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Itís big, itís butch and itís the best! The Sony DCR-VX9000 is quite simply the ultimate camcorder this side of the pro market



We could witter on for ages about the video and audio performance of the DCR-VX9000 DVC camcorder, all the professional features, and how itís the best thing since sliced bread, and we will, but not just yet. However, the thing that impressed us most about this machine, even before we powered it up for the first time, is the attention to detail and quality of engineering. Little things catch your eye, like the way the huge viewfinder module glides smoothly back, forth and sideways on metal runners, the positive click of tiny precision toggle switches, the adjustable handgrip, replaceable shoulder pads and ear cushions. As individual features they hardly rate a mention, but taken together theyíre clear signs that this machine is designed to be a solid and reliable workhorse, designed to take the knocks, and still deliver the goods.


The VX9000 is Sonyís fourth digital camcorder, the first to use full-size DVC cassettes (for up to 3-hours recording time) and at just under £4000, the most expensive Ďconsumerí machine to date, but you donít have to look very far to appreciate why it costs so much. Up front, behind the substantial lens and optical image stabiliser, thereís a 3-CCD image sensor. Three CCDs -- one for each primary colour -- deliver near studio-quality colour fidelity and resolution. Sony havenít skimped on the audio recording facilities either, with the sort of performance that comes very close compact disc. It can record one high-quality 16-bit/48kHz soundtrack or two 12-bit/32kHz stereo tracks, one of which can be dubbed, without affecting the other one.


Naturally the exposure system has a full set of automatic and manual controls for the iris, shutter, white balance and gain. The Iris operates over 13 steps, from fully closed, through F11 to fully open at F1.6; the electronic shutter  can be set to slow (1/3rd to 1/25th second in 4 steps) or fast (1/50th to 1/1000th second in 12 steps) operation. The gain control has 8 steps, from +18dB to -3dB. Exposure values are shown on the viewfinder display, with additional help from a zebra-pattern indicator, which superimposes a crosshatch pattern over areas that exceed a pre-set brightness level.  


Other exposure options include a switchable neutral density filter, 4-mode white balance and fader. Colour saturation, picture sharpness, white balance shift and auto-exposure shift can all be adjusted to suit personal preferences using the machineís custom preset mode. Manual focus is controlled via a collar on the lens barrel.


This machine has few gadgets -- more functionality, less glitz -- but there are a couple of digital effects worth mentioning. Thereís an electronic zoom, that doubles the optical zoom magnification from 10X to 20X, an anamorphic 16:9 recording mode that stretches the picture sideways, so it can be shown in the correct proportions on a widescreen TV, and an overlap facility, that mixes a still of the last shot recorded with the beginning of the next sequence. In common with all DVC camcorders thereís a still or Ďphotoí recording mode, and the machine can be hooked up to a flash gun, via the LANC socket, using an optional synchronisation module.


The on-board microphone has three directionality settings (mono, 90 and 120 degrees stereo), a switchable noise filter and attenuator. There are individual recording level controls for right and left stereo channels, a calibrated VU meter with peak-level indications and a built in monitor speaker.


It has a Control L/LANC edit control terminal, and recordings are automatically time-coded, using RCTC compatible protocols. A DV output jack, using the FireWire digital interface is fitted to the side of the machine (along with composite and S-Video outputs), enabling near-perfect copies to be made from this machine, using the DHR-1000 DVC VCR or professional video decks.



Itís bloody heavy, just under 4kgs all up, so you know itís there! Nevertheless, Sony clearly recognise the need for comfort and the viewfinder, shoulder support and handgrip are all adjustable. The shoulder-mount layout and large carry-handle echoes Sonyís previous semi-pro machines. Despite the sleek, low profile body and smart-looking silver grey finish itís a fairly conventional ENG design. The standard Lithium Ion battery pack looks a bit weedy stuck on the back -- it last for around 50 minutes -- thereís mounting lugs for a heavy-duty power pack, for those who need longer running times.


The large 1-inch viewfinder provides a clear, bright image. Itís packed with visual detail and information about what the machine is up to and menu options. Thereís a complete set of exposure values, mode, status and tape data, so youíre never left in any doubt. A small monitor speaker is set into the side of the machine, close to where the userís ear will be. A backlit LCD panel on the side replicates most of the viewfinder info, along with the audio level bar-graphs.



