VIDEO CAMERA 1995

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

ZOOM WITH A VIEW

 

INTRO

Sonyís are about to replace the TR3, their current luxury palmcorder, with the all-singing, all-dancing TR3000. Weíve been trying out one of the very first PAL-spec machines to reach the UK

 

COPY

Sony can normally be relied upon to come up with one or two new features on their top-end camcorders, but theyíve excelled themselves on the CCD-TR3000. Itís due to replace the CCD-TR3, which until now has been the most expensive palmcorder on the market. The TR3000 is even dearer, at just under £1600, though itís a far more distinctive, not to say interesting machine, that should please its potential audience of discerning family users, enthusiasts and semi-pro video movie-makers.

 

The most obvious new feature is the lens, itís a whopper, thatís largely a result of the TR3000ís 16x optical zoom and optical image stabiliser. This zoom lens would have been headline news a couple of months ago, but Canon have stolen Sonyís thunder with the 20x optical zoom fitted to their UC8 Hi, nevertheless itís still very impressive and a boon for those who need to get close into their subject; birdwatchers and wildlife videographers spring immediately to mind.

 

The zoom can also be extended electronically, up to 32x, though at the expense of resolution and increased picture noise. Sony, like Canon, have also been busily re-working their optical stabiliser system, indeed theyíre very similar and were in fact developed jointly some five years ago. Sony seem to have been concentrating their efforts on the control software, which is now better able to deal with fast, irregular movement, the kind you get when shooting from a moving car, for example.

 

Still with the new features, you may have noticed a small window on top of the machine. This helps to improve contrast of the LCD viewfinder screen. Sunlight entering through the window is mixed with the backlight, in a small prism, to increase the amount of light passing through the panel. In bright daylight thereís no need to squint, or wait for the eye to become accustomed to the display. Thereís more. Behind the eyepiece thereís an infra-red detector, which senses the proximity of the userís eye; when the machine is lowered it switches off the LCD backlight, giving a useful power saving. Power is restored immediately, though it can become annoying when using the menu options on the display, where you have to keep taking your eye from the screen, to see the controls. If necessary the power-save function can be switched off.

 

The actual LCD screen is new too. As regular readers will know weíre not exactly big fans of colour viewfinders; they add significantly to the cost, make manual focusing difficult and have insufficient colour range to make them any use for adjusting white balance. The one on the TR3000 might just make us change our minds. The display is made up of 180,000 pixels, resulting in a cleaner, sharper image, more so in daylight with assistance from the Sun. Colour rendition is quite good too, good enough to highlight serious colour errors in fact. Cost remains a limiting factor, and itís unlikely colour viewfinders as good as this one will ever find their way onto more modestly priced equipment.

 

However, what will probably sell this machine in the end is not the lens or viewfinder, but the extensive range of exposure aids and creative facilities. The most important ones are a full-range manual iris, with the aperture value -- shown as an f-number -- clearly displayed on the viewfinder screen, plus shutter and aperture priority program AE modes. These will be immediately familiar to owners of sophisticated SLR still cameras, and they give the user the kind of flexibility to deal with pretty well any lighting condition. Thatís not all, the TR3000 has adjustable gain. This is essentially an electronic iris, increasing or reducing the amount of amplification applied to the video signal, from -3dB to +18 dB in 8 steps. The 3000 also has what amounts to a variable backlight/spotlight mode with its AE-shift control. This alters the aperture setting, a couple of f-stops either side of the auto-exposure setting. Behind the scenes thereís a new multi-leaf iris that gives, smoother, more progressive exposure adjustment, and fewer internal reflections or bright highlights.

 

The manual shutter adjustment has 15 steps, from slow speed settings of 1/3, 1/6, 1/12 and 1/25th. sec, through normal 1/50th sec. to 1/10,000th sec. The slow speeds create a variety of interesting ghosting an smear effects, when used in conjunction with a rapid zoom or pan.

 

The creative aids are fairly restrained by comparison, though thereís still plenty to play around with, including three picture options consisting of:

* negative art -- colours and light/dark are reversed. Useful for recording still images from colour print negatives.

* sepia -- the picture is given that genuine Ďold-timeí sepia tint, well, someone must like it

* black and white -- for shooting in monochrome, again someone will probably find it useful

 

A large portion of this machineís video processing circuitry is digital in nature and Sony have used it for a few extra effects, in addition to the 32x zoom. They are:

* still recording, where the image is frozen but the soundtrack continues

* flash motion, two-speed jerky picture effect

* mosaic fade -- where the picture dissolves or emerges from zillions of tiny picture blocks (it has a normal black fader as well)

* overlap -- the picture dissolves to or from a frozen image from the previous scene 

* 16:9 -- anamorphic compression, where everything in the picture looks tall, but when shown on a widescreen TV itís stretched sideways, to completely fill the 16:9 aspect ratio screen. (Sony are getting into widescreen TV in a big way...)

 

It has a good assortment of audio facilities, they include an external microphone socket, wind noise filter and a zoom mode.  Forward sensitivity can be tied into the zoom,  so that the sound matches the picture as the subject appears to move closer or further away from the lens.  

 

Next , we come to the editing and post-production facilities. Like all Sony camcorders it has a Control L socket, so it can be used with an edit controller, but as an added bonus the TR3000 has index mark/erase, plus RC time code recording and playback as well.  RC time code can also be added retrospectively to previously recorded tapes, so they can be edited with near frame-accurate precision. More good news. Included in the accessory pack is a AC-V515 Handycam Station. Weíve seen this device several times before, but usually as an optional extra. Itís a great idea, that does away with all the hassle of connecting the machine up to a TV, VCR or editing equipment. The bottom of the TR3000 simply slides into a channel on top of the unit, so that two sets of  contacts mate with one another, carrying power, control data and AV signals between the camcorder and Handycam Station. A set of plugs on the back of the module connect it to the outside world. The unit has a full set of transport controls, including a shuttle dial for quickly selecting replay speed and direction. The AC adaptor also plugs into it, so the battery can be charged, whilst  inside the machine.

