The HDR-TG3E is the world's smallest full HD camcorder. It shoots movies at a full 1920x1080i resolution, and yet it's small enough to slip into a jacket pocket. It might not sound especially cheap at around £450, but that's a lot less than the original asking price, making the Sony more tempting still.
Normally you expect to compromise. If you want the best quality, you have to lug around a big, chunky camcorder. If you want pocketability, you have to put up with mushy, jerky footage. The TG3E really does give you the best of both worlds.
Don't run away with the idea that it's as light and slender as a superslim stills camera, though. It's a meaty 240g slab even before you put the battery in, and given that it's also around 25mm thick, you're going to need pretty well-stitched pockets.
The build quality and general 'feel' is excellent, even though its much-vaunted scratch-resistant titanium finish only extends over one side of the body. The TG3E is really simple to use, too. You just swing out the LCD, it powers up, and you're ready to start shooting. The 69mm (2.7-inch) widescreen LCD display is bright and sharp, even in dim light, and the SteadyShot stabilisation keeps the image surprisingly still even at full zoom. Best of all, the touch-screen interface means the body is almost entirely free of the buttons, joysticks and hieroglyphics that mess up so many camcorder exteriors.
But what about the footage? Is it really better than standard definition? You'd better believe it. The difference in definition is obvious straight away, and if you've already converted to HDTV, once you've seen what an HD camcorder like this is capable of, nothing else will do.
But while the Sony is perfect for point-and-shooters, more ambitious videographers might not be so easily impressed. There's nowhere to plug an external microphone, for example, and the manual control is limited to EV compensation, spot metering, manual white balance and focus. It uses the AVCHD format, too, so you'll need compatible software before you can start doing any video editing. Sanyo's neat Xacti camcorders produce MPEG files you can drag across and double-click, but here it's not that easy. PC owners can get started with the bundled Motion Picture Browser application, but Mac owners get nothing (iMovie 08 can import the Sony's footage, but only at a painfully slow rate).
And this might make you more inclined to be picky about the controls, too. The mode dial is concentric with the zoom dial, and you will turn the wrong one inadvertently many, many times before you remember it for good. The 'photo' button looks like the hinge for the LCD display (the label is round the side, where you don't see it), and the touch-screen interface is built around icons and a hierarchy of screens which will only become clear with the help of the manual.
The TG3E isn't quite a triumph of style over substance, but it sails pretty close to the wind. It looks great, but only at the expense of controls which border on the obscure. It's saved, though, by its size and compactness, its exterior simplicity and the sheer quality of its HD footage.
Edited by Marian Smith