VIDEO CAMERA 1996

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INTRO

There’s been a shortage of sensibly-priced enthusiast camcorders lately; Sony hope to put that right with the newly launched CCD TR3300

 

COPY

‘Welcome To Sony Handycam’, proclaims the LCD panel on the side of the TR3300 when it’s switched on. This is an uncharacteristic display of naffness for Sony. Fortunately it doesn’t tell you have a nice day, when it’s switched off, though somehow you feel it might have passed through the designer’s minds. They’ve tacked just about every other gadget, widget and gizmo onto this machine, making it one of the most extravagantly-specified Hi8 camcorders on the market.

 

The TR3300 is closely related  to its Hi8 stablemate, the TR2200, the most obvious difference being the 3300’s colour LCD viewfinder. The £300 price difference (the 2200 costs £1000 whilst the 3300 sells for £1300), is further justified with a handful of extra features. They include additional digital effect shooting modes, it has an extra replay head for improved still frame and slomo and there’s a power-saving feature, that shuts down the viewfinder backlight, when it’s not being used.

 

ENTHUSIASTS

It’s very much an enthusiasts machine; the exposure system is unusually flexible with full manual operation, plus shutter and aperture priority. There are also manual adjustments for gain and white balance, plus preset low-light and backlight compensation modes; not a ‘portrait’ or ‘sports’ AE setting in sight...

 

Shutter and aperture priority modes are fairly common on SLR still cameras but seen only rarely on camcorders, which is a pity as they’re an extremely useful way for the user to control exposure, without having to juggle too many other adjustments at once. Aperture priority give full manual control over the iris (and gain-up), whilst the machine’s auto systems select the most appropriate shutter setting. Shutter priority works the other way around; the user chooses the shutter setting -- to capture fast action or achieve a special effect -- whilst the exposure is controlled automatically.

 

The 3300 has an impressive range of shutter speeds; there’s 20 of them, the fast speeds extend from 1/50th to 1/10,000th second, and there’s four ‘slow’ speeds, of 1/2, 1/6, 1/12 and 1/25th second. The slower speeds increase low-light sensitivity, and because of the slow refresh rate, gives the picture a strobe-like quality. All exposure information is clearly shown on the viewfinder display, with the aperture calibrated in f-stops, from F1.6 (fully open) to f19 (fully closed) in 15 steps. The gain-up mode extends low light sensitivity in 8 steps, from +18dB to -3dB. An AE shift facility enables picture brightness to be increased or decreased, for shooting in difficult lighting conditions, when the subject is backlit, or brightly lit from the front, and shooting at night.

 

It has a good assortment of digital picture effects, including old favourites like:

* Mosaic -- the picture is ‘pixellated’, built up from large coloured squares

* Solarise -- colour contrast increased, giving the picture a cartoon-like quality

* B&W -- monochrome recording mode

* Sepia -- the monochrome picture is given a sepia tint, for that ‘old-tyme’ look

* Neg art -- colours are reversed

* Pastel  -- increased contrast for drawing-like texture

* Slim -- the image is stretched vertically, everything looks thin

* Stretch -- the picture is stretched horizontally, everything looks fat

 

There are four fader modes. The 3300 has a normal fade to and from black; a mosaic effect, where the picture is built up from an array of expanding squares; wipe, where the picture is revealed from a still of the previously shot scene, and overlap, where a still from the last shot gradually dissolves into the next scene. The overlap effect can be used whilst shooting. The digital memory is also used in a still shooting mode, and the unique lumakey feature, which allows the bright portions of a captured still image to be replaced with moving video.

 

Editing has been given top priority; the 3300 has a proper insert edit facility, that allows new scenes to be dropped into the middle of previous recordings. It has RC timecode and data recording systems, the all-important Control L editing terminal, and a timebase corrector, to improve playback stability of noisy or wonky recordings.

 

The large, bright lens has a 21x optical zoom, that can be electronically extended to 42X, though the picture looks a bit crusty at the extreme magnification. There’s an optical image stabiliser, to compensate for camera shake -- essential with such a powerful zoom. Now for the gadgets It has a choice of three record modes; there’s normal toggle start/stop, a five-second record, and press to record option. It has a sophisticated titling facility, with 8 preset titles (hello, happy birthday, our sweet baby -- the usual guff...), plus two user-set titles of one line of 22 characters. A tape tuning facility optimises recording and replay according to the grade of tape being used.

 

The LCD viewfinder is an unusual design, seen on previous Sony machines; a window on the top of the module, lets in natural daylight, this is in addition to the built-in backlight, but the extra light improves image brightness, particularly in strong sunlight. A sensor built into the viewfinder detects when it’s being used, and switches off the backlight, to save power when the user looks away from the display. There’s two ‘cinema’ modes, a proper 16:9 anamoporhic compression effect, that will produce a true widescreen image when shown on a 16:9 TV in expand mode, and a letterbox option, that superimposes black bands at the top and bottom of the screen.