 

Talking of which. Like its predecessor the TR3000 uses a  lithium ion rechargeable battery that lives into a compartment inside the machine. Maximum recording time is around 30 to 35 minutes, though with normal stop/start operation, some zooming and the autofocus and stabiliser turned on, 20 to 25 minutes is more realistic. Lithium ion batteries donít suffer from memory effect or cell-imbalance, like nicads, theyíre also a lot smaller and the battery level meter is a lot more reliable, but the trade off is longer charging times, and they cost around three times as much as a nicad of equivalent capacity.

 

That just about concludes the guided tour, except to say that whilst the TR3000 is technically a palmcorder, at just over 1kg itís no featherweight. Itís quite chunky too, mainly because of the larger than usual lens and built-in battery. The controls and displays are reasonably accessible, the variable-speed function on the sideways zoom lever is very smooth. So too is the manual focus ring on the end of the lens barrel, though thereís not much to get hold of, and fingers can stray into shot quite easily, if youíre not careful. Gadget fans will love the illuminated touch pad on the top of the machine, used to operate the main transport functions during replay. The window on top of the LCD viewfinder lights up whenever itís on, which can be quite disconcerting at night, and hopeless for discreet or covert recording. A strip of black tape soon cures that.

 

PERFORMANCE

Although our test machine was an early production sample it performed to spec; using a high quality ME tape picture resolution was close to the magic 400-line target. Noise levels are very low, though they increase markedly as soon as any of the effects systems are engaged, with the exception of the Steady-Shot image stabiliser. This is a no-loss optical system, and it works brilliantly, damping out most small movements. Itís especially effect with walking shots, and better than usual in a car, but itís still no substitute for a tripod. Colour accuracy is very good, and thereís virtually no bleed, even on highly saturated colours. The auto exposure options all work very well indeed, in the normal course of event manual controls are hardly ever needed, though they are there, in abundance, for those who want to stay in control.

 

The zoom microphone sounds like a good idea but itís not very smooth and there is a quite sudden transition between mono and stereo as the lens pulls in or out. It can sound quite odd. Background noise levels were higher than we would have liked, in fact it was quite hissy, though it would be masked by ambient noise in most situations.

 

VERDICT

A thoroughly likeable machine with some superb facilities. The auto systems are capable of dealing with most situations and novices will find it very easy to use but itís vastly over qualified for snapshooting or the occasional holiday epic. We can see it becoming popular with serious video movie makers, looking for a machine that gives them complete control, and has the necessary editing and post production facilities.  We havenít said much about the price. Yes, £1600 is a lot of money, but the TR3000 is a lot of camcorder and serious users will need no reminding of the value of features like RCTC, a powerful optical zoom and a full set of exposure controls. Quite simply thereís nothing quite like it this side of £2000.

 

THE RIVALS

The TR3000 has little real competition, the turnover of machines at the top end of the market is relatively slow. The Canon UC-X1 Hi and JVC GR-SZ1, which both have a list price of £1500, were good in their day but now theyíre looking a bit long in the tooth. The only other machines to have comparable exposure and post-production facilities are the heavyweight semi-pro models, in the shape of the Canon EX2-Hi and Sony CCD-VX1, that both sell for more than £2500.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Sony CCD-TR3000

Recording format              Hi8/8mm

Guide price                              £1600

 

Optics

Lens                             f/1.6, 4.3-68.8mm

Zoom                           16x optical, 32x electronic

Filter diameter            52mm  

Pick-up device            0.25in CCD

Min illum                     3-lux   

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        yes (playback only)               

Max rec time                        120mins

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes (Control L)

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                               yes                                          

Manual focus               yes      

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    yes      

Fader                                       yes                  

Manual white balance            yes      

Auto white balance                       yes                                          

Manual zoom                           no       

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                no

Audio dub                                no

Character generator                     no                   

Digital superimposer               no       

Image stabiliser                                  yes                                          

Video light                               no       

Battery refresh                         no                                       

Accessory shoe                 no       

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, manual iris, aperture and shutter priority, 3-step fader mosaic/overlap/black, 16:9 wide screen recording mode, variable gain control, high-speed shutter (15-speed up to 1/10,000th sec), record review, retake, tally lamp, index marker, RC time code and data code read and write, picture effects (negative, sepia, black and white),  still/strobe/flash-motion effect, zoom microphone, viewfinder power save

 

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.7in LCD colour

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, aperture shutter speed, fader, focus mode, AE mode, tape end, stabiliser, time/date, zoom position

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                      yes      

Wind noise filter                                         no                   

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           stereo zoom

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    AV out (phono), S-Video out (mini DIN), headphone,

ext. mic, Control L (minijack), DC power/AV/ Control (multi-pin connector on

base)

Dimensions                              101 x 103 x 205mm                      

Weight                         1.05 kg (inc tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries (lithium and lithium ion), straps, AC charger/power supply, Handycam Station

AV lead                        yes      

video light                   no                   

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor            N/A                  

RF Converter             no       

SCART adaptor            yes                  

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                               400-lines

Colour fidelity                           very good

Picture stability                         good

Colour bleed                              negligible

White balance                            good

Exposure                                   very good

Auto focus                                  average

Audio performance                   average

Insert edit                                  manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor              N/A

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money         8

Ease of use                  8

Performance               9

Features                      9

 

---end---

R Maybury 1995 2407

 

 

 


 

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