When it comes to camcorders its fair to say that you pretty much get what you pay for. Higher prices usually mean better image quality, longer battery life, a lighter body and a whole host of extra features that you dont see on the cheaper models. This camcorder is in the higher price range bracket, but is it really worth paying over £1000 for a camcorder when you can get one for a fifth of the price?
The DCR-TRV80 is a relatively new offering from Sony, which replaces the DCR-TRV50, it is a MiniDV camcorder. The camera boasts a 2.1 megapixel sensor, a multitude of the latest features and accessories as well as responsive automatic controls; on paper this camcorder would seem tailor-made for any point-and-shoot videographer (or at least those with a big budget!)
This camcorder has a relatively compact body with a hand-grip design which means it is configured for handheld shooting and essentially this is how the camcorder is ideally used because it has a bottom-loading cassette hatch which means it isnt possible to change the tape while the camcorder is loaded on a tripod. Depending on the individual user this wouldnt necessarily be a problem, most people would account for the length of time they intend on filming for by purchasing a tape with enough hours of recording on it but it may be a minor inconvenience if you were filming a presentation, performance, or various other activities ;) Aesthetically the camcorder has a modern look about it and has a sturdy, solid feel to it. It weighs in at 720g and I found it to be deceptively heavy, I think this is largely owing to the large LCD display screen, I thought it was unnecessarily big and definitely weighs the camcorder down so it probably wouldnt be ideal for holding for a long period of time and I certainly wouldnt let young children get their hands on it. On the plus side the controls are clearly labelled, and it should be relatively easy for most people to master the basic operation of this camcorder quickly.
When using the camcorder you fasten the adjustable hand belt quite firmly and this allows the main body of the camcorder to hang from the back of your right hand so youre not constantly holding the camcorder, this means you have a greater control over it. This is the recommended way of using the camcorder and despite following the instructions I found the ergonomics of the main body rather badly designed. The start/stop button is in an awkward position and its difficult to reach with your thumb, this is slightly annoying if you a filming something where you have to stop and start shooting a lot. However on the positive side the zoom lever is spring loaded and pressure sensitive making for easy usage and it is conveniently positioned within easy reach of the index finger. The power/mode dial is in the usual position just beneath your right thumb. There is also a photo button to capture a still shot.
One of my favourite features of this camcorder and something which does distinguish it from other models is the touch-screen menu. This is used rather than having physical buttons to press and it can be used to activate almost all functions. This will appeal to some people but perhaps not to others, I found it was easy to navigate although some options you may need to consult the manual for. The buttons for the backlight exposure and the focus button which allows you to switch between automatic and manual focus are both conveniently placed. There is also an infrared nightshot mode which allows you to shoot in the dark could come in useful!
Some users may prefer to use the viewfinder rather than the LCD screen in which case you can just fold the LCD against the body of the camcorder with the screen facing outwards this means that if you want to adjust exposure, activate the fader, or select other settings you still touch the LCD, but it stays dark while the relevant settings appear. In one sense this is a good idea because it allows you to have exposure control during viewfinder use, however personally I cant help thinking that if theyd included an exposure dial on the main body of the camera the whole procedure would have been a lot simpler.
Unsurprisingly this camcorder features all of the usual luxury features that amateur moviemakers or casual shooters want so it would be more than adequate for that wedding day footage or childrens school play but it doesnt have the shooting power or the manual controls that serious videographers expect from a camcorder.
The camcorder has a 2.1-megapixel CCD and this enables you to supplement the 10 times optical zoom with an impressively sharp digital zoom. I found this was exceptionally good; it held together perfectly, even when pushed to the 120 times extreme. There is also a big sensor which improves the photo mode, and allows you to shoot 1.9 megapixel still photographs. There are a useful selection of photo features such as a pop-up flash, exposure bracketing, continuous-shooting modes, and Sony's Hologram AF for focusing quickly and accurately in low light. This makes it ideal for events where you want to quickly set up to capture footage. There is also an edit search control which allows the user to review the most recent footage quickly and pick up the shooting from where you left off without having to switch to VCR mode.
As I mentioned previously adjusting exposure while shooting is slightly more tricky than with some camcorders as you do it via the touch screen rather than using the more traditional dial method. I find it difficult to maintain my shot; a dial would have been easier and more convenient, although a touch screen is a good idea in this situation it simply isnt practical. The overall exposure is adjusted using the exposure-shift function ie. It isnt possible to set the shutter speed, iris and gain independently of each other. You choose from a variety of programmed exposure modes, select a spot metering point on the touch screen, and activate the backlight mode all with one button. Spot focusing is also available through the touch screen, and there are numerous special effects available.
The camcorder also boasts some gadget appeal which some people will find appealing. It features Bluetooth, USB streaming, and networking capabilities which many will find useful. You can beam photos and MPEG-1 movies from the Memory Stick (if you choose to save footage on one) to Bluetooth-enabled mobiles and PDAs. There is also an option to buy the phone modem or an Ethernet adapter both of which allow you to use the camera itself to send and receive e-mail with JPEG stills or MPEG-1 videos attached. This sounds impressive and it would be a very useful feature to some but to the vast majority of users I dont think it is really something people need.
Generally the camcorders image quality is impressive; footage is sharp and well exposed, and colours appear vivid and accurate. The camera also performs well during scenes with mixed light levels, details are maintained in shadow areas and bright spots arent excessively blown out as you often find with cheap camcorders. Using exposure shift to adjust the exposure is easy.
In low light the camcorder automatically ups the gain to cope with the change in conditions but this doesnt result in excessive noise or any murkiness of the image. In near or even total darkness; you can use the NightShot mode with the option of using the built-in infrared illuminator to capture monochrome footage. There is a Colour Slow Shutter which allows the user to retain the scene's colour, but unfortunately I found that you get a lot of motion blur, this is worse in total darkness, its not too bad in dimly lit conditions though.
The 1.9 megapixel stills photos are really impressive, and I think all users would be impressed with their quality. If you chose to e-mail them theyd certainly be good enough to use on a website. A dedicated 2 megapixel camera is of course more ideal because it is specifically designed to take stills but from a camcorder you wont be disappointed with the performance of this one.
Ive tried pretty much everything you can do with this camcorder and overall Ive been impressed with the performance. However for the price you may expect it to include more features that serious videographers expect as most amateurs wouldnt be prepared to pay over £1000 for a camcorder.
To put it simply the bottom line goes like this:
GOOD POINTS: Excellent image quality, 2.1 megapixel sensor, smooth operation, manual focus ring, Bluetooth and networking functionality.
BAD POINTS: Limited manual overrides, no alternative to touch-screen operation, occasionally awkward ergonomics.
CONCLUSION: This camcorder offers limited manual overrides for serious shooters but it enables the non-technical enthusiast to create quality videos and acceptable still photographs with very little effort. Shooting is simple and it has plenty of useful gadgetry which makes it an excellent choice for any non-technical connoisseur.
Recommended for big-budget non-technical enthusiasts.
Thanks for reading!