette adaptor?            N/A      

RF Converter?             yes

SCART adaptor?            yes      

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                    240-lines

Colour fidelity              good

Picture stability            good

Colour bleed                 slight

White balance               average

Exposure                       average

Autofocus                      good

Audio performance       good

Insert edit                      manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor  N/A

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money          6

Ease of use                  9

Performance                8

Features                      7

 

---end---

(c) R Maybury 1993 0211

 

 

 

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