- Review Price: £522.99
Camcorder manufacturers are jumping head over heals to produce small camcorders, aiming for the Holy Grail of the device you can keep always about your person, ready to capture any occasion. Sony claims the HDR-TG3 is the smallest, lightest Full HD camcorder in the world.
Thanks to its use of flash memory, the TG3 is just 119mm tall, 63mm deep, and a mere 32mm thick. It’s still a little heavy for a trouser pocket, at 240g plus battery, but with Sony’s usual solid build, regular jacket residence wouldn’t be out of the question.
Most of Sony’s high definition camcorders use a CMOS sensor of around 1/3in in size. But to enable its miniature proportions, the TG3 relies on a smaller 1/5in sensor, with 2.36-megapixels. This ClearVid CMOS sensor is assisted by Sony’s BIONZ image processor, about which very little information is available. Sony claims the TG3 captures Full HD, and its top AVCHD quality mode records at 1,920 x 1,080.
However, only 1.43-megapixels of the CMOS sensor are actually used to capture video, which means the recording resolution is interpolated to be 1,920 x 1,080. Sony adds a small amount of interpolation for digital photography, too. The TG3 offers 2,304 x 1,296 pixel stills in 16 x 9 mode, and 2,304 x 1,728 pixel stills in 4 x 3, which is good enough for the occasional snap.
A plethora of recording modes are available. The top 1,920 x 1,080 FH quality mode uses a healthy 16Mbits/sec data rate, almost as much as Canon’s HF10 and Panasonic’s HDC-SD9. The other HD modes only record at 1,440 x 1,080, with 9Mbits/sec, 7Mbits/sec and 5Mbits/sec data rates available. It’s also possible to record in SD resolution (720 x 576) at 3, 6 or 9Mbits/sec. The TG3 captures to Memory Stick Pro Duo, with a 4GB piece of media supplied in the box. But that’s only enough for half an hour of footage in FH mode. One thing the TG3 doesn’t offer is progressive video. Even the Full HD setting uses interlacing.
Despite its point-and-shoot ‘palmcording’ orientation, the TG3 still offers a few useful manual features for the more discerning videomaker. But it doesn’t have an accessory shoe or minijacks for attaching an external microphone or headphones for checking audio levels, none of which is a surprise in such a small camcorder. Manual focusing can only be performed via the touch-sensitive screen, either using a slider or the spot focus system. This involves touching the point on the screen you wish to be in focus.
Exposure control offers similar options, with a slider or spot function. But there’s no direct relation between exposure setting and iris F-stops, and no control whatsoever over shutter speed. For a more automated approach, the usual array of Scene modes are also available, including Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Candle, Sunrise & Sunset, Fireworks, Landscape, Portrait, Spotlight, Beach, and Snow. Other than that, you can choose between two white balance presets, for indoors and outdoors, alongside auto and manual modes. The Colour Slow Shutter mode drops the shutter speed as low as necessary to pick up a properly exposed image.
The TG3 also has three microphones built in, two facing forwards and one backwards. This enables it to pick up directional sound and mix it to 5.1 surround, recording to Dolby Digital. Sony’s Face Detection system is built in, too. This recognises human faces, bordered by a square, and uses these as an exposure reference. So faces shot against a bright background will be properly exposed. We found it did its job fairly competently, although fast-moving subjects go in and out of detection, making exposure vary slightly. The TG3 also offers the option to shoot in x.v.Color, although you will need a compatible TV to see the results.
With its Full HD shooting, the TG3 can’t be faulted for detail in good lighting. Bright sunlight produces rich colours with Sony’s characteristic full saturation. Light areas lose a little detail, but there is no sign of blowout. The autofocus and exposure react quickly, keeping the image crisp. Mixed lighting, combining bright areas and shadows, is also dealt with effectively. However, the 1/5in sensor makes its presence felt in low light. In a room lit by a single 100W bulb, the image has very obvious creeping grain, although there is still a reasonable level of colour evident. So this is not an ideal camcorder for shooting events in poorly lit rooms, but better illuminated situations are handled admirably, belying the TG3’s small size.
When it comes to editing, the TG3’s AVCHD video proved very compatible. Adobe’s software still doesn’t support any form of AVCHD. But even in FH mode, the Sony’s footage worked just fine in Pinnacle Studio 11.1 Plus, CyberLink PowerDirector 7, Sony Vegas Pro 8, and Ulead VideoStudio 11.5 Plus. So, despite the Full HD resolution, clips can be edited in most of the popular apps.
Amazingly, this tiny camcorder still manages to incorporate HDMI output, although this is of the miniature variety so will require an adapter when connecting to an HDTV. With a BRAVIA TV supporting BRAVIA Sync, you can even control the camcorder via the TV over HDMI, and the port is HDMI 1.3 compliant for x.v.Color support. There’s a propriety connection for analogue output, with cables supplied for composite video plus RCA audio, or component plus RCA audio. What the camcorder doesn’t have is a built-in USB 2.0 connection. This has been relegated to the bundled docking station, which includes another A/V connector as well.
The Sony HDR-TG3 is another bold step from Sony, the company which broke HD into the UK market and dominated for the first year or so. The poor low light performance will be a worry if you want to shoot family events in darkened rooms. But for a sub-300g camcorder slim enough to fit in a jacket pocket, the TG3 is an outstanding achievement.
Score in detail
Image Quality 8