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Sony HDR-HC3 review

Sony Corp. announced its "trump card" in popularizing user-created, high definition video, the HDR-HC3 camcorder. It's worth considering by anyone interested in making the jump to high-definition, but there are some obstacles beyond Sony's control that users will need to overcome in the process. 

One of the most obvious differences between the HC3 and its predecessor, the HDR-HC1, is size. The new model is smaller and lighter. Sony reduced its volume by 26 percent and it makes a big difference. The HC3 is shorter and lighter -- it's 139 millimeters long versus 188mm for the HC1 and 500 grams versus 680 grams -- so I could put it in my coat pocket or bag without it weighing me down too much. That's not to say its weight is negligible, but the same wasn't possible with the HC1.

The camera has a 10X optical zoom lens behind which sits one of Sony's new ClearVid CMOS image sensors. The devices have all the pixels tilted at a 45 degree angle so that the distance between the center of each pixel, called the pitch, is reduced. This means the resolution of the resulting images is higher than if the pixels were sitting in rows and columns. The sensor also has a greater number of green pixels for each red and blue pixel and that means better color, Sony claims.

The results looked good on an HDTV set. The camera performed well in daylight although I noticed some noise in video shot in dimly lit rooms, although it did not distract from the images. It was quite impressive to be able to capture video that was better quality than the majority of broadcast TV coming into my house. The HC3 can capture images down to 11 lux, which improves on 15 lux on the HC1, so if anything this low-light performance should be an improvement.

In terms of ergonomics I found it a little difficult to hold the HC3. My wrist ended up tilted slightly towards my body when I held it at chest height, which was a little awkward. It was more difficult when I wanted to point the camera upwards, however Sony tells me the camera was designed to be held at face height. In that position it worked well and was probably more comfortable than a regular camcorder.

Sony has replaced the manual focus ring found on the HC1 with a small thumbwheel on the left hand edge of the lens in the HC3. I also found this quite difficult to use as it moved freely and I didn't really get any sense of feedback from it to show how slow or fast I was turning it. I ended up keeping the camera on auto mode. The wheel can be reassigned from focus to other functions, such as manual shutter speed adjustment.

The camera records onto MiniDV tapes using the HDV format. If you've got a wardrobe full of old cassettes they should work, although the format is less forgiving of glitches on the tape, according to some posts in Internet forums. I used only new tape and had no problems. But there are some problems with HDV and high-definition in general, all of which are the same for any HDV camcorder and not just the HC3.

HDV is a relatively new format and so I had to upgrade a copy of iMovie on my Mac before the computer would even recognize the Firewire-connected camera and import the video. The import was also slow, with the two-year-old iMac typically processing the HDV tape in 1/4 time. Editing also seemed a little slow because of the volume of data involved, so a word of caution to anyone considering making the jump to HD and then editing the footage on a PC: make sure your PC is up to the job. It might require investment in a machine that is more expensive than the camera.

However if you are going to keep everything on tape and use the HC3 as a player then it has good support: there are outputs for HDMI, iLink (Firewire) and HD on an analog connection. The first of these three, HDMI, is new from the previous model.

The HDR-HC3 is the best camcorder at present for average consumers to get into high-definition home video. The price has come down a little since the HC1 went on sale -- it has a recommended retail price of around ¥160,000 (US$1,354) in Japan against the HC1's retail price of ¥180,000. The HC1, which was released in May 2005, can now be found online for as little as ¥100,000.

If you're going to be using it for more professional work, then the larger and older HDR-HC1 might be a better option because the HC3 lacks some features such as an input for an external microphone.

[Source :]

13 Responses to “Sony HDR-HC3 review”

  1. Anonymous John 

    Wow!, very cool :)
    Thanks for this review

  2. Anonymous Francis 

    Excellent review! It would be great to know what other technology is coming down the pipe!

  3. Anonymous Chris Blount 

    Good review. Thanks. I purchased the HC3 and the image quality is amazing! Well worth the money.

  4. Anonymous Bart Savoie 

    Just got the camcorder and was skeptical about how it would perform. Mainly because it's a sony and I've become skeptical about all their products, along with anger about their use of proprietary memory cards, connections, batteries, and accessories.
    Happy to say I'm really enjoying this camcorder. I'm amazed at the picture. I'm not a scientist so I'm going to keep this simple. I shoot video in good light and play it on my plasma or my LCD and I am blown away by how nice it looks. It's like watching High Def. Discovery channel for the first time, except my family is in the picture. I don't find the menu hard to deal with and the size is not bad. The steady shot is much better then previous sony and JVC's that I've owned. My hands shake like a junkie going through withdrawals, but the sony can handle it. In low light it's not bad. I read reviews where there were complaints about the low light video, but I think it's okay. I also have an upconversion dvd player that's crap. The Sony does seem to up convert the regular DV tape to a better picture. I'm very happy with the camcorder and would recommend it to someone who just wants to record thier memories in high def. It would be nice to have 5.1 surround, but I can live without it. The camcorder did start showing green horizontal bars across the screen during playback until I disconnected the battery and hit the reset button. After that it played fine.I'll have to see if it happens again. Other then that... go and get one!!!

  5. Anonymous Vincent Kenis 

    Thank you for the review Moayad, it was very helpful.

    You say there are problems with high-definition in general, not just for the HC3. Are they related to MPEG encoding ? So, when you say that the problems affect all models, does it mean that the processing power involved in encoding is the same for all HD cameras, resulting in the same artifacts ? Or, in this regard, can I expect different results from a more "professional" camera such as the FX1?

    Anyway, I'd be glad if you could please elaborate on this, or give me a link for more info

    Thanks again for a great review.

  6. Anonymous geo goley 

    how can the hc1 and hc3 have same size cmos yet different pixel quantity?!

  7. Anonymous Anonymous 


    I can give a review of the new Sony Handycam HDR-HC3. I'm sad to say I purchased it. I purchased it for the High Definition video features and the slow smooth cam feature that enables you to take 240 frames per second video to give a super slow motion. Normal video is 25 frames per second.

    This video camera has been produced in part for people wanting to video sport with the major focus being golf.

    Here are the video's it produces with the slow smooth cam feature.
    Above is the three seconds after the button is pressed option" video - you don't have time to prepare!
    Above is the "three seconds before the button is pressed option" video - by the time you press the button the three seconds have moved forward the the swing is over!

    The only time it works is when someone else can press the button.

    The smooth slow motion also only works in high light unlike normal operation.

    This is a major stuff up by the sony product development team. If you are a PGA pro taking video of students then it will work for you. If you are a private user wanting to use it youself then give it the big miss.

  8. Anonymous Anonymous 

    > old iMac typically processing the HDV tape in 1/4 time

    I guess you mean 4x time, ie. 4 times slower than realtime.


  9. Anonymous Anonymous 

    Very informative and helpful in making my decision about what camera to buy-especially for us mac users-thanks

  10. Anonymous Anonymous 

    Does this mean that it cannot be played on normal TV (not and HDTV) ?

  11. Anonymous Anonymous 

    Thanks for the great review. I just bought this camera on sale in Canada off of BestBuy and I'm pretty excited about it. Your review helped me make the decision to go HD.

  12. Anonymous CP 

    Ok review. Not quite as in-depth as I had hoped though.
    Thanks for your review.

  13. Anonymous Anonymous 

    it is not as good as my S-VHC camera.

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