VIDEO CAMERA 1995

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

ECONOMY DRIVE

 

INTRO

We gave the TR350, Sony’s first £550 palmcorder, a fairly lukewarm reception when it was launched last Autumn, so how does their latest budget model, the TR370 fare?

 

COPY

Sony are keen to stress the TR370 is not a replacement for the 350, they will be marketing the two models side for side for a while yet, but with only £50 separating the two machines why are Sony launching yet another economy model so soon? Although superficially the specifications look similar to the 350 it is actually more closely related to the TR550, which currently sells for around £800. In fact the only significant differences between the two machines is that the 370 doesn’t have an image stabiliser or 24x electronic zoom. Our main criticism of the 550 was that it was somewhat over-priced and when you take away the stabiliser and electronic zoom you’re left with a fairly basic mono machine. In that respect the 370 looks like a much better deal, though it still suffers from one of our main bugbears, namely that it lacks a manual focus control, more about that in a moment.  

 

That aside the rest of the features list looks quite tempting. It has a powerful 12x zoom and a programmed auto-exposure system with four shooting modes. They are:

 

* Portrait, which makes the subject stand out against a soft-focus background

* Sports action, to reduce blur on fast motion

* High-speed shutter, for capturing faster moving subjects

* Low-light, to increase sensitivity in poor light

 

Other creative facilities include a dual-mode fader (to or from black screen or mosaic pattern) and a backlight compensation button, plus there’s the all-important Control L editing terminal that enables this machine to work with a wide range of edit controllers. Other features that we’re always pleased to see are a built-in lens cover, that’s activated by the main function switch on the side of the lens barrel, and sockets for an external microphone and earphone. The design of the viewfinder has been particularly well thought out; the eyepiece is hinged, so that it flips upwards, a lens in front of the screen makes it possible to see the screen at a distance, rather like a sportsfinder.

 

The control layout is virtually unchanged from the 550, it looks unthreatening, it handles well and is very easy to use. There’s just a handful of controls, grouped around the left side of the camera body. Beneath the viewfinder there’s a set of three buttons for calling up, and selecting items from the on-screen menu. The options are for enabling the remote commander, setting date and time and switching on the edit mode. The transport buttons are all together beneath a small hinged flap on the top panel. Sony haven’t got around to modifying this yet, and as we noted on the 550 it’s important to make sure the flap is closed when ejecting a tape as it prevents the cassette compartment door from opening fully. Another irritant carried over from the 550 is the tripod mounting thread, which is right at the front of the machine so that when it is attached to a tripod it is rear heavy and has a tendency to tip backwards.

 

We’ve been grumbling about the lack of a manual focus control on certain Sony machines for some time. In one or two cases it was unforgivable as their auto systems were so unreliable, the AF on the 370 is really not too bad, indeed it works quite well in most routine situations, provided the scene is well lit and there’s sufficient contrast between the subject and the background, but like all most AF systems it comes unstuck in poor light. Fortunately it doesn’t happen that often with this machine and low-light sensitivity is down to a very creditable 0.8 lux. Nevertheless, under extreme conditions the system can and does loose lock, but without a manual override there’s nothing you can do but grin and bear it.  

 

PERFORMANCE

Another significant change from the 550 is the CCD imaging chip. The 550 has a ‘no-loss’ electronic image stabiliser and this depends on a high performance CCD with 570k pixels. Sony have given the 370 a more conventional chip with 380k pixels, though surprisingly the actual resolution appears to be almost unchanged, and our early production sample turned in a figure of just over 230-lines. It may have even been a little more, but without the benefit of manual focus, or a focus lock, we have erred on the side of caution. That’s about average for a budget machine but by some clever electronic jiggery pokery they have managed to both increase low-light sensitivity and reduce the amount of noise in the picture (in good light), so the image looks remarkably clean, moreover colours are bright, accurately rendered and clearly defined.  

 

Forward sensitivity from the built-in microphone is very good, and it will  pick up localised sounds from the side as well. It’s quite well insulated too, and appears to be reasonably immune to motor and handling sounds, not that it’s a noisy machine to start with. The mono soundtrack has broad dynamic range, with a reasonably flat response, and there’s hardly any background hiss. Sony earn a couple of extra brownie points for the external microphone socket and earphone monitor facility, in fact they’re one of the few manufacturers to fit mike sockets to their budget machines these days.

 

THE VERDICT

When we reviewed the 550 last September we speculated that the image stabiliser and electronic zoom added around £150 to the cost of the machine. Clearly we weren’t too far off, and £600 seems like quite a fair price to pay. It’s certainly worth the extra £50 over and above what they’re asking for the 350. We’re still a little unhappy about the lack of a manual focus control but in this case you can just about live without it, provided you don’t do too much shooting indoors, or in poor light. Generally it’s an agreeable little machine. It looks smart, on-screen performance can be quite good, it’s easy to use. It has almost all of the features family users are likely to need, with the option to move on to more advanced techniques, like editing, and like all Sony machines, it feels reassuringly solid and well built.

 

THE RIVALS

Camcorder manufacturers are now pulling out all the stops in the important sub £600 sector and the 370 is up against some increasingly stiff competition. The Panasonic NV-R10 and R30 VHS-C ‘slimcorders’ are definitely worth considering, particularly if you’re interested in editing as they both have edit terminals. They’re due for replacement later this year, so keep an eye out for discounts. Samsung have been strong contenders in the budget market for the past couple of years though their latest machine, the VP-J50 doesn’t have as much sparkle as the very well-specified VPU-10 and 12. Sanyo’s VM-RZ2 is quite a good buy, and it also has an edit terminal, though performance is only average. Canon’s current budget machine, the E200 is also worth considering for family users, and it has quite a good range of creative facilities, though it’s not as compact, or good-looking as the 370. There are a couple of machines costing less than £550, including the bargain-basement Sanyo Action Cam for just £400, though it really is very basic and only suitable for undemanding point-and-shoot users, who don’t mind foregoing the in-camera replay facility.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Sony CCD-TR-370

Recording format              8mm

Guide price                              £600

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.8, 5.4-64.8mm

Zoom                           12x

Filter diameter            37mm  

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum                     0.8 lux            (gain-up mode)

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        yes (replay only)               

Max rec time                        120 mins

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes (Control L)

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                               yes                                          

Manual focus               no       

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    yes (4-mode) 

Fader                                       yes                  

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       

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

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

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.6 in monochrome

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, AE mode speed, fader, tape end, zoom position, menu options

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                      no       

Wind noise filter                                         no                   

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    AV out (phono), mic, ear, Control L (minijack)

Dimensions                              98 x 109 x 205mm                      

Weight                         0.85 kg (inc tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

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

AV lead                        yes      

video light                   no                   

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor            n/a                  

RF Converter             no       

Scart adaptor               yes                  

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                               230-lines

Colour fidelity                           very good

Picture stability                         good

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            good

Exposure                                   good

Auto focus                                  fair

Audio performance                   average

Insert edit                                  manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor              n/a

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money 8

Ease of use                 9

Performance                7

Features                     8

 

---end---

R Maybury 1995 1703

 

 

 


 

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