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.
*The score of a 7.0 for HDV camcorders for compression might shock people, because we score MiniDV camcorders at 8.0. However, as much as we love the look of HDV for all its sharpness and crispness, the bottom line is that there is the same amount of data in a MiniDV signal as there is in an HDV signal. HDV 1080 interlaced video at 60 fields per second is 25 Megabits per second, as is 60 fields per second MiniDV video. They both are 25 Megabits per second. Now, HDV has to be heavily compressed into an MPEG2 signal to fit on a MiniDV tape. An argument in HDV’s favor is that in the 10 years between the emergence DV and HDV, compression quality has increased drastically, meaning you can do more with less data. That being said, there are some things that need to be sacrificed with HDV in order to fit it onto a MiniDV tape. It’s not worth getting into the details (DV is 4:1:1 and HDV is 4:2:0) but HDV is highly compressed when compared to MiniDV. Most users and even most professionals won’t be able to see the effects of the heavy compression that is going on with an HDV signal, but, for high-end users who are looking for the most information possible for broadcast purposes, HDV could present a problem.
In accordance with HDV camcorder standards, the HDR-HC1 records to MiniDV tapes. There are major benefits here: the tapes are cheap, they’re readily available, and they are compact. However, we’re scoring HDV down half a point for media over regular DV because of the importance of using high grade tapes with HDV. All tape formats suffer from a problem called dropouts, when a frame isn’t recorded because a scratch or other defect with the tape. With MiniDV and many other formats, dropouts are not a huge problem, because one lost frame when you’re working with 30 frames a second will not be noticed by the human eye.
The HDR-HC1 and all HDV formats use something called key frame compression. This means that every half second the camcorder takes a key frame, somewhat like a reference frame. The next 14 frames after that frame are based on how the video changes from that original frame. With DV, every single one of the 30 frames is a keyframe and holds all the information. Theoretically, this means that with HDV if you loose a frame because of a dropout, you’re going to loose a half second of video, it will just display as black. However, the problem is not a serious as the theory suggests - not many have reported it or lost critical footage. The higher grade 'made-for-HDV' tapes do reduce dropouts, when one occurs the camcorder's LCD and VF will freeze (blank out) for half a second but the FIREWIRE HDV output contains quite a bit of useful frames and often just 3 or 4 (out of the 15 GOP) are damaged. This is a small glitch compared to what people first feared would happen on a tape dropout. Another way around this is to capture the HDV output over FireWire or component directly to a laptop or external hard disk. DVRack is about to release their HDV upgrade and other manufactures of 'Pyro Firestore' type portable HDDs that accept DV are being upgraded to work with HDV feeds.
However, if you use a higher grade tape it will significantly reduce the number of or possibility of a dropout. Sony has even made a special MiniDV tape that is specifically designed for HDV shooting. Of course, this tape doesn’t come cheap, it costs $13 per tape vs. about $6 per tape for standard MiniDV tapes. But if you are shooting something important it is really important that you use the high grade tape to minimize the chance of a dropout.
**Editing ***(6.0) *
Editing HDV video is almost there, but support for the format is still limited. Currently the following Non Linear Editing programs support HDV:
• Adobe Premiere
• Final Cut Pro HD
• Sony Vegas Video
• Ulead MediaStudio
• Avid Express Pro HD and Avid Express Studio HD
• Canopus EDIUS Pro 3
While that list includes almost all the important NLEs, there are still major problems with editing HDV, though I imagine in two or three years all of these will be solved. The first is that there really is no way to playback HD footage except through your HDV camcorder. There is no HD DVD standard yet (there is a classic consumer electronics format war going on between the two HD DVD camps, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD). This means that while you will be able to edit your HDV video, it will take either a computer or an HDV deck or camcorder to play it back as HD video. Neither of those are practical solutions for distribution of video. The second problem is that there is not a huge number of HDV compatible accessories which are affordable. There is only one HDV deck, the HDR-M10U, made by Sony, and it costs $3,700. HDV is a lot of high-resolution video data, and a powerful computer is needed with fast RAM technology and disk storage. In addition, there are no NLE accessories such as video mixers, titlers, color correction boxes, etc. which support HDV. Lastly, a good HD monitor which will be able to give you an accurate representation of the video shot is very expensive.
*****The front of the HDR-HC1 is the lens, which consumes almost the entire front of the camcorder. Because Sony has made the camcorder quite thin while making the lens fairly large, if you look at the camcorder straight on you will basically only see a round lens, with a small block right under it. This small block is the infrared receiver which also has a Sony logo emblazoned on it. I really like the simplicity of the front of the camcorder; no controls or jacks in the front means that your hands aren't going to be hanging out in the front region, risking obstruction.
The Right Side*(9.0)
*The right side of the camcorder is largely blank so you can easily grip the camcorder. In the upper right corner is the small zoom control, behind which are the status lights which indicate if the HDR-HC1 is in camera / tape mode, memory mode, or in playback VCR mode. Below these lights is the mode dial itself of metallic plastic. The mode dial has three positions that are changed by rotating the dial. The most clockwise position is the off mode. Moving counterclockwise is the on position. The dial can then temporarily rotate past the on position to switch between different modes (tape, memory and VCR), but it will spring back to the on position. The grip of the dial faces the back of the camcorder.