On-screen performance is impeccable, pushing our standard camcorder test procedures close to their limits. Our sample was able to resolve in excess of 450-lines without any difficulty; that is beyond the capabilities of most domestic TVs. We doubt many people would be able to distinguish recordings made on this machine from broadcast material. Picture noise levels are extremely low, and the triple CCD image sensor provides a bright image under most lighting conditions, with vibrant, lifelike colours.  Image stability is excellent and trick replay in the still and slomo modes is smooth and free of noise.


The question a lot of people have been asking about DVC is how do recordings look after they have been dubbed to VHS? In a word itís brilliant. The picture is clean and detailed, but the big difference between DVC to VHS and  Hi8 or S-VHS-C to VHS is the almost complete lack of any additional picture noise.


Camcorder sound is very subjective. Some people are still impressed that home video movies have any sound at all. For many users the mono linear soundtrack on VHS and VHS-C equipment is perfect satisfactory. Quite so, but compared with the VX9000, the sound on analogue camcorders --  even machines with stereo hi-fi systems -- is akin to likening a wind-up gramophone, (with a blunt needle), to a top-flight CD player.


In fact both the 12 and 16-bit PCM soundtracks compare very favourably with CD. There are differences between the two, but theyíre not what you might expect. 16-bit sound is rather bright and treble frequencies have a gritty harshness; 12-bit sound is slightly mellower, thereís no significant loss of detail though, and in both cases noise levels are extremely low.  We tried the system with a variety of sources, including line inputs from CD and MD players, and an external microphone, and in all cases the results were excellent, and audio dubs were clean. The on-board microphone is well separated and insulated from the rest of the machine, channel separation is very good and it produces a coherent stereo image up to several metres from the front of the machine.



Only £4000, theyíre giving it away! Suffice it to say  the VX9000 is good, very good; so good in fact that we reckon it will give a lot of broadcasters pause for thought, the next time theyíre thinking about spending £20,000 plus on a broadcast camcorder...



Itís in a class of its own. The closest consumer model is the Sony DCR-VX1000, which costs £500 less, but youíre not going to find a camcorder with anything like the same combination of performance and features this side of a professional machine, costing and weighing several times as much!



Make/model                               Sony DCR-VX9000    

Recording format               DVC

Guide price                                £4000



Lens                             f/1.6, 5.9-59mm

Zoom                            10X optical, 20X digital

Filter diameter            52mm  

Pick-up device            triple 0.3 in CCD

Min illum                       4 lux    



Long play (LP)                        no                   

Max rec time                        180 mins (DV180M tape)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes (Control L/LANC)


MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                                          

Manual focus                 yes      

Auto exposure               yes                              

Programmed AE                          no (see text)     

Fader                                        yes      

Manual white balance yes      

Auto white balance             yes                                          

Manual zoom                             no        

Power zoom                              yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                  yes      

Audio dub                                  yes

Character generator                       no                    

Digital superimposer                 no        

Image stabiliser                         yes                                          

Video light                                 no        

Battery refresh               n/a                                       

Accessory shoe             yes      




time/date recording, high-speed shutter (6-speed, inc. slow shutter up to 1/1000th sec), record review, retake, tally lamp, manual iris, 16:9 record, overlap, zebra pattern generator, frame/interval record, audio monitor, custom presets, gain control, audio mixer, audio monitor, photo record with optional flash syncro, ND filter



Viewfinder                       1-in monochrome

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



Stereo                                       yes (12 and 16-bit PCM)

Wind noise filter                         yes

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           variable sensitivity stereo zoom



Sockets                                    audio in & AV out (phono)  S-Video out (mini DIN) DV

out (DV jack/FireWire interface), headphones, external microphone & Control L


Dimensions                               216 x 225 x 466 mm                      

Weight                          3.8 kg (inc tape and battery)



Batteries (lithium & 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                  



Resolution                                 >450-lines    

Colour fidelity                           excellent

Picture stability                         excellent

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            very good

Exposure                                   very good

Auto focus                                  good

Audio performance                   very good

Insert edit                                  excellent

Playback thru adaptor              n/a



Value for money            *********

Ease of use                 *******

Performance                  ********* 

Features                       *********



R Maybury 1996 2011





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