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Sony Handycam DCR-TRV355

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      14.02.2004 19:04
      Very helpful
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      The Sony DCR-TRV 355 (from now on called the 355 in this review) is a camcorder you can most certainly rely on for your home footage needs whatever the subject. Maybe you are looking at recording your loved animals, such as Fluffy the kitten, or your newly-born, Brooklyn, or maybe those steamy nights of passion..........well; the 355 will suit any enthusiast who has an eye on capturing those moments of sadness, joy and love.......on tape. You can look forward to showing friends and family those precious moments from the comfort of your own home and at a price no one of sane mind could turn down. Well...if the sales pitch didn't do it maybe a Ciao review might... This camcorder is one of the newest in the low-budget range of Sony camcorders and is a Digital 8 device. It can record in SP (short play), around 60 minutes on most cassettes, and LP (long play), around 90 minutes on the same cassette. This offers the user slightly more space on a tape for capturing extra moments but will probably result in a slight lowering of picture quality. The Look (4/5) The 355 is a typical looking camcorder, fairly sleek and looks sexy in its own right. The silver-grey finish makes it look like a toy of the digital age and differentiates it from the black camcorders many of us grew up around. The viewfinder tilts upwards at 45 degrees, allowing different filming experiences. The colour LCD screen, at 2.5 inches wide, rotates round 180 degrees for self-portrait filming or angled holds when observing a subject from awkward angles. Many of the buttons are firmly tucked behind the LCD screen out of reach whilst a few are located on top and behind the camcorder for ease of use when filming. It is fairly light for what it does but it may take the user a while to get adjusted to carrying extra weight on their hand and steadying the shot when filming. Ease of Use (4/5) This camcorder is fairly easy to use as I managed to get
      most of the basic functions figured out without reading the manual. Buttons push easily but do not protrude, therefore minimising accidental pressing of keys and functions. The record button is handily placed so that you can control zooming, recording and hold the camcorder with just the one hand, but it does take a little getting used to. The 355 can only really be used with a right hand so, if you are left-handed, make sure you are comfortable in using this camcorder before buying. Zoom (4/5) The zoom capabilities of the 355 are fairly reasonable for a camcorder of this price. With 20x optical zoom (allows a great deal of proximity to a distant subject) and 700x digital zoom, which increases the proximity but through digital means rather than technical means, the 355 is top of its class. Digital zoom does tend to leave the image shaking quite substantially the further the user zooms into the subject. One benefit I have found from the zoom function is the varied speed at which you can zoom into a subject, allowing for instant closeness or a gradual, more professional zoom into a specific area. Recording Quality (4/5) The recorded picture is excellent and offers a high resolution. Unlike some of the more upmarket models, the Sony 355 only uses one CCD rather than three, and therefore the range of brightness and colours are limited. For those who have no idea what a CCD is, I wouldn?t worry too much about it, it?s just the way the camcorder records. I didn?t find too many problems with the recording quality when playing my video back. My only gripe may have to be that the camcorder is on auto-focus the majority of the time and if you move it too briskly, it will spend a fraction of a second adjusting this focus which results in a momentarily blurred image. His can be avoided by manually focussing or steadying your hand and sideways movement when filming. Sound Quality (3/5) Sound quality is fa
      ir on this camcorder as it offers 16bit stereo sound. On TV playback this sound is fairly clear depending on the conditions in which the footage was shot. For most home users as well as myself this quality is fine but for more professional users it may lack seriously. There is an option to record via a microphone with a normal jack. This can be plugged in at the front of the camcorder and adds a fair amount of quality to the recording sound. This evidently also depends on what microphone you are using. It does tend to cut out some of the wind interference however. Inputs/Outputs (5/5) The 355 has a number of input and output sockets?.too many in fact?unless you are planning on using them all. 1. S-Video (in/out) 2. A/V (in/out) ? the main socket used for playing back onto a television set. 3. USB streaming socket. This allows a user to stream the camcorder image onto a computer and theoretically act as a web cam. 4. Microphone socket 5. LANC socket ? another thing I?m not too familiar with. Battery Life (3.5/5) Battery life on the 355 is not great but does provide the user with enough power to do some great filming and play it back at the same time. How long the battery lasts all depends on whether you are filming, recording, whether the additional gizmos (to be described below) are on and whether the LCD screen is being used. One can always buy a replacement battery (QM-91) which lasts around 4 hours recording rather than use the supplied battery (FM-30) which only provides around an hour of filming. What Sony have done is to upgrade their battery range with a new feature called Info-Lithium. This feature allows the user to view how long the battery has to last and gauge when filming has to stop. This information can be displayed on the LCD screen or is present in the viewfinder window. The 355 supports and is supplied with this type of battery. The battery supplied takes around 1.5 hours to cha
