Sony has continued the fusion of camcorder with digital-stills camera in their new TRV30E, which lists for the same price as its flagship predecessor, the TRV20E, but raises the quality stakes on several features.
Placed side-by-side it would be hard to tell the two cameras apart. They both have a compact design that rests comfortably in the hand with most of the filming controlled by the right thumb. The improvement to the camera is in the single 1.55 megapixel CCD. When filming a horizontal resolution of 530 lines is achieved with a top still resolution of 1,360-x-1,020 pixels. The high-quality Carl Zeiss lens sports a 10x optical zoom with 12x digital zoom for those inclined to use it.
Image quality has been enhanced with upgrade of the digital noise chip from 10- to 14-bit. The analog-to-digital converter provides an estimated 16 times less digital noise, according to Sony, which is noticeable when filming dark or black subjects.
The issue of the number of chips in the camera will still be a deciding factor for purchasing this camera versus its big brother, the TRV900, especially if the camera is being used for broadcast television programs. The TRV900 is one of the current favourites for the lower budgeted documentaries and docu-soaps due to its compact size and resolution.
The need for three chips to provide the RGB channels is still the dividing line in DV cameras and has yet to be broken by consumer cameras. This is surprising since the manufactures will shortly be running out of new features to squeeze into the upcoming models.
Chip debates aside, the TRV30E is a funky little camera. The image-resolution when filming is high and the fold out 246,000-pixel 3.5-inch LCD monitor is a joy to use and provides extra stability when filming with both hands. Unfortunately, Sony hasn’t added a record button on top of the camera, which would be far better suited when holding the camera in this fashion.
Functionally, the camera is virtually identical to the earlier model. Power on and mode selection is on the right-hand side and the sensitive zoom on the top of the camera. Three modes cover VCR, Camera and Memory Stick. The bulk of the settings are controlled via an overlay menu on the LCD screen. Fast navigation and selection is via the nifty roller on the left of the camera.
Folding open the LCD panel also reveals the control buttons for the VCR aspect of the camera along with those for the memory stick. A big bonus is this camera’s ability to take a composite video signal or S-video in and convert it to a FireWire DV feed for editing on Mac and Windows. Raw material could be previously filmed footage on Hi-8 or even a feed from a television channel delivered by a video player. Edited footage can also be sent back to the camera to be recorded onto DV tape or fed through to a VHS deck.
Stored images can also be mixed in a variety of ways with recording video including the preloaded series of cheesy chromakey frames. The camera sports a discreet pop-up electronic flash with four basic modes that can be toggled by a single button next to the lens barrel and 0 Lux Nightshot controls.
Top digital still resolution is somewhat less than the average generic 2.1mp digital cameras (with 3.3mp soon becoming the norm). It will also shoot in standard 640-x-480, 320-x-240 and 160-x-112 with four sets of compression options. In full resolution at top-quality compression, the included Memory Stick will only yield four shots, but can manage up to 12 in standard mode. Image quality varied from being excellent in strong evenly illuminated conditions to weak in shots that had dark and light areas in them. Considerable video noise is generated in the shadows, while the white areas bleach out with prismatic aberrations.
The TRV30E is a good all-round DV camera and with its ability to encode composite video, will be finely suited to any desktop video set-up. Its digital stills capability isn’t there yet.