Like most higher-end camcorders, the HDR-HC1’s body is split into two lobes: the tape / body lobe, and the lens barrel lobe. The black strap spans the length of the bottom portion of the tape / body lobe. Along the bottom two-thirds of the right side of the body is a large round "hump" designed as an ergonomic mold for your hand. The hump is made up of a textured black plastic which is designed to be a bit more easier to grip. At the foremost portion of the tape lobe on the right side of the camcorder is the HDR-HC1’s MemoryStick Duo slot, with a small status light right below it.
The right side of the HDR-HC1’s lens barrel has just two buttons. The first is the flash toggle button, followed towards the front by a sliding NightShot button. Above the two buttons is the right channel microphone. At the very front is the combo (focus/zoom) ring.
The right side of the HDR-HC1 is laid out very well. The buttons are easily accessible by your left hand and there is not too much clutter.
The back of the HDR-HC1 is just about as simple as the other sections, though it seems that any touch screen camcorder is going to generally have a very simple body with few buttons. At the top is the viewfinder which can rotate upwards by about 70 degrees, but it cannot extend outwards from the camcorder body.
Below the viewfinder is the battery slot which is almost flush with the rest of the back of the camcorder. This means that even the included battery extends outwards a bit. The included battery does not extend out farther than the viewfinder, but most users are likely to purchase a large capacity battery. This means that you could be in the awkward situation of having your battery extend out farther from the back of your camcorder than the viewfinder. Your nose is going to become pretty good friends with your battery if you use your viewfinder often. I really wish that Sony had made the viewfinder extendable; otherwise it really makes the camcorder much harder to operate through the viewfinder. Adding insult to injury, the viewfinder is a very critical portion on this camcorder--its resolution is twice that of the LCD screen, and you’re almost always going to need to use it for manual focusing over the LCD screen.
To the right side of the viewfinder and the battery is a Control-L / LANC jack for attaching a zoom controller or an edit controller. Below this is the record start / stop button in a metallic silver with a red dot in the center. To the right of those is the other side of the mode dial, with a textured surface as well as a green engage button.
The Left Side*(9.25)*
Starting at the back of the left side of the HDR-HC1, there is a section of the camcorder running from top to bottom which is a bit thinner than the rest of the body. This strip runs right up to the LCD screen, which sticks out about ¼ inch from the strip. The LCD screen and most of the rest of the left side is covered in a slightly more polished and shiny black material than the starting strip. It’s as though there is a "based body" and then the LCD and the lens barrel are attached onto that base body and stand out with their different material and more forward placement. The recessed section connects with a second vertical strip which runs along the length of the recorder lobe.
This vertical strip includes jacks as well as some controls. The vertical strip starts with a connector for a neck strap. Moving towards the lens barrel, the vertical strip next includes the DC in jack, which is covered in a soft rubber. After the DC in jack is a flip down port cover which covers up the A/V out as well as the component out jacks. The port cover is a new design that we haven’t seen before. Instead of being made out of a slightly pliable rubber, or a hard plastic and being attached to the camcorder’s body by one point, the new jack cover is like a door with a hinge which opens downward. It has a spring action to make it slightly lock into place, and on its left side is a small indentation so you can get your finger under it to open it up. When it’s closed it sits flush with the rest of the camcorder body. I really like this new port cover. It feels very industrial and strong.
To the left of the first new port cover is a second group of jacks with the HDV/DV jack and the USB jack. Although Sony is labeling it HDV / DV, the jack is really just a FireWire jack. This port is also covered up with the new style port cover. To the left of this is the exposure / volume toggle button as well as the adjustment slider. I really like the positioning of these dials. It was a very smart move of Sony to put a dedicated exposure control on the HDR-HC1. The placement towards the lens barrel is smart as well because most of the other manual controls are located in this region.
Above the vertical strip is the LCD screen, which has a slightly curved exterior. Opening the LCD screen revels a hidden LCD area with only two buttons, the Display / Battery Info button and an Auto Lock switch. The LCD screen itself has three buttons at the left side: a zoom in button, zoom out button, and a record start / stop button, duplicated here for convenience.
Moving onto the left side of the lens barrel, at the very front of the lens barrel is the zoom / focus ring. Moving in, towards the camcorder body, are two rows of features. The first row contains the ring control switch. The switch has three positions. The first sets the focus to auto and turns the ring to zoom mode. The second position sets the focus to auto, and turns the ring off, meaning it doesn’t control focus or zoom. The third position sets the ring to control focus. After this switch is the Sony’s CMOS logo, with Carl Zeiss, Vario-Sonar, T* (Sony’s lens coating for high-end camcorders). The second row of control includes three round buttons. The first is the Tele Macro button which allows the camcorder to shoot objects at a very close distance. The middle button is the extended focus button which instantly zooms the picture in 4x and displays it on the LCD and viewfinder (but does not record it to tape) to help in focusing for HD. The third button is the back light button.
I think the left side of the HDR-HC1 is laid out wonderfully. I like how all the picture functionality buttons are concentrated towards the front of the camcorder, on or near the lens barrel. This is where my left hand always rests when I’m shooting and it’s the natural place to put any shooting functionality buttons. The new jack covers are great and placing the jacks on the bottom left side where they are accessible but not in the way is very smart. There really isn’t much I’d improve on the left side, but I would like to see Sony better utilize the inner LCD area. Maybe put a secondary (or tertiary) display there, with maybe an audio monitor, tape counter and other info. I would have liked to have seen VCR control buttons on the inside of the LCD as is found on many models, but it doesn’t seem like that will ever happen with Sony’s obsession with everything touch screen. Once your manufacturer goes touch screen, they’ll never go back.
