This is turning into a huge year for camcorders. On the one hand, tape is under threat from DVD and hard-disk-based alternatives. But on the other, it has received a new lease of life from Sony's new HDV (high-definition video) models.

The firm is clearly very keen to push HDV. The HDR-HC1E comes out less than a year after the FX1E (see May 05), yet it's priced at half the cost of its semi-professional cousin.

Unlike the FX1E, however, the HC1E relies on Sony's new Cmos technology, first seen in the DCR-PC1000. This works differently to a CCD (charge-coupled device), with the sensor itself doing the digitising and some signal processing.

As it has a single chip, we were expecting the HC1E to exhibit poor performance in low light, but the results were surprisingly good. Only in really poor illumination did the HC1E fall slightly behind similarly priced three-CCD models. Under other conditions colour fidelity was strong.

With the fine detail afforded by the HDV resolution, the HC1 can shoot amazing-looking video. The results can be downloaded at full resolution via FireWire with compatible editing software, or the camcorder itself can down-sample to DV. Alternatively, the HC1E can shoot in DV natively.

Not every professional feature is available, but the HC1E doesn't restrict itself to point-and-shoot. The lens ring doubles as manual focus or zoom, and there's a discrete mini-rocker for controlling exposure. Everything else is accessed via the touch-sensitive LCD panel. There's no optical image stabilisation, but Sony's Super SteadyShot system is about the best non-optical version around.

HDR-HC1E: Specs

  • 2.97Mp Cmos
  • HDV and DV recording to MiniDV tape
  • f1.8
  • 10x optical zoom
  • 1,080i high-definition video
  • FireWire-in/-out
  • component-out
  • A/V-out
  • S/video-out
  • 2.97Mp Cmos
  • HDV and DV recording to MiniDV tape
  • f1.8
  • 10x optical zoom
  • 1,080i high-definition video
  • FireWire-in/-out
  • component-out
  • A/V-out
  • S/video-out

OUR VERDICT

The HC1E isn't perfect. The two biggest points against it are that it has a bottom-loading tape mechanism and a Sony-proprietary accessory shoe. But it's still an amazing leap forward in video quality for the money.

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