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Sony HDR-HC1 HDV Camcorder Review
**Video Performance ***(8.75)*
The HDR-HC1 features a single 4:3 aspect ratio CMOS chip. This is a CMOS chip, different in aspect and type from the one featured on the HDR-FX1, Sony’s second most expensive HDV camcorder. The HDR-FX1 features three, native 16:9 CCDs each 1/3-inch in diagonal and including 1.12 megapixels gross. The CMOS chip on the HDR-HC1 measures 1/3 inch and features 1.49 effective megapixels in legacy 4:3 MiniDV video mode and 1.98 effective megapixels in 16:9 HDV video mode. CMOS sensors have only been used once on Sony camcorders—the DCR-PC1000--(read our article here), and while we were initially skeptical as to how these chips would perform, we were pleasantly surprised with the DCR-PC1000's performance and now with the HDR-HC1.
In our testing lab, under our controlled environment conditions of 3000 lux, the equivalent of a bright sunny day, the HDR-HC1 performed wonderfully.
At 3000 lux, the HDR-HC1 shows incredibly crisp colors with a really well balanced spectrum, which, we will see, will become a trend of differentiation between this camcorder and many comparable standard MiniDV machines, You can already start to see the benefits of HDV here. There are extremely low amounts of noise, and individual color tiles are very distinct due to the primary color filter and CMOS sensor. Compared to Sony’s more expensive and advanced HDV camcorder, the HDR-FX1, the HDR-HC1 performs surprisingly well. While the HDR-FX1 definitely performs better under low light levels, in bright light the more expensive camcorder’s brightness hurts its performance. There is a loss of saturation and crispness due to some washing in the upper light levels. All of these things contribute to the HDR-HC1’s surprisingly "in-the-ballpark" performance.
Compared to the Canon GL2, this Sony features superior color balance, crispness, less noise, and less bleeding at 3000 Lux. The Canon GL2 does have some colors that are more vibrant, namely the greens, but overall the HDR-HC1 does succeed here. To be fair, the GL2 is three years old and the HDR-HC1's image system is much different.
Compared to Panasonic's AG-DVC30, the HDR-HC1 maintains its nice crispness, but its color balance and color saturation quality are largely equal in scope to the AG-DVC30. Both camcorders produces great video.
**Video Resolution ***(31.5)*
We tested the video resolution of the HDR-HC1 in its HDV recording mode. Using Imatest Imaging Software, stills from video streams of a standard resolution chart were plugged into the software to assess the camcorder’s "true" resolution, and the HDR-HC1 performed extremely well, though not beyond our expectations. Achieving a resolution nearly triple to most MiniDV camcorders, the new HD Sony showed 656.1 lines of horizontal resolution and 480.9 lines of vertical resolution. These numbers yield a real resolution score of 315518.49.
This is an amazing score, and I guess based on this score we can confidently say 'this camcorder is HD.' The resolution that the DCR-HC1 is producing is double to triple that of MiniDV camcorders. It should be noted that is is effective observed resolution, and it is always significantly lower than the video resolution that a manufacturer is going to report. What's amazing on the HDR-HC1 is that the camcorder is scoring three times better, and while of course that is what we would expect, this test result really proves scientifically that the HDR-HC1 (and HDV) is that much crisper than DV.
**Low Light Performance ***(7.25)*
In low light levels, the HDR-HC1 loses some of the edge it established in bright light levels. Firstly, performing automatically in a light environment of 60 lux, slightly dimmer than an average indoor lighting setting, the HDR-HC1 suffers a slight increase in noise from 3000 lux, though the image is still remarkably crisp and balanced. Some vibrancy is lost, especially in the reds. This drop off in the reds is a consistent inferiority when the low light performance of the HDR-HC1 is compared to other camcorders. Another unfortunate side effect of these low light levels is a bit of bleeding towards the middle of both the top and bottom of the grayscale. Despite these weaknesses pointed out, the HDR-HC1 does do a good job of maintaining the excellent crispness found at 3000 lux.
60 lux auto
15 lux auto
When up against the Sony HDR-FX1 in low light, the HDR-HC1 cannot really compete. While it does hold onto some pretty vibrant blues at 60 lux, the lesser Sony shows a bit more noise than the HDR-FX1. Furthermore, the HDR-FX1 doesn’t show the marred grayscale of the HDR-HC1, and displays better colors. These trends continue in a more amplified manner at 15 lux. The brightness that hindered the HDR-FX1 at 3000 lux has certainly returned in low light with a vengeance. Sony rates the light sensitivity of the HC1 at 7 lux, similar to most others in the Sony lineup. The FX1 is rated at a superior 3 lux.
Compared to the more equally priced Canon GL2 at 60 lux, the Sony not only maintains its crispness but also maintains a nicely balanced spectrum, save for the reds. The Canon does show more vibrant greens and yellows, though at the expense of crispness. At 15 lux, the Canon proves much brighter than the Sony and with equal noise. The Sony loses some of its definition and distinction between color tiles, but is able to maintain superior crispness to the Canon, nonetheless.
When compared to the AG-DVC30, the HDR-HC1 shows similar trends to those mentioned above in the Canon comparison. Overall both of these camcorders are very similar, though the HDR-HC1’s crispness wins out, at the expense of its reds, grayscale, and a tad bit more noise than the Panasonic AG-DVC30. At 15 lux, the Panasonic shows less noise, and while it displays better colors, they are kind of muddy. Compared to another Panasonic camcorder, the DVX100, the HDR-HC1 shows a slightly richer image at 60 lux (though a worse grayscale), but the Panasonic, at 15 lux, equals the Sony’s crispness and includes less noise and more color information.
While the Sony HDR-HC1 does not fare as well as its competitors in a price perspective in low light shooting, it does do quite well, and it will satisfy the needs of most consumers. Mind you, this camcorder is competing in this price range against some of the most expensive and best consumer / prosumer camcorders on the market that are not HDV capable. These camcorders are second and third DV generation using CCD technology so their low light performance has been tweaked to optimal. The HDR-HC1 is still using first generation CMOS technology; it's a brand new imaging chip technology and it's only the third CMOS camcorder ever. For a camcorder this new, I would say that the low light performance is very good and respectable.
**Wide Angle ***(9.8)
*The Sony HDR-HC1 only offers a widescreen capturing option in HDV mode, though both widescreen and 4:3 modes are available when recording DV. Wide angle measurements were taken in DV mode at both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios. In 4:3 mode, the camcorder had a wide angle measurement of 38 degrees, while in the 16:9 aspect it measured at 49 degrees. In HDV mode, the HDR-HC1 produced a wide angle measurement of 49 degrees, the same as in DV mode.