**The Top **(6.0)
The top of the HDR-HC1 is pretty simple. At the very front on the lens barrel is the pop-up flash, which has the marketing line "2.8 Megapixels" etched in it. Behind that, on the flash, is a "120x digital zoom" and the second appearance of Sony’s CMOS logo etched in. Moving onto the body is Sony’s "intelligent" accessory shoe. It’s intelligent if you think being proprietary and throwing out a standard of every imaging product over the past few decades is intelligent. The shoe is Sony’s new proprietary shoe which only accepts newer Sony accessories. The shoe is covered in a hard plastic cover. To the right of the plastic cover is a small grip strip. The back of the camcorder then slopes upward following along with the viewfinder, which is at the back of the top. To the right of the viewfinder on the top of the camcorder is the zoom toggle and the photo button.
Picture & Manual Control
*Automatic Control (8.0)
*The HDR-HC1 offers good and responsive auto control. I didn't experience any huge lags or problems. The auto focus is quite good, as it is on the HDR-FX1, and I imagine you will be relying on it quite a lot because getting a crisp focus is so critical considering the higher resolution and detail of HDV. On the HDR-HC1, Sony has spared us the Easy Handycam button, and replaced it with a button I really love. Stealing a move out of Canon's playbook, they've added an auto lock slider button located in the hidden area under the LCD screen. Switching the auto lock button over throws the camcorder in full auto mode and will not allow you to adjust anything manually, sans zoom control. I think it's a good way to easily put the camcorder in point-and-shoot mode for consumers who don't want to deal with the advanced features on this camcorder.
Like every other Sony camcorder with a touch screen, the HDR-HC1 includes Spot Metering and Spot Focus. These allow you to touch an area of the screen and the camcorder will automatically adjust either the focus or the exposure respectively to what is shown on that area of the screen. I really like this feature; I think it's a nice compromise between full auto control and full manual control. Lastly, the HDR-HC1 includes an AE shift feature which allows you to shift the automatic exposure of the camcorder up or down by 4 levels each way while keeping the automatic exposure setting. You can put the camcorder in any of the Program AE modes like beach, snow, sport, etc.
Overall Manual Control (6.5)
The manual control on the Sony HDR-HC1 is okay; it's certainly better than other Sony models but it still isn't where a $2,000 camcorder should be at. The camcorder has a combo focus / zoom ring which is a great feature, but the zoom rocker is really poor. The HDR-HC1 does give you manual shutter speed control, but not gain and not aperture control. Sony has made a smart move however by giving the user dedicated control buttons on the HDR-HC1 and not pushing all manual control into the touch screen.
The control over shutter speed, focus, zoom, and white balance will certainly fulfill the needs of most users. Those are the key areas that are most often adjusted, and most easily understood, so I see why Sony put only those on this camcorder. That being said, the most technical and advanced users will likely be disappointed with the manual control options on the HDR-HC1. The manual control on the HDR-HC1 doesn't come close to what's offered on the Sony HDR-FX1, on the Canon GL2, the Panasonic AG-DVC30 or even Panasonic's PV-GS400. It's just so easy to add additional manual control that I wish Sony would just do it and forget about creating unnecessary product differentiation between their models. Just give the users control!
*There are two ways to control zoom on the HDR-HC1. The first is through the traditional zoom toggle, and the second is through the zoom ring. The zoom toggle is pretty bad on the HDR-HC1. It's small and its range of motion is very small, meaning it's tough to get a variety of variable speed zooms and hold them. It's nearly impossible to get a super slow zoom. In fact, with the zoom toggle I don't think the camcorder is even capable of it. * I really wish Sony had put a larger zoom rocker on the HDR-HC1 like Canon did with their GL2. It would drastically improve the zoom rocker situation. There are secondary zoom buttons on the LCD margin and on the included remote control.
The zoom ring is great and gives you zoom control right around the nerve center of the camcorder, on the left side of the lens. The one weakness of the zoom control on the HDR-HC1 is when it comes to slow variable speed zooms. A slow zoom is always the best to use, it's what you'll see most often on television because it's easiest on the eyes. I wish that the zoom toggle did a better job of controlling slow zooms (which zoom rockers and toggles are best at) with the ring concentrating on medium and high speed zooms. If you're serious about slow zooms you're going to have to get an external zoom controller and attach it via the HDR-HC1's LANC port.
*Zoom Power/Ratio (10.0)
* The HDR-HC1 includes a 10x optical zoom, which is pretty small considering we’re seeing low-end camcorders with 20x and 30x optical zooms. That being said, I don’t think that for higher-end products an obscenely large zoom is even that important, and once you break 14x or 16x, it gets kind of useless unless you have a great tripod or hands-of-steel stability.
*With high definition, achieving sharp focus is critical. With standard definition, if your focus was slightly off viewers would not notice it, but with high definition because of the increased sharpness a slight focus error will be very visible. Sony has designed a great focus system on the HDR-HC1 to appease consumers. When you slide the ring control switch to its far right position the zoom / focus ring switches to full manual focus mode. The focus ring works very well on the HDR-HC1. It is not too sensitive, so it is easy to make minor focus adjustments. Additionally, Sony provides a focus distance reading.
Sony does two more things to assist you in getting ultra sharp focuses. First they put a very sharp 252,000 pixel viewfinder on the camcorder which makes focusing manually much easier. The second feature which was originally included on the HDR-FX1 is the expanded focus button which digitally zooms in on the image 4 times closer, but just on the viewfinder and LCD so you can really check your focus, similar to a feature on some digital cameras. This does NOT apply any 'digital zoom' to the video so no degradation occurs. It's a great innovation on Sony's part and it makes focusing HD on a consumer camcorder much more practical. The touchscreen LCD is not as high-res as the viewfinder so you should always consult the viewfinder for critical focusing.
