VIDEO CAMERA 1997

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LEANER AND MEANER

 

INTRO

Take one TR3300, snip off a few bits, chop the price, and you’ve got one of the best Hi8 camcorders on the market. We’ve been looking at the TR3100, and liked what we saw...

 

COPY

The only things we could find to grumble about in our review of the CCD-TR3300 review last Autumn was the colour viewfinder, and we thought it had a few too many gadgets. Someone out there must be listening. Its replacement, the TR3100, has a more useful and appropriate monochrome viewfinder, the gadgets have been reorganised, and as an added bonus the price has been trimmed by a not inconsiderable £300, down to just under £1000. 

 

More good news, performance and key features are unchanged, making this one of the cheapest and best-specified Hi8 camcorders on the market. This TR3100 is aimed squarely at movie-making enthusiasts, it has a full set of manual exposure controls and plenty of useful editing facilities. The exposure system is unusually sophisticated, in addition to full manual iris, shutter and gain controls, there’s aperture and shutter priority modes as well.

 

When aperture priority is selected the iris can be adjusted manually, in 16 steps, from f1.6 (fully open) to F19 (fully closed), whilst shutter speed is set automatically. In the shutter priority mode shutter speed is set manually in 16 steps, from 1/50th second, to 1/10,000th sec and the machine takes care of the iris adjustment. Four additional slow shutter speeds are available in the manual shutter mode; manual gain control covers the range 18dB to -3dB in 8 steps.

 

Whilst most enthusiasts and serious video movie-makers prefer to add effects during post production, the TR3100 has a few on-board tricks of its own, most of which will be familiar to owners of Sony’s mid-range machines. There’s eight ‘picture’ effects: mosaic, sepia, solarise, black and white, pastel, negative, slim and stretch. They’re selected by a thumbwheel on the rear of the machine, that’s also used to make manual exposure adjustments, menu selections and select the three ‘digital’ effects. They are still, flash-motion and luminance keying. Flash-motion gives the recording a strobe-like quality, with the picture updated from several times a second, to about once a second. When still mode is selected the image is frozen and the live image can be superimposed on the picture in one of five density levels.  Luma-key also freezes the current image, with live video showing through the brightest portions of the image; again the depth of the effect can be adjusted in five steps. The fader has three modes, to or from: black, a wipe or fade from a still of the last shot, and mosaic.

 

White balance adjustments can be left up to the machine, or set manually, with the option of natural or artificial light modes. There’s a backlight compensation button and focus is set using a narrow servo ring on the end of the lens barrel. The 3100, like its predecessor, has an optical image stabiliser with a 21x optical zoom; there’s 2x electronic magnification that extends the zoom range to 42x.

 

On the editing front the 3100 has RC time code and data recording, and full external control via a LANC editing terminal. A built-in timebase corrector stabilises and rebuilds lost or damaged synch pulses on old or worn recordings, to improve replay stability.

 

Rounding up the odds and ends, there’s three switchable record modes, (normal stop/start toggle, press to record, and 5-second record), and an anti-ground shooting feature, that switches the machine to standby, if the lens is left pointing at the ground, whilst recording, for more than a few seconds. There are two widescreen modes: 16:9 is an anamorphic stretch, for display on a widescreen TV, and ‘cinema’ superimposes black bars at the top and bottom of the picture. An accessory shoe on the top panel has connections for an optional microphone and video light, that are automatically recognised and enabled by the machine, when they’re plugged in.

 

An early spec sheet we had for the 3100 suggested that the OPC tape tuning system was going to be changed, but it looked the same as the one on the 3300 on our review sample. The titler has changed though, there’s still two user set titles, each with one line of 22 characters, but the eight preset titles were nowhere to be seen. Whilst we’re on the subject of changes, power and AV connectors on the base of the machine, also used for the Handycam docking station, have gone, taking with it the option to charge the battery whilst its on the machine.

 

In common with most other new Sony machines this year power consumption on the 3100 has been reduced. It comes with a 1.3Ah lithium-ion pack, the one supplied with our sample managed an average of 40 minutes recording time between charges, under normal shooting conditions.

 

OPERATION

You’re never left in any doubt about what it’s up to, calibrated exposure information is clearly presented on the viewfinder display, and on a backlit LCD panel on the side of the machine. The menu-driven on-screen display system takes care of a lot of secondary functions, reducing the button count to manageable proportions. Playback buttons use the now familiar Sony convention of an illuminated touch-pad, on the top of the cassette compartment. The most frequently-used controls are reasonably accessible, the only minor gripe concerns the manual focus ring on the end of the lens. It’s very narrow, and it requires some practice, to avoid spare fingers on the left hand straying into shot. 

 

It’s quite a chunky design, and just over 1kg it’s no featherweight, yet the balance and comfort are both very good indeed. It only begins to make its presence felt after prolonged shooting sessions.

