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Sony Handycam HDR-HC7 review: Sony Handycam HDR-HC7

Sony Handycam HDR-HC7

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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4 min read

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.

8.0

Sony Handycam HDR-HC7

The Good

Excellent video and performance; satisfying photo quality; a decent set of manual controls for the target audience; bundled FireWire cable.

The Bad

Annoying touch screen interface.

The Bottom Line

A great HD camcorder for deep-pocketed leisure shooters, as long as you like the Sony Handycam HDR-HC7's touch screen interface.

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.

Though Sony emblazons "6.1 megapixels still image recording" on the HC7's lens barrel, that claim's a bit misleading--especially when you can spot "6.1 megapixels" from several feet away and "still image recording" requires an up-close-and-personal read. In fact, it delivers an effective video resolution of 2.3 megapixels in HD mode and 1.7 megapixels in SD mode. Either is more than enough for downsampling to 1,920x540 (a single 1080i field) and 720x480 (SD). Photo resolution depends upon your current video mode. If you take photos while in tape mode (as opposed to memory mode), it records to the Memory Stick Duo but fixes the resolution at 4.6 megapixels (16:9) and 3.4 megapixels (4:3); in camera mode, you have the option of 6.1 or 3.1 megapixels for 4:3, as well as VGA resolution. How confusing is that? Especially since the area of the scene covered by the 4.6 megapixel, 16:9 aspect version is a letterboxed crop of the 6.1 megapixel, 4:3 aspect version. In practice, since most people likely will be shooting HDV and simply snapping the occasional photo, the typical photo size you'll see is 4.6 megapixels.

More on the Sony Handycam HDR-HC7
For more details on the HDR-HC7's design and image quality, click the image.

All that said, the HC7 generally produces excellent video, and depending upon the subject, photos that print nicely as large as 16x9 inches. The auto white balance could be a bit more neutral, but overall the colors emerge ballpark accurate and saturated. As usual with the Zeiss T* lenses, video renders sharply, especially when shot in conjunction with Sony's great Super SteadyShot optical image stabilizer. It helps that the lens doesn't have to stretch beyond 10x zoom; that means neither the optical system nor the stabilizer face undue challenges.

The autofocus and metering systems also perform quite well. The HC7 renders correct exposures in a variety of situations ranging from overcast midday skies to glaring low-angle desert light. Though CNET Labs' tests can't yet substantiate Sony's low-light claims of 2 lux, in a typical single-lamp living room environment it fares better than many competitors for sharpness, noise, and color. And the autofocus adapts relatively quickly to changes in position and zoom.

Although far pricier than the typical home-movie camcorder, if you've got the extra bucks to spend, your baby and vacation videos will look far better shot with the Handycam HDR-HC7 than if you shoot them with the typical $600 model. And though the quality far exceeds that of YouTube video, you can always run them through the garbage disposal first for that Internet cinema verité look.

8.0

Sony Handycam HDR-HC7

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Image quality 8
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