I am very happy with the focus options on the HDR-HC1, and I think that this is the manual control feature which Sony has improved most on the camcorder.
*Exposure (Aperture) (7.0)
*Exposure on the HDR-HC1 is controlled through a dedicated button on the camcorder's left side. Pressing the exposure / volume button makes a level indicator appear onscreen. You can then increase or decrease the exposure manually using the exposure toggle. You can adjust the exposure in 24 steps - standard on Sony camcorders. Sony doesn't give you any F-stop readings or shutter values based on your adjustments.
I really like the exposure control on the HDR-HC1. The toggle works well and the dedicated buttons are a plus. That said, Sony does not give you any control over the aperture on the camcorder. While you can control shutter speed manually, you have no way to adjust the aperture. Aperture control should be a given on a $2,000 camcorder.
*Shutter Speed (5.0)
*Only Sony's highest -end consumer camcorders give consumers control over shutter speed. Thankfully, they have determined that owners of the HDR-HC1 are deserving. Manual shutter speed control is accessed through the touch screen. While I do wish that the shutter speed control had a real button, it's an important but rarely accessed 'on the go' manual control feature. Therefore, it's not a huge concern.
Because the exposure is really a combination of aperture and shutter speed, you can't set the shutter speed and then set the exposure. If you're setting the shutter speed the camcorder will go full auto on the aperture. It's really too bad Sony can't just bite the bullet and put on manual aperture control. It would really make controlling for different light conditions much easier.
*White Balance (7.5)
*White balance on the HDR-HC1 is identical to every other Sony touch screen. Through the touch screen menu system you can set the white balance to full auto, indoor / outdoor, or full manual. I wish that they'd put the one push button to set/lock-in white balance on the side of the camcorder's lens; there certainly is room for it. They should have also included a preset for florescent light.
*The HDR-HC1 has no manual gain control, which is certainly one of its biggest weaknesses.
*Other Manual Control (5.0)
*The HDR-HC1 also has color shift and sharpness adjustments for fine-tuning the look of your video. Sony has also added white balance shift. While these manual control features are nice, it would have been nicer if they had included manual gain control. Lastly the HDR-HC1 offers zebra patterns (at 70% and 100%) which will show your overexposed areas with diagonal lines that only show on the LCD and viewfinder.
**Still Features **(9*.0)
*The HDR-HC1 records stills to MemoryStick Duos at a pixel resolution as high as 1920 x 1440. What's interesting about this pixel resolution is that it's slightly higher than the video resolution, but only vertically, not horizontally. That is to say, the resolution of the video in HD is a theoretically 1920 x 1080 pixels. When you switch to still mode it switches to 1920 x 1440. This makes sense, because the chip is actually 4:3, and Sony just lops off the top and bottom for the 16:9 HD mode. Of course, the chip has more than enough pixels, so it doesn't present any issues; the pixels are shaped so that we can still call it a native 16:9 chip camcorder.
The HDR-HC1 includes a pop-up flash which can be set to high, normal, or low. The flash has a dedicated button to engage or disengage it on the left side of the lens barrel. Additionally the HDR-HC1 includes a burst shot mode which can record 3 to 25 images consecutively in 25-second intervals. That's a pretty impressive Burst mode for a camcorder, though I wish it was in 1/4 second mode intervals. You can also shoot Exposure Bracketed bursts of three stills. The camcorder is also PictBridge-compatible, which means you can hook it up to a PictBridge-compatible printer to transfer stills for direct camcorder-to-printer printing.
**Still Resolution ***(6.9)
*Stills of a standard resolution chart were taken with the Sony HDR-HC1 and exported to Imatest Imaging Software in order to determine the camcorder’s still resolution. With this model, stills can be captured to MemoryStick Duo at several different resolutions in both 4:3 and widescreen mode; 640 x 480, 1440 x 1080, 1920 x 1080, 1920 x 1440. At their best, this model generated 695960.1675 pixels of resolution (0.7 MP). You can also capture stills at either Fine or Standard quality modes.
**Still Performance ***(9.25)
*The still performance of the HDR-HC1 is pretty phenomenal, though for a camcorder available for about two thousand bones, it can probably be considered 'worth the money'. The camcorder has similar still options to the DCR-PC1000, another of Sony's CMOS chip camcorders and its closest sister in the Sony line (in terms of price), though not an HDV camcorder by any means. The HDR-HC1's stills are better than the DCR-PC1000 in many ways.
The crispness of the HDR-HC1's stills are the first things you will notice. Not only are lines of the color chart crisp and full, but the lines between the color tiles are incredibly crisp and clear. Indeed, the distinctiveness of the color tiles in these stills is incredible, and nothing like what we've seen from comparable, if there are any, camcorders.
Looking at the DCR-PC1000 stills, we see more clearly other strengths of the HDR-HC1. The HDV camcorder shows very nicely balanced colors, with no washing of yellows into greens or blues into violets (as seen on the DCR-PC1000).
The only major flaw of the HDR-HC1's still performance is evident after close (or not so close) inspection of the camcorder's grayscale. There is significant bleeding occurring towards the middle of the grayscale on both the top and bottom, an unfortunate blip on an otherwise stellar image.