 

IN USE

It’s a fair size, the large lens and stabiliser assembly see to that, but it’s certainly not heavy, moreover balance and handling are generally good. With so many features to contend with, the machine could have become unwieldy, but Sony have kept the controls to a minimum -- there’s still a fair few buttons though -- but a lot of secondary features are controlled from a well thought-out menu-driven on-screen display. Focus is adjusted manually using a servo control ring on the outside edge of the lens barrel and there’s a small multi-purpose thumbwheel on the back panel for the main exposure controls. There’s plenty of useful little extras too, like an accessory shoe, on-camera battery charging, (it uses a high-capacity, memory-free lithium ion pack), it also comes with a pack for dry-batteries; the playback keys are built into an illuminated touch pad, and it has sockets for an external microphone and headphones.

 

PERFORMANCE

Having packed in so many advanced features it would be very surprising if picture quality wasn’t up to scratch. It is, and benchmark performance indicators, like resolution and noise levels are all well above average. Our sample was able to resolve in excess of 380 lines, and the extensive use of digital processing circuitry was evident in the very low noise levels. Colour accuracy was also very good, particularly if you take the trouble to set the white balance beforehand. However, the real stars of the show are the shooting adjustments, which gives the user complete control over the exposure system.  

 

The digital effects options all work well, and do a good job of spicing up home video movies, though we can’t help feeling there’s rather a lot of them to play with, and suspect most of them will lay idle, once the initial novelty has worn off. All of the editing functions are very welcome though, and the extra replay head is a valuable extra, making this one of the few 8mm/Hi machines with steady trick replay.

 

Audio quality is good, the microphone is well insulated against motor and handling noises. The forward-facing microphones strike a good balance between sensitivity and directionality, producing a clean stereo image up to three or four metres from the front of the machine.

 

SUMMARY

Apart from a few too many gadgets the 3300 will certainly please serious video movie makers. We’re ambivalent towards the colour viewfinder, they’re never as sharp as monochrome displays but it is one of the better designs on the market, but considering the extra features that accompany this model, we feel that overall it’s worth the extra.  Performance is extremely good, and the flexible exposure system is an unaccustomed bonus on a camcorder in this price bracket. Recommended.

 

THE RIVALS

There’s little real competition for this machine on the market at the moment. £1300 buys a couple of Hi8 LCD camcorders, from Sony and Sharp, but they’re family machines with few manual controls. The Hitachi VM-H80 is an old favourite, and well suited to outdoor types, but again it lacks the range of controls found on the 3300. Panasonic have a couple of well specified S-VHS-C camcorders at or around this price, though they’re getting on a bit now and due to be phased out soon.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Sony CCD-TR3300

Recording format               Hi8/8mm

Guide price                                £1300

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.6, 3.9-81.9mm

Zoom                            X21 optical, X42 digital

Filter diameter            52mm  

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum                       2 lux (0.1 lux, gain-up mode)  

 

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                              

Programmed AE                          yes (see text)         

Fader                                        yes                  

Manual white balance yes      

Auto white balance             yes                                          

Manual zoom                             no        

Power zoom                              yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                  yes      

Audio dub                                  no

Character generator                       yes                  

Digital superimposer                 no        

Image stabiliser                         yes                                          

Video light                                 no        

Battery refresh               no                                        

Accessory shoe             yes      

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, high-speed shutter (16-speed up to 1/10,000th sec), record review, retake, tally lamp, digital effects (mosaic, solarise, B&W, sepia, neg/pos. pastel, slim, stretch), cinema (letterbox, 16:9), still record, lumakey superimpose, tape tuning, backlight compensation, RC time and data code recording, index scan, dry-battery operation, multi-mode fader (wipe, overlap, mosaic), power saving feature, NTSC replay, picture noise reduction, timebase corrector

 

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.7in colour LCD

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

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       yes      

Wind noise filter                         yes                  

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           single point stereo

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    AV out (phono & S-Video) , ext mic, headphones and

edit terminal (minijack), power & deck control (proprietary multi-pin)

Dimensions                               110 x 110 215mm                      

Weight                          1.1kg (inc tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries (lithium-ion and alkaline), 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                                 >380-lines

Colour fidelity                           good

Picture stability                         very good

Colour bleed                              negligible

White balance                            good

Exposure                                   very good

Auto focus                                  average

Audio performance                   good

Insert edit                                  good

Playback thru adaptor              n/a

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money         ****

Ease of use                  ***

Performance               ****

Features                      *****

 

---end---

R Maybury 1996 1308

 

 

 


 

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