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We haven’t seen too many new mid-range machines so far this year, Sony obviously think there’s a gap to be filled, hence the new CCD-TR610



Super expensive and ultra cheap camcorders always grab the headlines but the fact is most people end up buying mid-priced, mid-range, middle-of-the-road family machines. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just that some of them tend to be, shall we say, a little on the dull side. Sony are hoping the CCD-TR610 will liven things up a bit. Indeed, it is a very lively camcorder, but for all the wrong reasons -- we’ll come to that later on  -- but first a quick feature check, to see what you get for your £800.


Starting at the front there’s a 15x zoom lens with a digital zoom that increases magnification up to 30x. It has electronic image stabilisation and a monochrome viewfinder. The exposure system is similar to the one on the SC55 Hi8 Vision machine. There are 6 program modes:

* spotlight -- exposure compensation for brightly lit subjects against a dark background

* Sports lesson -- high speed shutter, for capturing fast movement

* Beach and ski -- exposure correction for strong incidental light

* Sunset & moon -- increase low-light sensitivity

* Soft portrait -- fuzzy background make subject stand out

* Landscape -- shooting distant objects through glass or window


There’s a separate backlight button for awkwardly-lit subjects and a full-range exposure control; a simple exposure level indicator appears in the on-screen display.


The 610 has a good assortment of picture effects, they include:

* mosaic -- blocky picture

* solarise -- high contrast for cartoon-like effect

* B&W -- monochrome recording

* sepia -- monochrome recording with a sepia tint

* pastel -- increased colour contrast

* slim -- the picture is expanded vertically, everything looks tall

* stretch -- the picture is expended horizontally, everything looks fat


Additional effects include ‘cinema’ with black bands superimposed at the top and bottom of the screen, and ‘16:9’, which compresses the picture vertically, so that it will have the correct proportions when shown on a widescreen TV.


The 610 has an unusually sophisticated titling system, there are 8 preset titles covering the usual birthdays, holidays and celebrations; plus, there’s a two-page manual titler, with one line of up to 22 characters. Titles can be superimposed onto the picture in one of 7 colours, and located at the centre or bottom of the screen.


Tape optimisation is another unusual feature, especially on 8mm equipment where there has been comparatively little variation in tape quality. The 610 has a system called ORC, that checks tape condition by making a short test recording. This only takes about 5 seconds, and needs to done just once, when a new tape is loaded.



Control design and layout follows a by now familiar pattern, with menu selection handled by a thumbwheel on the back panel. Other controls are clustered together on the left side of the machine; playback functions are operated by an illuminated touch-sensitive panel on the top.


A backlit LCD panel on the side shows time/counter data and battery info. Speaking of which, the 610 used a lithium ion pack, that has a built-in microchip, that measures the batteries charge characteristics. These ‘infolithium’ packs communicate with the camcorder, enabling it to make a fairly accurate prediction about record-time remaining. Recording times are good, we managed 50 minutes on one charge, and that was with a fair amount of zooming and stop/start recording. The machine also comes with a pack for dry-cells, running times are good with top-grade alkaline cells, but it takes 6 of them, so it’s a very expensive way top run the machine. A good idea for emergencies.  


By the way that strange object on the front, just above the lens, might look vaguely familiar. Old-timers will probably remember them as accessory shoes. They used to be quite common in the early days of video movie making but they eventually became extinct...



We spoke earlier of the machine’s liveliness, that’s a slanted reference to quite pronounced deck instability. The machine reacts badly to any pitching motion, and is rather sensitive to knocks or taps, even quite light ones. Initially we thought it might just be a rogue sample but we noticed precisely the same behaviour on another machine (CCD-TR810), that uses the same deck mechanism. The instability is serious enough to make walking shots look jumpy.


Resolution is satisfactory, our sample was on or around the 240-line mark, but picture noise levels are below average, which means the ORC system is earning its keep. Colour rendition is fine in natural light but the picture looks slightly warm under tungsten bulbs, and there’s a yellow-orange caste in tube light. The exposure systems work well, though and the full-range manual control is especially welcome.


The stereo microphone produces quite a good image within three or four metres of the lens, this dissipates quite quickly though. Noise levels are low and although sensitivity is quite good, handling noises and motor whine are at a very low level.



We’re concerned about the mechanical instability of our sample, which has a marked effect on recording and playback quality, and it’s quite pricey, even for Sony. Otherwise the 610 comes across as a competent, well thought-out machine that should suite a wide range of video movie-makers, from beginners to enthusiasts.



The £800 price tag puts the 610 into Hi8 territory, and if picture quality is a consideration then the Hitachi VM-510, Panasonic NV-S70 and Samsung VP-H68 really should on your list as well. If you’re happy with 8mm performance then the Canon UC900 is well worth considering, it has a similar range of creative facilities, except for the manual iris, but costs £150 less. If you don’t mind last year’s models that sort of money will be well spent on a discounted Hi8 or VHS-C machine, there’s some pretty spectacular bargains around at the moment.



Make/model                               Sony CCD-TR610

Recording format               8mm

Guide price                                £800



Lens                             f/1.4, 4.1-61.5mm

Zoom                            15x optical, 30x electronic

Filter diameter            37mm  

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum                       2 lux    



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 (6-mode)  

Fader                                        yes      

Manual white balance no        

Auto white balance             yes                              

Manual zoom                             no        

Power zoom                              yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                  no        

Audio dub                                  yes

Character generator                       yes                  

Digital superimposer                 no        

Image stabiliser                         yes                                          

Video light                                 no        

Battery refresh               no                                        

Accessory shoe             yes      




manual exposure, time/date recording, record review, retake, tally lamp, built-in lens cover, picture effects (mosaic, solarise, monochrome, sepia, negative, pastel, slim, stretch), ORC tape optimisation, cinema/16:9 recording modes, backlight compensation, 5-sec recording mode, info lithium battery, NTSC replay



Viewfinder                       0.6 in monochrome

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, AE mode, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, title, zoom position, picture effect, dew, condensation



Stereo                                       yes

Wind noise filter                         yes                  

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           single-point stereo



Sockets                                    AV out (phono), headphone, microphone & Control L


Dimensions                               104 x 109 x 202mm                      

Weight                          0.9kg (inc tape and battery)



Batteries (Lithium ion and lithium), straps, AC charger/power supply, dry battery pack

AV lead             yes      

video light                      no                    

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor n/a                   

RF Converter             no        

Scart adaptor                 yes                  



Resolution                                 <240-lines

Colour fidelity                           average

Picture stability                         fair

Colour bleed                              negligible

White balance                            average

Exposure                                   good

Auto focus                                  average

Audio performance                   good

Insert edit                                  manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor              n/a



Value for money         7

Ease of use                  7

Performance               7

Features                      8



R Maybury 1996 1507





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