Still at 640 x 480
Still at 1140 x 1080
Still at 1920 x 1080 (widescreen)
Still at 1920 x 1440
Handling and Use
Ease of Use* (7.0)
*The HDR-HC1 is surprisingly easy to use, for as many features as it offers. Unlike the less expensive DRC-model Sonys, it does not come equipped with an Easy mode. This should not be a big loss for most people in the prosumer market, which is this camcorder’s likely audience. There is an auto lock switch under the LCD, which assumes control of exposure, shutter speed, white balance, and some other features.
A big plus, and one that we always like to see on higher-end camcorders, is the focus ring. Buttons for common controls like exposure and zoom are easily accessible on the body. Everything else must be accessed through the touch screen menu, which can be difficult. The problem is the amount of information Sony has tried to cram onto a 2.7" screen; a fat thumb will almost certainly be keying in wrong selections from time to time. That said, the hierarchy of the menu is clear and usable.
The Sony HDR-HC1 features a 2.7-inch widescreen LCD with 123K pixels of resolution. The LCD screen has three buttons on it, one for recording, one to zoom in, and one to zoom out. It makes perfect sense that the LCD screen on the HDR-HC1 is widescreen because HD is natively wide screen. The LCD screen includes about half the pixels of the HDR-FX1’s LCD screen, which makes manual focus a bit difficult, a problem that is exacerbated by the HD resolution of the camcorder. From a focusing perspective, I really wish that Sony had included the higher resolution LCD screen.
When tested for performance, the HDR-HC1’s LCD screen performed well, as we’ve come to expect from Sony camcorders. The LCD screen does not solarize when rotated, a problem that is found on other manufacturer’s models. The touch control of the HDR-HC1 is very responsive. Sony has clearly gotten very good at making high-performance LCD screens.
We didn’t score the HDR-HC1’s LCD / Viewfinder score lower because of its excellent viewfinder. The camcorder includes a 252K pixel viewfinder, the same pixel resolution which is found on the HDR-FX1. The viewfinder is absolutely stunning. This is unquestionably the sharpest viewfinder image I’ve seen with maybe the exception of only Canon’s XL2 (which costs $5,000). Focusing with the viewfinder is much easier than is focusing with the LCD screen, and I believe it is more than sufficient for manual control of focus.
On the positive side, the HDR-HC1’s viewfinder can rotate upwards about 70 degrees. The weakness of the viewfinder system is that it can not extend outward from the camcorder’s body. Since the battery lies almost flush with the back of the camcorder (on models like the HDR-FX1 and the DCR-VX2100 it is quite a bit recessed), if you use a larger battery than the one included, you’ll probably find your nose constantly rubbing up against it, and operating the viewfinder is going to be a bit uncomfortable.
The HDR-HC1 is a medium sized camcorder. It's smaller than models like the GL2 but slightly larger than the PV-GS400. It's small enough that you can hold it in one hand and the camcorder won't shake. I really like the size of the camcorder from a handling perspective. It's not too small, so it has some volume, but it's not so big that it can't be held in one hand.
From a weight perspective the HDR-HC1 is very well built and balanced. I must say the HDR-HC1 is one of the best balanced camcorders I've felt. Unlike most models, it only has a slight tendency to lean forward (very slight) which will be outweighed by a large capacity battery. It's just very well weighed out.
The HDR-HC1 is also very comfortable to hold. The 'bump' on the right side allows your hand to comfortably wrap around the side of the camcorder. Combined with a nice little raised finger grip on the top of the camcorder I was able to get an incredibly solid hold on the HDR-HC1 with just one hand. I don't think that it would be likely that you'd drop the HDR-HC1 or get uncomfortable holding it in just one hand. It's a good thing because this camcorder is just too good to drop on the floor!
When holding the camcorder in your right hand your left hand can easily access the critical manual control functions which are located on the lens barrel on the left side. The layout works perfectly with the standard style of shooting. My hand could easily wrap around the zoom / focus ring and the exposure control was easily accessed with my thumb. From a control perspective the camcorder is just laid out wonderfully, no buttons are in awkward positions and nothing gets in the way of shooting. Of course, I hate the touch screen and every time you adjust a feature with it it shakes your camcorder just a little bit; however, the critical controls are in real buttons so you won't have to use the LCD screen too much.
The only glaring handling problem is that the viewfinder does not extend outwards. If you have an extended battery on the HDR-HC1 it's going to render the viewfinder useless and make operating the camcorder much harder.
Shooting with the HDR-HC1 is simply enjoyable. The camcorder is a great size and weight and the layout is very well thought out. The great handling of this camcorder really adds to its functionality, and because it's easy to shoot with you're going to be able to shoot better video.
*The HDR-HC1 is small. It's not small the way a DCR-PC55 or sub $500 camcorder is small, but for a high-end quality camcorder, not to mention for an HD camcorder, this thing is tiny. It's unquestionably the smallest HD camcorder ever, and it's the first one that is practical for most consumers. Plus the camcorder is surprisingly thin, and while it won't fit in your pocket, it will only take up a small bag. While the HDR-FX1 is an amazing camcorder, it's not exactly the most practical size for most users and the 5 lbs weight will get heavy quickly when handheld. When most camcorders shrink in size we see a significant drop in quality and features. While things have been stripped from the HDR-HC1 to make it smaller, it's still a great camcorder and very portable at under 1-3/4 lbs (with tape and battery).
