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A recent round of price reductions has brought the cost of the Sony CCD-TR350 down to £550, making it their cheapest ever palmcorder



Just when we were beginning to mellow towards the idea of a camcorder without a manual focus control Sony go and spoil it all with the CCD-TR350. This otherwise excellent little machine has a lot going for it, not least the fact that it now costs just £550, a reduction of £100 from itís launch price, announced back in May. Incidentally, a version with LCD colour viewfinder (CCD-TR450) will is also available for £600. Build quality is excellent, it feels very solid, and the features list -- barring one disastrous omission -- is adequate for a budget-priced family machine. The fatal flaw is an indecisive automatic focus system, with no provision for manual control; weíll come back to that in a moment, but first a run-down of whatís on offer.


Unlike some of their earlier budget palmcorders this one is every bit as compact as their more expensive machines. The all-up weight is just under 1 kilo, you can take it anywhere and it will pack easily into weekend luggage, along with itís lightweight charger/mains adapter. The cosmetics are purely functional, no frills or gimmicks; itís the sort of machine you can pick up and use without reading the instructions...


Needles to say itís very basic, there are no exposure controls, not even a fader, and the large knob that looks like it might be an auto-exposure selector is actually the power switch/mode selector. Up front thereís a 10x zoom lens, protected by a sliding cover, and like all good Sony machines it has a Control L edit terminal. That really is it; the deck is single-speed, the sound is mono and it doesnít have remote control, but we can live with that. Itís true that the creative possibilities are limited but with low-light sensitivity down to 2-lux, and a reasonably efficient auto exposure system, itís fine for newcomers or those who simply donít want to be bothered by a load of knobs and buttons. Perhaps thatís one of the reasons Sony didnít fit a manual focus control? Weíve got no problem with that, provided the automatic focusing system is reliable. In this case itís not, and our sample managed to loose lock, or hunt around even in quite routine situations, like a sudden change in lighting level. Thatís in addition to the usual AF booby-traps, like highly patterned or reflective surfaces, or in poor light.



The 350 is off to a bad start, and weíre sorry to say it doesnít get much better. Without manual focus, or a focus lock itís difficult to give a precise resolution figure, but even making allowances our sample was still very average, maybe 230-lines, and thatís being generous. Picture noise levels were a little below average, and the white balance system didnít have any problems with tube light. The exposure system was quite responsive though sudden changes in light level almost always resulted in a loss of focus lock.


Unusually for Sony the deck was quite intolerant of movement and even a slight bump or brisk pan when recording (or during playback) could unsettle the picture. The mono sound system worked fine, forward sensitivity is good and the external mike socket gained it a much-needed brownie point.



By rights this should have been another Sony success, if only the AF system hadnít been quite so unreliable. Everything else about this machine is up to the mark, and the price is definitely heading in the right direction. But in the end everything depends on what the user gets on their television screen after a dayís shooting, and in this case weíre afraid theyíre going to see more than their fair share of fuzzy, out of focus shots.



Our current favourite in the sub-£600 sector is the Samsung VPU-10, a well-specified palmcorder that is some £20 cheaper than the Sony 350. At around £570 the Sanyo MV-RZ2 is worth considering, though it doesnít have an edit terminal. Nor does the JVC GR-AX35 VHS-C palmcorder, which costs £600, though for an extra £60 the optional remote handset adds some useful features, including on-board assemble editing. The only other VHS-C machine in this price bracket is the Panasonic NV-A1, but it suffers from the same problem as the TR-350, no manual focus.




Make/model                               Sony CCD-TR350

Recording format                          8mm

Guide price                              £550



Lens                             f/1.6, 6.2-62mm

Zoom                           10x

Filter diameter            37mm  

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum                     2 lux   



Long play (LP)                yes (replay only)               

Max rec time                   120mins

IR remote control                   no

Edit terminal                            yes (control L)


MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                  

Manual focus               no       

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    no       

Fader                                       no                   

Manual white balance            no       

Auto white balance                       yes                                          

Manual zoom                           no       

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                no       

Audio dub                                no

Character generator                     no                   

Digital superimposer               no       

Image stabiliser                      no                   

Video light                               no       

Battery refresh                         no                                       

Accessory shoe                 no       




time/date recording, record review, tally lamp, built-in lens cover



Viewfinder                       0.6in monochrome

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, tape end, time/date, zoom position, lens cover, dew, head clog



Stereo                            no       

Wind noise filter         no               

Mic socket                        yes              

Headphone socket         no

Mic                                  unidirectional electret



Sockets                            AV out (phono), external mic & Control L (minijack)

Size                                   109 x 109 x 178 mm                      

Weight                             0.9kg (inc. tape and battery)



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

AV lead                        yes      

video light                   no                   

remote control            no       

cassette adapter            N/A                  

RF Converter             no       

Scart adapter               yes                  



Resolution                     230-lines

Colour fidelity               good

Picture stability            average

Colour bleed                 negligible

White balance               good

Exposure                       average

Auto focus                     poor 

Audio performance       average

Insert edit                      manual inserts clean

Playback thru adapter  N/A



Value for money          7

Ease of use                    9

Performance                7

Features                       7



R Maybury 1994 1208





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