VIDEO CAMERA 1998

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SONY NIGHT WATCHMAN

 

STANDFIRST

A camcorder that can see in the dark, records for more than an hour between charges, and trills… It must be the new Sony CCD-TR35

 

COPY

Every two or three years Sony surprise us with a bunch of new and innovative camcorder features, 1998 looks like being a bumper year. Several of this year’s gizmos have made it onto the CCD-TR35, the new 8mm LCD family camcorder that is due to replace the TRV24 this Spring. One new feature makes itself obvious as soon as the machine is switched on or menu functions are selected. The TR35 makes similar electronic ‘ding-dong’ sounds as airliner PA systems. You half expect it to be followed by an announcement, about stowing hand luggage in the overhead lockers…

 

It’s quite chunky too, partly because of the 2.5-inch, fold-out LCD monitor screen on the side, and the lens barrel is a fair old size too. The reason for that is an exciting new feature, called Nightshot (be patient…). The lens assembly is quite large in any case; it has a bright f1.4 lens and 18X optical zoom. Still with the new features, there’s 8mm XR – it stands for eXtended Resolution – the on-screen displays have been revamped and there’s been some serious tweaking in the battery and power management department. We’ll look at all of them in more detail in a moment. 

 

Most of the rest of the features are old friends and the layout is little changed to other TR models. There’s the familiar seven-mode auto exposure system seen on previous machines. It covers the usual range of awkward shooting conditions (spotlight, sports, sea/sand, twilight, landscape and portrait). If you want to get creative there’s 8 digital effects (pastel, neg art, sepia, B&W, solarize, mosaic, slim and wide), plus a 4-mode fader (mosaic, stripe, monochrome and bounce). The TR35 also has a manual iris, simple title generator, Steadyshot electronic image stabiliser and there’s even an accessory shoe, in fact everything you could want on an 8mm camcorder. Well almost everything. The TR35 has mono sound recording, which seems a bit of a throwback, but otherwise you get a very well specified machine for your seven hundred pounds.

 

Nightshot is a very clever idea, reminiscent of those night-vision spy scopes sold in gadget shops. They use image intensifier tubes, to amplify available light but Sony have taken a slightly different approach. The CCD sensors in most camcorders are very sensitive to invisible infra-red light – you can see the IR light coming out of TV and VCR remote controls if you look at them through the viewfinder on most models. However, the CCDs in most machines are fitted with IR filters to reduce their sensitivity to this invisible form of light, to improve visible light colour accuracy. Sony have made the filter in the TR35 machine switchable, and they’ve mounted a set of IR LED illuminators on the front, which work like a video light, except it is more or less invisible to the naked eye. It lights up objects up to 3 metres from the front of the lens.  The upshot of all this is that the TR35 can make recordings in pitch-blackness, so if you want to include a black cat in a coalhole in your next production, you can!

 

8mm XR is a set of picture enhancements that operate in both record and playback modes. Sony reckons the improvements give a noticeable increase in frequency response, which translates as more fine detail in the picture. The on-screen display looks very different to previous implementations, which were originally designed for monochrome viewfinders. Since the trend is now towards colour LCD monitors, Sony probably thought it was about time for a new look. They’ve used little coloured icons to depict various groups of functions. We have to admit it looks a lot slicker but to be honest it’s no easier to use, and if you’re used to the old menu system it takes a while to get used to it.

 

The biggest and most welcome change has been to battery running time. It began a couple of years ago with the ‘Stamina’ campaign but the use of newly integrated digital processing chips, more efficient viewfinder displays and lower operating voltages for the electronics, has made a real difference on this year’s models. We managed to get well over an hour from the standard battery pack, and that was with lots of stopping, starting and zooming. That’s impressive! The Infolithium battery is now charged in-situ; there’s a display on the side of the machine that shows the state of charge, and how much recording time you can expect to get, whilst it is charging. That means you don’t have to wait for a full charge if you only want to record for a few minutes. The downside of this arrangement is that you can’t charge a spare battery whilst recording. 

 

Despite it’s size and weight (1kg all up) the handling is good. Some secondary functions on the menu are a bit acquired to get at if you’re shooting using the viewfinder. The menu button can only be accessed when the LCD monitor is open, but all selections are controlled from a single thumbwheel switch. Connections to the outside world are all present and correct. The TR35 has external microphone and headphone sockets, and the all-important Control L/LANC socket, for connection to edit controllers. A pair of phono sockets for video and audio output is on the side of the machine, beside the lens, and there’s a small flat socket on the back for the hook up to the mains charger.