With a mediocre battery life of under a hour, actually a little over three quarters of an hour, Sony’s new HDV camcorder is practically begging you to buy another battery. Total recording time with LCD open (and no zooming) was 47 minutes. You will certainly need a new battery because this thing eats through power faster than Cookie Monster eats through Chips Ahoys. This could become a problem with the non-extendable viewfinder, because a large battery is sure to jut out.
**Audio ***(7.0) *
Using the audio capabilities of the HDR-HC1 is like a nice trip down 'Camcorder Memory Lane;' back when HDV camcorders didn’t exist, when mid-range DVD cost over $1,000, and when Sony camcorders were considered the best for manual control, including audio options.
To start, the HDR-HC1 has a microphone input. No, you aren’t imagining it: the camcorder really does have a shiny, 1/8 in. hole, covered with a small piece of rubber where you can plug in a microphone. Good job Sony, good job Sony, good job Sony. I feel like I need to repeat it to make up for all the times in the past year that we’ve blasted them here, in newspapers, and on TV for not putting microphone inputs on their consumer models. I’ll say it again, thank you Sony. Whatever Sony camcorder exec was stubborn enough to demand a microphone input, he or she is my hero. The microphone input is located nicely right under the lens barrel on the right side, above the headphone out jack (props for that too). It’s recessed inwards by about 3/8 of an inch. Its recessed position has an added bonus of tucking the plug portion of a microphone’s cable in a bit, so you don’t have it protruding as much from the camcorder’s side. Next stop on our little nostalgia trip is manual audio level control. Using the touch screen, you can set the audio level of either the HDR-HC1’s on-camera microphone or an externally connected microphone. When you adjust the microphone level, the camcorder displays a dual channel audio monitor; however, you can only adjust the overall audio level, not the left and right sides independently. The camcorder gives you 32 steps of audio levels. Even cooler, when you manually set the audio levels, the HDR-HC1 displays a two-channel audio level monitor in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. The camcorder also offers manual volume control of the audio out with the volume lever during playback/VCR mode. This is more convenient than fiddling in the touchscreen for a volume control.
The on-board microphones on the HDR-HC1 are neatly placed on the sides of the lens barrel, apart from each other. In our informal testing, the audio was above average, producing less general noise, though, as always, you should really just rely on an external microphone.
The HDR-HC1 allows you to do audio dubbing in SP mode. Additionally, the camcorder includes a neat 'Audio Mix' feature which allows you to change the mix of the audio from the original tape audio to the newly recorded audio. Another small audio add-on is the ability to customize playback for stereo and multi-channel situations. There is an option to select if to playback on just the left channel or the right channel. Like any other camcorder in MiniDV mode, you can't use 16 bit audio if you want to do dubbing however but must make your initial recording in 12 bit.
There is one major downside to the audio options on the HDR-HC1, which is why it didn’t score higher. There is no easy way to connect a non-Sony microphone to the camcorder body itself. While the microphone input will allow you to bring in an audio signal, since the accessory shoe is Sony’s proprietary intelligent accessory shoe, there is no way to physically lock down a mic. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d rather have a microphone input with no included way to attach the microphone than no mic input at all, but I really wish Sony would have bucked their proprietary camcorder trend of late to include a standard sized accessory shoe.
However, this flaw really shouldn’t deter you from still liking the audio options on the HDR-HC1. There are many alternatives to this shoe handicap. Many third party manufacturers make shoe braces which attach to the camcorder’s tripod mount and adds a standard accessory shoe. Of course, if you are using a lav microphone this shouldn’t be a problem, because the mic is attached to your subject and not your camcorder. In addition, if you’re using a wireless system your wireless system more than likely can be attached to the camcorder’s strap using a clip or simply using Velcro. The shoe handicap is only going to become a problem when you attempt to use a shotgun microphone. For a small compact camcorder, an extra bracket will be a nuisance but the only way to mount standard microphones.
If I hadn’t been deprived of any viable audio options from Sony for this past year, I probably wouldn’t be in love with the audio options on the HDR-HC1, which are good with minor flaws. However, the HDR-HC1 is a welcome relief in the audio category.
**VCR Mode ***(9.0)*
VCR Mode on the HDR-HC1 is similar to every other Sony camcorder, offering playback control through the touch screen. In addition the VCR mode functions as the still image playback function. The VCR controls are small and work fine, so they don’t cover up too much of the screen area. Other VCR functions include an easy to use analog to digital pass-through (something that is a bit difficult on other camcorders), a slow motion playback option, and the ability to playback HDV video in either DV or HDV.
*The Sony HDR-HC1 does pretty well in the ports and jacks section, certainly better than all the other consumer Sony camcorders below it, but not quite as well as its big brother, the HDR-FX1. The camcorder includes a FireWire jack for transferring either DV video or HDV video, a component video out to hook the camcorder into HD compatible equipment, an RCA video jack for hooking the camcorder up to regular DV equipment, an S-Video jack, a Microphone in, Headphone out, Control-L / LANC Jack, and Sony's 'intelligent' accessory shoe. I like the connectivity options on the HDR-HC1, especially the fact that it includes a Microphone in jack. My one complaint is with the 'intelligent' accessory shoe. I really wish they'd put a real accessory shoe on the camcorder, not Sony's useless proprietary system.
Widescreen/16:9 Mode* (9.0)*
The Sony HDR-HC1 provides the user with widescreen and the standard 4:3 aspect ratios in DV mode, while HDV captures exclusively in 16:9 (per HDV definition). Widescreen can be selected through the touch screen menu system on the LCD. The HDR- HC1 is equipped with a 2.7' widescreen LCD, allowing the user to view the full spectrum of screen. In 4:3 mode, translucent black bars appear on the side of the widescreen LCD allowing the user to view beyond the parameters of the frame, taunting with what the camcorder sees but which they choose not to record.
