Sony’s impressed us with its AVCHD cams. Now it’s gunning for the world’s smallest Full HD camcorder crown…
Sony’s charming new TG3 is, we can confirm, the world’s smallest Full HD camcorder. But while that’s an impressive little victory, the previous wearer of the crown, Sanyo’s HD1000, isn’t giving up its title lightly.
A quick comparison reveals that it’s still a close call between the rivals. The HD1000 is significantly cheaper and throws in a mic socket, hot shoe and an adaptor ring for adding wide-angle and zoom lenses. But the TG3 fights back with 5.1 channel surround sound and scores instant brownie points with a generous 4GB card included. It’ll also match the Sanyo on stills output with 4MP to its name.
Out of the box, there’s everything you need, including that bundled Memory Stick Duo Pro – good for 25 minutes at highest quality HD. All the ports necessary for hooking up to the telly (including HDMI) are available directly on the camera but for some reason the only USB port is on the bundled dock, which makes transferring files to a PC more of a faff than it needs to be.
The utilitarian shape doesn’t quite produce the usual Sony fawn factor but the finish does. With its liberal cladding of scratch-resistant titanium it’s transformed from a simple brick into a lust-worthy gadget that feels just as solid as the Sanyo.
The touchscreen issue
The TG3 screams to be used one-handed, but Sony's persisted with its touchscreen interface that demands two hands for everything bar shooting. How we long for Sanyo's nifty thumb stick for zipping through the menus rather than prodding at the screen to playback a clip or open a menu.
We're not too keen on the rest of the ergonomics either. While Sanyo likes to boast that it spent countless hours in airless bunkers researching the perfect angle for its pistol grip, Sony makes no such claims. It's unabashedly gone for a straight-cut, right-angle brick with no protruding bits. This earns is the all-important 'world's smallest ‘ title, but doesn't offer much in the way of comfort.
One of the grumbles about the Sanyo HD1000 was its lack of PAL-friendly shooting modes. Not so the TG3 – it’s a proper European version, distinct from the US’s TG1, and so perfectly set up for UK tellies.
Footage is impressive for a camcorder of this size. Detail appears sharper than the Sanyo but we miss the HD1000’s silky 60fps, 720p mode, the TG3 preferring to stick with higher-res but less smooth 1080i. Colour is good, and just about holds it together in low light. Again, Sony seems to have issues with getting the colour balance right, which is sometimes a shade off in auto mode, but it’s nothing too serious.
We’d prefer not to use the touchscreen, but it does bring some handy features, such as the ability to direct the focus by touching the appropriate area on the screen. If you’d rather let the camera do the work then there’s impressive face detection which puts a square around up to eight faces and tracks them to keep them sharp and well exposed.
The 5.1 audio is another nice addition but overall the audio seems a tad weedy compared to the HD1000. Where it aces it, though, is the inclusion of Super Steady Shot to cope with camera wobble. Being an optical system, it’s far superior to Sanyo’s digital equivalent and the difference was marked. Even at full zoom we were able to handhold shots without inducing vomiting fits among our audience.
The TG3 holds its own as a stills camera too. 4MP may sound lacking compared to double-digit compacts but it’s more than adequate for everyday prints and even enlargements.
The big question, though, is whether the Sony is worth the extra outlay on its competitor. Frankly we’re torn. In the end it’ll come down to the features you want but given the price gap, we still have to plump for the Sanyo.
Sony HDR-TG3 review
A polished camcorder with lust-worthy looks that doesn’t quite do enough to justify the price tag