 

PERFORMANCE

The XR system definitely earns its keep. Resolution in good light was around the 250-line mark on our sample and noise levels were a shade lower than earlier Sony travel cams. However the biggest improvement was on the image stabiliser and digital zoom. There wasn’t anything like the amount of degradation we’ve become accustomed to; you have to look quite hard to spot any difference between stabilised and unstabilised pictures. The 72X zoom is a bit of a gimmick, but at extreme magnification the picture is nothing like as blocky as it gets on other similarly equipped machines.  

 

Nightshot is excellent. The picture is in black and white with a slight dash of colour.  Actually it’s more green and white. Green is chosen because our eyes find it easier to make out changes in contrast. You really can see in the dark, the illuminators are surprisingly bright; if you stand in front of a mirror (in a darkened room) and look through the viewfinder, the illuminators shine like a torch. They’re bright enough to light a small room. The picture is quite grainy, it’s not an everyday effect but it does open up a lot of new and interesting possibilities.  By the way, the IR LEDs emit a faint red glow in the dark, so it’s not much good for covert shooting.

 

It’s not all good news, and the deck mechanism suffers from the same mechanical instability that we have encountered on several other Sony machines lately. A light tap on the body is enough to make the picture judder slightly, and our sample was especially sensitive to sideways movement. Even a gentle waggle is enough to make the picture disappear. 

 

The image on the LCD screen is quite bright but rather coarse and not a patch on the displays that Sony is now using on their latest digital camcorders. The mono soundtrack is fine. It has a wide response, forward sensitivity is good and motor whine is subdued. The only real complaint is that it’s not stereo, which has become more or less standard on all but the cheapest 8mm camcorders these days. 

 

VERDICT

The LCD monitor screen is just about big enough for a couple of people to watch (and hear) on the spot replays, but it is the extras, like Nightshot, and the very impressive battery performance that really sells this machine. The XR system makes a small but useful difference to picture quality, especially to the performance of the electronic stabiliser and zoom. At a time when low-band camcorders are looking increasingly outmoded the TR35 breaths new life into the 8mm format, for those who don’t want or need the superior picture quality of Hi8 or DVC.

 

THE RIVALS

There are only a couple of camcorders with LCD monitor screens in the £700 price bracket, and none of them as well equipped as the TR35. The only serious rival is the Panasonic NV-VX30, (also £700). There’s also the Sanyo LC200 and Sharp VL-E720 ViewCam but both machines lack the sophistication and AV performance of the TR35. It’s worth noting that for the same sort of money you could get the Canon UC-X10Hi or the Sony TR820 Hi8 machines. However, none of the machines mentioned have anything to match Nightshot or Stamina, which we reckon could become a big selling point for Sony, now that it is having a real impact on battery running times.  

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Sony CCD-TRV35

Recording format               8mm

Guide price                                £700

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.4, 4.1 – 73.8mm

Zoom                            18x optical, 72x digital

Filter diameter            37mm  

Pick-up device            0.25in CCD

Min illum                       0 lux (see text)         

 

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 (7-mode)  

Fader                                        yes (4-mode)              

Manual white balance no        

Auto white balance             yes                                          

Manual zoom                             no        

Power zoom                              yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                  no        

Audio dub                                  no

Character generator                       yes                  

Digital superimposer                 no        

Image stabiliser                         yes                                          

Video light                                 yes (see text)

Battery refresh               n/a                                       

Accessory shoe             yes      

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, record review, retake, tally lamp, nightshot, digital effects (pastel, neg art, sepia, B&W, solarize, mosaic, slim, wide), exposure override, infolithium battery, multi-mode fader (mosaic, stripe, monotone, bounce), cinema mode, built-in lens cover, built-in monitor speaker 

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.6 in monochrome, 2.5-inches colour LCD

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

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       no        

Wind noise filter                         no                   

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           unidirectional electret

 

GENERAL

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

(minijack), DC power (proprietary multi-pi)

Dimensions                               107 x 107 x 209mm                      

Weight                          1kg (inc tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries (infolithium, lithium 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                                 250-lines

Colour fidelity                           very good

Picture stability                         good

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            average

Exposure                                   good

Auto focus                                  good

Audio performance                   average

Insert edit                                  manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor              n/a

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money            8

Ease of use                   7

Performance                  9

Features                       9

 

---end---

R Maybury 1998 1003

 

 

 


 

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