Scan Rates/24P* (3.0)*
The HDR-HC1 includes two possible scan rates, either 1080i HDV video at 60 interlaced fields per second, or 480 lines interlaced Standard Definition video at 60 interlaced fields per second. The camcorder can not support the 720 lines progressive mode of the HDV format. The camcorder has no true 24 frames per second progressive scan option. Many higher end shooters' or independent film makers' biggest complaint with HDV is that there is no support for 24P, which shoots at the same frame rate as film, giving a film look to footage. This lack of 24P doesn’t really need to be a problem, as JVC has already announced an HDV camcorder which supports 24P. This camcorder is really designed for high-end consumer use, not necessarily pro independent film making. The 24P "look" can be added in postproduction semi-successfully, though you won’t be able to quadruple the resolution of Standard Definition NTSC video.
Sony has included their "cinema effect" option which gives a digital effect that tries to look somewhat like 24P. It appears that this effect is the same effect that was included on the DCR-PC1000 and the DCR-PC350, and it shouldn’t be mistaken for 24P. The video looks jerky and you’re better off just avoiding it.
Other Features (6.0)
Bottom Loading Tape This really isn't a feature per se, but this is the best place to complain about it. Tapes on the HDR-HC1 load from the bottom of the camcorder, not the top, which makes operating this camcorder when attached to a tripod a huge pain. If you want to change tapes, you need to remove the camcorder from the tripod, take off the tripod plate, change the tape, put the plate back on, and reattach the camcorder to the tripod. It's quite the hassle.
*Shot Transition *This is a neat feature which Sony brought over from the HDR-FX1. The Shot Transition feature stores picture settings such as zoom, focus, exposure and other features in memory. You can store two different shots, and when you press execute the camcorder will smoothly transition from one shot to another. It's great for doing a rack focus. The transition time is preset at 4 seconds, unlike the FX1 where the time and a 'curve' can all be user set. This is a feature allowing anyone to do a 'pro' operation that without Shot Transition requires simultaneously manually changing focus, view, and zoom in a coordinated manner. No software can duplicate this on the computer - it takes place when recording.
*Analog to Digital Pass-Through *The HDR-HC1 can convert an analog signal to a digital one, though it can only do this in DV. It can't convert an analog signal to an HDV one.
*Image Stabilization *The HDR-HC1 includes Sony's electronic image stabilization. The image stabilization seemed to work fine with no problems. The 'amount' of compensation for the lens type can be configured.
*Super NightShot *You can use this feature to make all your subjects look like martians! The HDR-HC1 includes Super NightShot for shooting in low light conditions but it's going to look bad and cast a green glow on your subjects. The feature does have a dedicated button on the camcorder's barrel. This is an Infrared recording mode and can be used with an IR illuminator in no light '0 lux'.
*Expandable Focus *This is a very useful additional feature. The expandable focus feature zooms in the image temporarily on the LCD and the viewfinder so you can get a better manual focus. This is critical with HD, because with 4x the resolution focus errors look 4x as bad.
*Guide Frames *Rule of thirds, kids! The HDR-FX1's guideframes option will superimpose guidelines on the screen to help you compose an image, and if you follow the rule of thirds (read some of our tutorial articles on shooting) it will help you compose your shot.
*Battery Info *This is one of those features that is aggressively marketed, but lacking in the usability sphere. If you press the display / battery info button which is located in the inner portion of the LCD screen, the camcorder will show a blue screen with remaining battery time on it. It takes a few seconds for the screen to show up, and I just don't use it that much.
*Burn DVD *When the HDR-HC1 is attached to and used with a Sony Vaio computer (Sony likes to keep it all in the family), the Burn DVD button will start up the DVD burning process on the computer. However, it will burn a standard definition DVD, not high definition, because there is no high definition DVD format.
*Cinema Effect *This effect tries to give a 24P look to the video and give it a cinema like look, but in the end it's just going to make your original footage look bad. You really should just do this in postproduction and ignore the Cinema Effect. Even when using the 'Cinema Effect', the output will be 1080/60i.
Surround Sound There's a staff member here at CamcorderInfo.com headquarters who loves surround sound capability in Sony camcorders, but I personally think it's useless. Unless you're shooting a $120 million blockbuster with a small army of sound engineers who really can make it sound like you're in the middle of a car chase, your surround sound won't sound that great. You're just going to have two front channels of your kids playing in the sandbox, and two back channels of you fiddling with the camcorder buttons. CAMCORDER FIDDLING IN REALISTIC SURROUND SOUND!
*Conversion Lens *The conversion lens feature is used when you're putting an external lens on the camcorder. I think it only works with wide angle and zoom lenses. It tells the camcorder internally that there is a lens, and it shouldn't matter if you don't buy a Sony.
Histogram The histogram provides a real time graph of the exposure of the picture, and it's very useful for still photos.
Conversion Lens Feature
*Shot Transition *
Spot Focus Feature
*Spot Meter Feature
***Sony HDR-FX1* (review) Sony's HDR-FX1 is the big brother of the HDR-HC1. The HDR-FX1 was Sony's first HDV camcorder and the first official HDV camcorder on the market (the first unofficial one was JVC's GR-HD1). The HDR-FX1 is certainly aimed at high-end users and professionals. The camcorder doesn't even have a touch screen, it has real dials for all of its control. The body is incredibly solid and it's about three times the size of the HDR-HC1.
