Sony has scored a real coup with its new HC1. The camcorder has become incredibly popular amongst a broad range of videomakers. I have fielded calls from a wide variety of users, those who are now exchanging an old analogue camcorder for their first digital one through to seasoned professionals keen to record footage in difficult situations in HD.
Anecdotally too, a number of retailers have expressed their surprise that the moderately expensive HC1 has proven to be so popular. There appears to be two drivers to this phenomenon. The first is that quite a few Australians have been bitten by the HD (High Definition) bug, they are buying HD plasma and LCD TVs. HDTV, home theatre and a general regard for higher quality recording is seeing people opt for a camcorder that delivers the highest quality pictures possible. The second is that many videomakers see the new HDV format as a way of future proofing their camcorder purchase.
Sony has been excellent at picking consumer moods in the past and their domination of the HD market in both the consumer and semi-professional areas has shown an impeccable understanding of the market and consumer?s desires when it comes to camcorder video.
The much larger HDR-FX1 consumer HDV model and its more professional cousin, the HVR-Z1P are extremely popular prosumer through to professional videomaker camcorders and have even started turning up on shoots of a number of TV programs.
The amazing thing is that once you have seen the output from the HC1 on a HDTV there is simply no going back to Standard Definition. Viewing the native 1080i video on an HDTV drives home how much resolution we?re missing on standard DV; when the HC1 is sharp, it?s very, very sharp. So if you plan to view your videos solely on an HDTV via a FireWire or Component connection and want the sharpest picture possible, this is most definitely your camcorder.
The HDR-HC1 incorporates the new HDV (High Definition Video) format developed for consumer and prosumer camcorders. The HC1 is the first single chip ? (Sony has deployed a 8.4mm (1/3 inch) CMOS [Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor] imaging chip) capable of recording in both the 16 x 9 1080i HDV and standard 4 x 3 (or 16 x 9) DV (Digital Video) formats, and uses miniDV tape for recording in both formats. The effective pixels of the CMOS chip in the HC1 are 1.9 megapixels in HDV mode and 1.46 megapixels in standard DV mode.
The HC1 has both HD-component and iLink outputs for full 1080i playback, but has a down conversion function for HDV playback on standard resolution televisions or when copying to a DVD or VHS tape.
Sony has deployed a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* fixed lens. You can add accessory lenses, but the primary lens cannot be removed. The lens features a 10x optical zoom with a focal length of 41 – 480mm in 16 x 9 mode, and 50 – 590mm in 4×3 mode. The lens can be focused manually or automatically, and focus ring is provided just behind the lens assembly on the camcorder exterior. The focus ring can also be switched and used as a zoom ring as well, although there is a standard finger-style zoom control at the rear of the camcorder.
As you might expect from a camcorder that delivers great HD images, the HC1 has both auto and manual controls for focus, exposure, white balance, shutter speed, color shift, and sharpness. However, the HC1 is missing a manual video gain control, which would be desirable in difficult lighting situations. Add to this Picture Effects, Fader Control, Shot Transition Mode, and Cinematic Effect, which approximates a 24fps film look, and you have a heavy arsenal of control which is unexpected in such a diminutive camcorder.
You can select among automatic, manual, or spot focus. The Expanded Focus button enlarges the centre of the scene for easier manual focusing, and the Tele Macro button will defocus the background to bring out the subject.
A professional zebra-stripe overexposure display and a live histogram supplement exposure options, and for low-light shooting, you can turn to Sony?s infrared NightShot mode and Super NightShot, which uses infrared and the built-in video light.
The HC1 uses a 16 x 9 high-resolution colour eyepiece viewfinder, as well as a 16 x 9 6.86 cm (2.7 inch) flip-out LCD screen. Like other Sony camcorders, the LCD screen also serves as menu touch screen from which the user can access many of the manual shooting functions, as well as the unit?s playback functions. This feature eliminates ?button clutter? on the camcorder exterior.
Along with the extensive video recording options of the HC1, the camcorder also has quite good audio options for a consumer camcorder. It is equipped with an on-board stereo microphone, but can accept an external microphone as well. In addition, the audio input levels can be adjusted manually via the LCD touch screen menu. You can also monitor the audio level of your recording via headphones. Audio is recorded in 16bit (CD quality) in HDV, or alternatively, 16bit or 12bit when recording in DV.
HDV files can be edited on a PC with HDV compatible software, down converted, and then burned to DVD. When high definition recordable DVD (Blu-Ray) becomes available, you will be able to copy and play your footage back in full HD resolution without having to plug in the camcorder.