 

PERFORMANCE

Referring back to test results for the TR3300 there’s hardly any differences in recording and playback performance. Resolution on the TR3100 at just over 380 lines was within a line or two of its predecessor, and there was no change at all in colour and luminance noise levels. Colour fidelity was possibly just a little crisper on the new machine, though the difference was so small as to be almost insignificant. 

 

The 3300 had steady still and slomo replay, but the specs for the 3100 mention that trick-play output is recordable on the new machine, so we put it to the test. It works really well, it’s very stable with no additional noise, even on 2x play, which must be a first. 

 

All of the manual exposure, picture and digital effects work very well; auto white balance managed to deal with all of the different types of lighting we tried it with, though recordings shot using tube-only light showed traces of a yellow-green caste.

 

The FM stereo soundtracks have a clean, open response with very little background noise. Channel separation is fair and the stereo soundstage remains coherent up to a distance of four metres from the mike.  Microphone sensitivity and directionality is fairly average, motor whine and handling noises are well attenuated.

 

VERDICT

The change to a black and white viewfinder has made a big difference, making it much easier to manually focus in poor light, and to judge exposure settings. The price reduction makes this excellent machine much more affordable so the conclusion we reached after testing the 3300 hasn’t changed and we’re confident serious video makers and enthusiasts will be equally, if not more pleased by the arrival of the 3100. Recommended.

 

THE RIVALS

There’s nothing to touch it for the price, discounts and end of lines deals notwithstanding. The Canon UC-X30Hi is worth checking out, and the venerable Panasonic S88 is an old favourite, but for our money the TR3100 is the best £1000 camcorder on the market today.

 

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Sony CCD-TR3100

Recording format               Hi8/8mm

Guide price                                £1000

 

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

aperture/shutter priority, manual iris, shutter & gain, time/date recording, high-speed shutter (20-speeds 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, luma-key superimpose, backlight compensation, RC time and data code recording, multi-mode fader (wipe, overlap, mosaic), power saving feature, NTSC replay, picture noise reduction, timebase corrector, duplicable still and slow

 

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.7in monochrome

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)

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                         good

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            very good

Exposure                                   very good

Auto focus                                  good

Audio performance                   good

Insert edit                                  good

Playback thru adaptor              n/a

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money         9

Ease of use                  7

Performance               9

Features                      9

 

 

---end---

R Maybury 1997 1804

 

 

LEANER AND MEANER

 

INTRO

Take one TR3300, snip off a few bits, chop the price, and you’ve got one of the best Hi8 camcorders on the market. We’ve been looking at the TR3100, and liked what we saw...

 

COPY

The only things we could find to grumble about in our review of the CCD-TR3300 review last Autumn was the colour viewfinder, and we thought it had a few too many gadgets. Someone out there must be listening. Its replacement, the TR3100, has a more useful and appropriate monochrome viewfinder, the gadgets have been reorganised, and as an added bonus the price has been trimmed by a not inconsiderable £300, down to just under £1000. 

 

More good news, performance and key features are unchanged, making this one of the cheapest and best-specified Hi8 camcorders on the market. This TR3100 is aimed squarely at movie-making enthusiasts, it has a full set of manual exposure controls and plenty of useful editing facilities. The exposure system is unusually sophisticated, in addition to full manual iris, shutter and gain controls, there’s aperture and shutter priority modes as well.

 

When aperture priority is selected the iris can be adjusted manually, in 16 steps, from f1.6 (fully open) to F19 (fully closed), whilst shutter speed is set automatically. In the shutter priority mode shutter speed is set manually in 16 steps, from 1/50th second, to 1/10,000th sec and the machine takes care of the iris adjustment. Four additional slow shutter speeds are available in the manual shutter mode; manual gain control covers the range 18dB to -3dB in 8 steps.

 

Whilst most enthusiasts and serious video movie-makers prefer to add effects during post production, the TR3100 has a few on-board tricks of its own, most of which will be familiar to owners of Sony’s mid-range machines. There’s eight ‘picture’ effects: mosaic, sepia, solarise, black and white, pastel, negative, slim and stretch. They’re selected by a thumbwheel on the rear of the machine, that’s also used to make manual exposure adjustments, menu selections and select the three ‘digital’ effects. They are still, flash-motion and luminance keying. Flash-motion gives the recording a strobe-like quality, with the picture updated from several times a second, to about once a second. When still mode is selected the image is frozen and the live image can be superimposed on the picture in one of five density levels.  Luma-key also freezes the current image, with live video showing through the brightest portions of the image; again the depth of the effect can be adjusted in five steps. The fader has three modes, to or from: black, a wipe or fade from a still of the last shot, and mosaic.

