In lower light, the HC3E still managed excellent video performance. Colour balance was particularly good, although there was some evenly distributed noise across the image. Again, the quality compared very well with the HC1E, and only semi-professional three-chip HDV camcorders such as the HVR-Z1 or HDR-FX1 would achieve better. Under poor illumination, the HC3E marginally outperformed the HC1E, maintaining slightly better colour and less overall noise. So we’d say that Sony’s lower cost HDV newcomer actually offers better video quality than its predecessor, despite the less professional orientation.
As a still image camera, however, the HC3E wasn’t so outstanding. The maximum resolution is 2,304 x 1,728, nearly twice as many pixels as can actually be found on the CMOS. At this resolution, we found images darker than the lower resolution shots possible with the HC1E. We have seen better camcorder stills from the likes of Panasonic’s NV-GS400B or JVC’s Everio MC500, too. The HC3E also offers a featured called Dual Rec, which allows you to grab images to memory at the same time as shooting video, without any noticeable glitches in either. However, the resolution is limited to 2Mpixels in this mode, so it’s even more for occasional use than the fully fledged still image capabilities.
If you’ve used the HDR-HC1E or Sony’s more professional HDV models for any length of time, you can’t help feeling disappointed by the HDR-HC3E’s lack of prosumer features. All that video quality, with so little user control. But then there’s the price. With some e-tailers already listing this model for £800, HDV has clearly arrived in the mainstream, albeit the high-end thereof. We can’t recommend the HDR-HC3E to semi-professional filmmakers – the much more expensive HVR-A1E based on the HC1E is the most cost effective choice here, or grab the latter while you still can. But if you’re an early-adopting consumer looking to capture family moments and holidays in stunning HD video, the HDR-HC3E’s superb image quality, price and portability make it the ultimate point-and-shoot camcorder.