From a performance perspective, the HDR-FX1 performs much better, though that is to be expected. The HDR-FX1 uses a 3 CCD system compared to the HDR-HC1's 1 CMOS chip system. There are also many more features on the HDR-FX1, but it doesn't include the touch screen, which some users will find easier to use.
The HDR-FX1 is really for a different market than the HDR-HC1. A wedding videographer or an independent film maker will love the HDR-FX1 for its high level of control and amazing picture quality, but a consumer would hate it for its lack of portability. It would be unrealistic to take the HDR-FX1 on a trip. Of course, that's not to say that the HDR-HC1 can't be used in prosumer situations or for independent films, it's just that the HDR-FX1 is much better.
JVC GR-HD1 (review) JVC's GR-HD1 was the first HD camcorder, and while it was an innovative product, it really lacked on many fronts. The performance was incredibly poor, and the control was limited. The HDR-HC1 wins hands-down, in my opinion. The GR-HD1 is just too old and the technology has progressed significantly since its introduction.
Canon GL2 (review) Other than the HDR-FX1 the HDR-HC1 doesn't really have a close competitor in technology. If you're looking from a price perspective, Canon's GL2 comes pretty close. Announced three years ago, the GL2 is really designed for professional shooters. It has a high level of control and does great in both bright light and low light shooting situations. It beats the HDR-HC1 on the control perspective hands down, and also wins out slightly on low light performance.
However, the GL2 is a standard definition camcorder while the HDR-HC1 is high definition. The low light performance is close, in fact almost too close to call a winner. The bottom line question here is this: do you want a three year old camcorder with more control, or a brand new high definition camcorder with slightly disabled manual control? For me, the choice is easy. The HDR-HC1 unquestionably wins. I imagine an HD competitor to the HDR-HC1 will come from Canon in the next few years, so soon this might be a much closer race, but for now, I'd recommend the HDR-HC1.
Panasonic AG-DVC30 (review) Panasonic's AG-DVC30 is produced by their professional division and has all the control and performance to show it. The AG-DVC30 performed better in low light, but again, you're comparing a standard definition camcorder to a high definition camcorder. Like the GL2 comparison, I'd pick the HDR-HC1 over the AG-DVC30 for the same reasons.
Sony DCR-HC1000 (review) To be honest, we're only including this one in this section and not the full review because any serious videographer wouldn't even consider the DCR-HC1000. While it's price is close to the HDR-HC1, it has critical design flaws that make it not even worth talking about.
Who It’s For
Though the HDR-HC1 doesn’t features automatic controls as good as other Sony camcorders, it still performs well in auto mode, is easily handheld, and features an easily assignable focus / zoom ring for very easy and smooth zooms.
Budget Consumers (8.0)
While not exactly cheap, this is the cheapest HD camcorder available, and as such, is a great deal.
Still Photo / Video Camera Hybrid (7.0)
Still performance on the HDR-HC1 is excellent. It captures with roughly the same options as the DCR-PC1000, and produces wonderfully crisp still images.
*Gadget Freak (7.5) *
The gadget freak should be pleasantly accommodated by the HDR-HC1’s ability to capture HD footage solely, but the combo ring, and a wealth of other features, should thoroughly wet his or her whistle.
Manual Control Freaks (8.0)
The HDR-HC1 does feature more manual control than most Sonys, including manual shutter speed, sharpness, WB shift, AE shift, and color shift, but unfortunately it lacks independent iris adjustment and gain, both of which are included on the HDR-FX1. The combo zoom / focus ring on the HDR-HC1 is perhaps the most useful manual control device on the camcorder and definitely a necessary element for such an expensive piece of electronics.
Pros / Serious Hobbyists (8.0)
Definitely for the serious hobbyist.
If the HDR-HC1 is a sign of the future and subsequent Sony HDV consumer camcorders are made this well, Sony will be able to recapture the passion of serious video consumers which they’ve seemed to have lost in recent years. The camcorder performs excellently in normal light and very well in low light. In addition, the image is about 3x sharper, with 3x more pixels than a MiniDV signal. The video produced from the HDR-HC1 is gorgeous. It's some of the best video we've seen out of any camcorder on this market. You just can't get that much quality for that few dollars anywhere else. Nothing comes close and the HDR-HC1 even challenges Panasonic's PV-GS400 for the position of best value on the market today.
The HDR-HC1 is an example of how Sony knows how to make high-end camcorders. The DCR-VX2100 with its excellent low light performance, the HDR-FX1 which produces stunning images and is built like a rock, and even the DCR-DVD403 which is a DVD camcorder that even a camcorder nerd can love--the HDR-HC1 will join this group of higher-end Sony camcorders as a great model. Sony was smart to include a focus / zoom ring, the exposure dial, the advanced audio options as well as the ultra crisp viewfinder. Add all that to the fact that the HDR-HC1 is a high definition camcorder producing stunning images, and you have a camcorder that is one of the best on the market today, and certainly the best buy in its price range.
The HDR-HC1 is so good that I think it will likely win a CamInfo Select in 2005. I don't know, because we haven't given out the awards yet. Until another company comes out with another HD camcorder that improves on the HDR-HC1's few faults, this model is a winner that is certainly worth your dollar.
Meet the tester
Robin Liss founded what is now Reviewed.com in 1996. In January 2011 she led the acquisition of the company by USA Today / Gannett.
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