 

White balance adjustments can be left up to the machine, or set manually, with the option of natural or artificial light modes. There’s a backlight compensation button and focus is set using a narrow servo ring on the end of the lens barrel. The 3100, like its predecessor, has an optical image stabiliser with a 21x optical zoom; there’s 2x electronic magnification that extends the zoom range to 42x.

 

On the editing front the 3100 has RC time code and data recording, and full external control via a LANC editing terminal. A built-in timebase corrector stabilises and rebuilds lost or damaged synch pulses on old or worn recordings, to improve replay stability.

 

Rounding up the odds and ends, there’s three switchable record modes, (normal stop/start toggle, press to record, and 5-second record), and an anti-ground shooting feature, that switches the machine to standby, if the lens is left pointing at the ground, whilst recording, for more than a few seconds. There are two widescreen modes: 16:9 is an anamorphic stretch, for display on a widescreen TV, and ‘cinema’ superimposes black bars at the top and bottom of the picture. An accessory shoe on the top panel has connections for an optional microphone and video light, that are automatically recognised and enabled by the machine, when they’re plugged in.

 

An early spec sheet we had for the 3100 suggested that the OPC tape tuning system was going to be changed, but it looked the same as the one on the 3300 on our review sample. The titler has changed though, there’s still two user set titles, each with one line of 22 characters, but the eight preset titles were nowhere to be seen. Whilst we’re on the subject of changes, power and AV connectors on the base of the machine, also used for the Handycam docking station, have gone, taking with it the option to charge the battery whilst its on the machine.

 

In common with most other new Sony machines this year power consumption on the 3100 has been reduced. It comes with a 1.3Ah lithium-ion pack, the one supplied with our sample managed an average of 40 minutes recording time between charges, under normal shooting conditions.

 

OPERATION

You’re never left in any doubt about what it’s up to, calibrated exposure information is clearly presented on the viewfinder display, and on a backlit LCD panel on the side of the machine. The menu-driven on-screen display system takes care of a lot of secondary functions, reducing the button count to manageable proportions. Playback buttons use the now familiar Sony convention of an illuminated touch-pad, on the top of the cassette compartment. The most frequently-used controls are reasonably accessible, the only minor gripe concerns the manual focus ring on the end of the lens. It’s very narrow, and it requires some practice, to avoid spare fingers on the left hand straying into shot. 

 

It’s quite a chunky design, and just over 1kg it’s no featherweight, yet the balance and comfort are both very good indeed. It only begins to make its presence felt after prolonged shooting sessions.

 

PERFORMANCE

Referring back to test results for the TR3300 there’s hardly any differences in recording and playback performance. Resolution on the TR3100 at just over 380 lines was within a line or two of its predecessor, and there was no change at all in colour and luminance noise levels. Colour fidelity was possibly just a little crisper on the new machine, though the difference was so small as to be almost insignificant. 

 

The 3300 had steady still and slomo replay, but the specs for the 3100 mention that trick-play output is recordable on the new machine, so we put it to the test. It works really well, it’s very stable with no additional noise, even on 2x play, which must be a first. 

 

All of the manual exposure, picture and digital effects work very well; auto white balance managed to deal with all of the different types of lighting we tried it with, though recordings shot using tube-only light showed traces of a yellow-green caste.

 

The FM stereo soundtracks have a clean, open response with very little background noise. Channel separation is fair and the stereo soundstage remains coherent up to a distance of four metres from the mike.  Microphone sensitivity and directionality is fairly average, motor whine and handling noises are well attenuated.

 

VERDICT

The change to a black and white viewfinder has made a big difference, making it much easier to manually focus in poor light, and to judge exposure settings. The price reduction makes this excellent machine much more affordable so the conclusion we reached after testing the 3300 hasn’t changed and we’re confident serious video makers and enthusiasts will be equally, if not more pleased by the arrival of the 3100. Recommended.

 

THE RIVALS

There’s nothing to touch it for the price, discounts and end of lines deals notwithstanding. The Canon UC-X30Hi is worth checking out, and the venerable Panasonic S88 is an old favourite, but for our money the TR3100 is the best £1000 camcorder on the market today.

 

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Sony CCD-TR3100

Recording format               Hi8/8mm

Guide price                                £1000

 

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

aperture/shutter priority, manual iris, shutter & gain, time/date recording, high-speed shutter (20-speeds 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, luma-key superimpose, backlight compensation, RC time and data code recording, multi-mode fader (wipe, overlap, mosaic), power saving feature, NTSC replay, picture noise reduction, timebase corrector, duplicable still and slow

 

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.7in monochrome

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)

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                         good

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            very good

Exposure                                   very good

Auto focus                                  good

Audio performance                   good

Insert edit                                  good

Playback thru adaptor              n/a

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money         9

Ease of use                  7

Performance               9

Features                      9

 

 

---end---

R Maybury 1997 1804

 

 

 


 

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