So you've heard how much better video will look in the xvYCC color space and are set to drop $33,000 on the Sony Bravia KDL-70XBR3 70-inch LCD TV when it ships in May. But what will you play on it? Most likely home movies recorded with the Sony Handycam HDR-HC7 or its little brother, the HDR-HC5, the first camcorders available to support xvYCC. However, even if you're not quite ready to plunk down that much cash for a TV, the more modestly priced HC7 will still deliver a great home movie experience.
In fact, it's impossible to know how the new color space, branded "x.v.Color" by Sony, will actually fare; though the HC7 can record it, no device can display the video properly as yet. Absent that distinction, the HC7 simply continues the tradition of Sony's excellent series of consumer HDV camcorders. Incorporating Sony's 1/2.9-inch 3-megapixel ClearVid CMOS sensor, the HC7 outspecs its 2-megapixel predecessors and the HC5 to rise to the top of Sony's single-chip consumer HDV camcorder line. It's not alone up there. With the exception of recording media type and the resultant design issues, the HC7 is essentially a twin of the DVD-based HDR-UX7. And I wouldn't be surprised if the eventual follow-up to the hard-disk-based HDR-SR1 made them triplets.
The sensor and a few random features differentiate the HC7 from the HC5. They share the same Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 10x zoom lens, though the tiny difference in sensor sizes results in a relatively insignificant disparity in focal lengths. In contrast to the HC5, a dial on the HC7 lets you assign one shooting adjustment setting--manual focus, exposure compensation/exposure shift, white balance shift (toward red or blue), and shutter speed--to control via the rather slippery dial. And the HC7 supplies a microphone input and headphone jack.
For shooting convenience, Sony provides its excellent SuperSteadyShot optical image stabilizer and Active Interface Shoe, plus Super NightShot infrared mode for when you need to tape in the dark. A nice selection of jacks populate the HC7, including HDMI 1.3 and component outputs. And while most camcorders have a FireWire port--i.Link, if you're Sony--Sony actually bundles a cable with the unit. Other niceties include a built-in electronic lens cover, a LANC connector, and a flash for still photos.
Like most of Sony's consumer models, the HC7 incorporates the love-it-or-hate-it touch screen interface; I fall more into the hate-it camp, especially on the HC7's smaller 16:9 2.7-inch LCD. Within the menus you'll find eight scene modes; 24-step exposure shift; manual, indoor, outdoor, and auto white balance; and manual shutter-speed adjustment between 1/2 and 1/500th second. Spot Focus and Spot Meter take advantage of the interface by letting you literally point at your subject.
Weighing 1 pound, 7 ounces with battery and tape, I found the HC7 quite comfortable to hold and shoot; only using the touch screen required an awkward two-handed balancing act. Though inconvenient for menu navigation, the LCD otherwise works well, and remains visible in harsh lighting. I generally prefer shooting with an eye-level viewfinder, though, and wish Sony had padded the hard plastic eyecup.