      rge. Useful Extras (5/5) The 355 is equipped with a front-end lamp which can be used to illuminate the filmed subject and aid filming in dark areas or situations. It allows a fairly useful illumination of all subjects directly in front of the camcorder, providing around a 2 metre circular glow and definitely enhances what would otherwise be a dull picture. The lamp does drain on battery power quite considerably and can only really be used for short periods of time if lengthy filming is required. Spare bulbs can be purchased from Sony themselves but are not widely available elsewhere. Sony's Nightvision system is one of those gimmicks that can help sell this camcorder. It works fairly well and allows the user to see in low-light and record those very pictures. I found this feature to be useful more as a toy to show others than an essential part of my filming needs but it does do the trick when required. The only downsides to Nightvision are another substantial drain on battery power and the expected green glow that we often see in Army commercials on television. Another selling point of this camcorder is that it is backwards compatible. That is, it can play tapes recorded on 8mm or Hi-8 camcorders and therefore accepts those tapes as if they were its own. This may appeal to existing camcorder users who do not want to go through the painful task of transferring their footage across to compatible media. This marvel also allows for the use of a memory stick. These cards allow digital pictures and mpeg (movie files) to be recorded without the use of a tape and consequently uploaded to a computer at a later date. Folders can be created on the cards so that pictures can be grouped correctly. Sony has produced 128mb cards which are compatible with this camcorder and can be bought from Amazon for around £42. I estimate that a 128mb card will allow around 600 pictures in the highest quality setting. I must issue
      a warning to anyone thinking that they will get comparable pictures to digital cameras: this camcorder takes fairly useful pictures but in no way matches the high-performance of newer digital cameras. It is a useful addition and allows greater use of an already useful piece of kit. Sony's SteadyShot system helps the camcorder adjust to wobbles from hand movements and when zooming. This, from my experience, works fairly well and does indeed minimise shaking when filming: thumbs up to Sony here! Sony have packed a fair few options into this camcorder such as 8 picture effects, from old movie styles and mosaic to negative art and slow motion etc. Couple with this, the 355 has options to alter the shutter speed and put the camcorder into different modes to accommodate the speed of sporting events or poorly lit subjects. Included Accessories (4/5) The 355 comes with almost everything a user could need for a camcorder as far as editing and playback are concerned. The scart lead works superbly and allows for playback on any television sporting a scart socket. The playback quality is exactly what one would require of their footage and no installation is required. One simply needs to flick their TV into AV mode and play the camcorder tape to view their recorded memories. A USB cable is also included for streaming onto the computer. The operations manual is extensive and comes with English/French languages. I have to admit that the manual does get confusing as both languages are mixed throughout, rather than in totally separate sections and also assumes that the reader knows a little more than they actually do. It also doesn?t lend itself too well to solving technical problems if they were to occur. Software, intended for video editing is supplied with this camcorder but I can?t get it to accept the video signal from my camcorder. The installation is easy on a PC but virtually no support is given with th
      e driver or application for a problem such as mine. It is even more difficult on an Apple Mac, where users of the OS X operating system will find that the bundled software is not compatible: quite appalling as far as I am concerned but I was warned before purchasing this item. An infra-red remote control is also included which allows distance control of the 355 and also helps when playing back the video to friends and family: you don?t have to hunch over the camcorder when playing back specific sections. Two AA-size batteries are supplied. Also: Carrying strap (no case, can be bought separately). Availability of extra Accessories Many extra accessories are available through the likes of Amazon and leading electrical stockists and range in price. Amazon tends to be the cheapest option but other suppliers can have some good offers on from time to time. The Sony site has additional accessories not supplied by the likes of Amazon, such as 2 metre water-resistant casings, allowing some form of underwater filming, and special lens slides to achieve extra effects. These do tend to be fairly expensive and should only really be considered by real film fanatics or those with too much money to burn. Conclusions (4/5) The Sony DCR-TRV 355 cost me £375 in mid-January from http://www.hiwayhifi.co.uk and the price is steadily dropping. It has done its job so far from my experiences and I am sure it will continue to do so in future. My main qualms have to be regarding the battery life, although this can be solved by buying another battery at around £60-90, and the poorly supplied software, which I have yet to sort out in full. The socket protective covers do appear to be a bit flimsy and look as if they could break but this won?t affect the performance of the camcorder at all. On the plus side it does have a massive range of features, certainly enough to keep someone happy for a few weeks testing them all. Some of these ca
      n add an immense amount of control over how the picture looks and titles and date format allow a user to move a title around specific areas of the screen, change their colour and size, and choose from set titles in 8 different languages or create their own. Everything is here for a home-user to make films of whatever subjects they choose and at a fairly affordable price too. Sony have done magnificently in packing so many features onto this model but should definitely resolve the software issues if they don?t want to lose customers. All my footage has come out beautifully, excactly how I would have expected, and has proved to be an interesting thing to show family and friends upon my holiday return. ------ Update - The software now seems to accept the video stream from the camcorder but it involved using a different computer. ------ hiwayhifi.co.uk - £369 ajelectronics.co.uk - £390 amazon.co.uk - £415

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