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Sony HDR-HC3 HDV camcorder review: Sony HDR-HC3 HDV camcorder

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The Good Great image in either SD or HD. Quick response to changing scene. Some image control provided by auto/manual toggle and dial. Touchscreen LCD has additional recording controls.

The Bad Camera controls most image settings. No external battery charger.

The Bottom Line A good choice for families wanting to match a camera to their HD TV set. Automatic operation means not needing to know much to get pleasing images. More advanced videographers may be a little frustrated by the manual controls.

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8.0 Overall

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Anyone who has already shelled out for a high definition TV set, or is thinking of doing so in the next 12 months will, no doubt, be intrigued by HDV camcorders. If there's nothing broadcast in HD on telly, they can at least watch the kids' footy match in all its muddy glory.

Loosely translated, the 1080i standard means images are recorded at 1080 lines of resolution. No surprises then, that high definition cameras provide a new level of detail and clarity, but while it may be possible to enhance beautiful images, the same might be said of images recorded by inexpert hands and every little mistake they make. So, of course, delivering high def' capabilities to consumers is not just a matter of sticking the right chip in a camera. It's in the manufacturer's interest make the resulting images look as good as possible, whether or not the person at the controls knows what they're doing.

Enter Sony's HDR-HC3 -- described as an "ultra compact" camcorder. It is perhaps the most consumer-oriented model so far, within the HDV range pioneered by Sony. All members of the range can generally be commended for their automatic features, but this camcorder really depends on them.

If default settings for automatic were not enough for the timid cameraperson, there's Easy mode (perhaps better described as "even easier" mode). Pressing the Easy button takes what is essentially the standard automatic operation just a little further by disabling a few other settings. Perhaps its main purpose is to be of reassurance for those consumers who fear accidentally selecting a setting they don't understand.

Anyone looking to manually control the settings, such as those defining exposure -- shutter speed, iris or gain -- will be frustrated that these are controlled by the camera and that they get only a single exposure setting (but they probably shouldn't be looking at products at this end of the market anyway, albeit in an HDV camera).

Anyone who is happy enough to let the camera do the work should be pleasantly surprised with the outcome. The automatic features tend to get it right and they're quicker than one might expect. For example, if moving quickly from one subject to another in moderate light levels, the camera refocuses very quickly and smoothly to cope with changes.

For those who haven't made the leap to HD, take heart. The camera automatically down converts to the usual DV format for standard definition TVs and VCRs and the resulting image quality, whilst standard definition, is still rich and clear.

Of course, a Carl Zeiss lens helps achieve quality images, for either video or still. The HDR-HC3 also offers 4-megapixel stills, but stored only on Sony's own MemoryStick Duo or Duo Pro. Video is recorded to MiniDV tape. (While there are special HDV tapes available, professionals using HDV cameras use standard MiniDV tapes).

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