Sony HDR-HC3

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Sony HDR-HC3
  • Sony HDR-HC3
  • Sony HDR-HC3
  • Sony HDR-HC3
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Crystal clear video, decent still pictures, slimmest HD camcorder around, price.

Cons

  • Video transfer software and cables not included, lacks advanced controls, only offers interlaced HD pictures.

Bottom Line

A great entry to the camcorder market that's perfect for those with HD televisions.

Would you buy this?

The Sony HDR-HC3 is an excellent entry to the HD video camera market. At a price comparable to similar high-end Mini DV camcorders - and with quality that puts many of them to shame - the HC3 makes a great choice for anyone who wants to enter the world of High Definition video.

The HC3 is the most compact HD consumer-focused model yet, and the first one to be offered at a truly affordable level. Unsurprisingly, the video quality from the HC3 blows away the competition. The native 1080i images are crisp and sharp with fantastic levels of detail. No standard definition DV camcorder can get anywhere near the HC3 in terms of video quality.

Video is also smooth with well balanced colours under both natural and artificial lighting conditions. One area of slight disappointment is recording in low light levels, where traces of colour stepping and a murky haze detract from the otherwise excellent picture. These artefacts vanish when activating the low light colour mode, but the frame rate drops considerably.

Sony's standard night vision mode using infrared LEDs also makes a welcome return. Standard definition pictures are also good, though you'd be foolish to buy the camera purely for this purpose. Although the auto focus is quick and sharp, we found it would sometimes get stuck in a position where it was completely out of focus, resulting in the need to zoom in and out to correct the problem. The 10x optical zoom is good, but we would like even greater zoom. Progressive scan would also be a good addition.

The 4 megapixel still photos were impressive. Basic manual controls and a flash are a good inclusion. The HC3 can also take images while recording video, though only at 2.3 megapixels, and only three can be taken during a single recording session. Battery life is reasonable, and we managed to get about an hour and a half out of the camera.

The HC3 immediately stands out from Sony's latest crop of cameras with its attractive gloss black finish and gunmetal silver lens barrel. A 960 x 220 pixel high resolution 2.7 inch widescreen LCD sits neatly on the side and the battery rests inside the camera rather than jutting out like on many models. One slightly odd design choice is the lack of a moveable viewfinder. Virtually all camcorders allow the user to extend the viewfinder out or up for easier picture taking, but not so here. Though the camera is fairly weighty, it's comfortable to hold with easy access to the primary controls.

As with all of Sony's latest camcorders, the primary navigational control is the touch screen LCD. This is great for the most part, but with some advanced controls buried several levels deep in the menu, it can prove frustrating. The camera does not include 'prosumer' functions such as shutter speed and aperture control, though Sony's automatic settings do the job well enough. Manual focus, white balance and exposure can be accessed using a scroll wheel at the front of the camera which is more convenient than digging through menus, though less convenient than a focus ring. One useful extra is 'zebra' mode, which highlights areas of the picture that appear too bright under the current settings and may be overexposed. These show up on-screen with a stripy effect. The inclusion of a similar effect for underexposed areas that are too dark would also have been useful, but this is a nice idea nonetheless.

Well Connected

The HC3 is a High Definition camcorder so the inclusion of component, HD DV and HDMI connections come as no surprise. In addition to these connections, standard definition is catered for with S-Video and composite cables.

A Memory Stick Duo slot provides the storage for still images with Mini DV the choice for video content. A USB slot allows for the transfer of still images to a computer. Firewire has to be used for video, and for this the cable is not included. It's also slightly irksome to find Sony has not included basic software to edit or transfer HD video from the camera. Unless you own or buy the appropriate software and a FireWire cable, videos will be stuck on the Mini DV tapes. Of course that in itself isn't a great problem as standard Mini DV tapes are inexpensive.

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

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