Aminefield of new technological terrors seemed to reveal itself as I unpacked this little gadget – the printed material, which weighs more than the camcorder, is littered with warnings and threats. Of course we all instantly throw away the bits that advise us to only use the manufacturers own accessories, but here in the reams of small print we are told that we must not leave the disc in the camcorder when not in use, we must return the disc to its case, must not expose it to extremes and rapid changes in temperature and never expose the sacred disc to direct sunlight. Guess what, I threw this crap away too, but not before I’d thought of leaving the little silvery chap outside for the afternoon on the patio, then loading it in the freezer, before a quick thirty seconds in the microwave as the very first part of this test.
Another sheet tells you that plugging the wrong cable into the wrong socket on the TV or the Camcorder may damage it. The TV, camcorder or the cable. No, really. Yet another sheet is covered in gibberish about saving files from dual layer discs, detailed gibberish, and another all about using the software supplied. Oh dear, and I was hoping that it would all be so intuitive and straightforward. Lastly, and of a more sinister note, is a sheet which warns that discs recorded in HD can only be played back using AVCHD-compatible DVD players. Failure to comply will apparently knacker everything, disc, camcorder, player, your warranty, your mind, the couple next doors sex life...Guess what? I threw it away, because I like you have bought a new toy and I want to play with it, and I like you, am pig-headed enough to think that I know it all, and I like you, think that if it all goes to pieces I'll just send it all back and scream and stamp my feet. And we know that some weasely corporate legal weasel has insisted that all this nonsense is in the package just so the one warped freak in a million who would rather sue than scream and stamp their feet wont have a leg to stand on. What a world!
Before I set fire to the box all the leads fell out, along with two discs and lots of packaging. I’m just going to get on my green high horse for a bit...why have I got a very fat and heavy guide to my new HR10 which is in French, German and Italian? Why have I got an extra lead with a continental plug on it? Both are a horrible waste of resources which suggest that it’s cheaper to make something knowing that fifty percent of it will be instantly thrown away than it is to pack and sort boxes for different destinations. What a world! We will all end up paying for this lunacy.
In a nutshell, or a plastic see through case, DVD-R can only be recorded once. DVD- DL, that is dual layer discs, cannot be deleted or edited but can lay down 80% more data, and DVD-RW can be edited and re-used forever, or at least until you expose them to direct sunlight. I jest, but from now on I’m now going to call all such DVDs ‘Vampire Discs’! So, basically no one will want to use the R’s (like the one kindly supplied by the manufacturer in the kit) because that will be a big waste of money and fill up your bags and drawers with the worlds diminishing resources, the more expensive R DL’s will appeal to the ‘point and shoot, never going to mess about on the computer editing’ brigade, and the RW’s will be used by all those who don’t want to waste resources and be a bit more creative.
You’ve got a camcorder the size of an old phone which you’ve paid a bit of dosh for because its HD, actually its 1080 lines, four times the number of pixels than your normal TV, it's bleeding sharp but if you want you can record using good old Standard Definition. Great, thanks, a bit like buying a Ferrari and then getting a donkey to pull it up the M1. Give me a break!
Throw nearly everything away and plug in the camera to the battery charger. Do something else until your impatience gets the better of you. Pick it up and start recording things like a T-Rex which has come through a hole in the space time continuum to eat your grandmother or the first man on Mars. Or the kids, or the neighbours ruined sex life. Later spend a month in solitary confinement fiddling with the menu till you’ve got everything the way you like it. Then buy a magazine and find out your new toy is already out of date, then get a call from your mate who has the latest model. Hate him/her and then hate your camcorder too. Buy a new one and go back to the start.
The Manual identifies 43 things in its diagrams of the camera and 51 things on the screen display, including the start/stop button, the grip belt and a histogram and the cappuccino setting. Actually I couldn’t find this last one but you get my point. The manual has 129 pages of small print and notably several pages for notes at the end. Guess what?
It’s difficult for me. I grew up watching Star Trek and all that science fiction has come true. Except the bit where I can beam my mother to another part of the universe, but I live in hope! This tiny, little, midget, dinky, neat, lightweight, truly pocket-able, movie camera can still strike me as technology which is beyond belief. Its too small, so small I couldn’t begin to understand how it could work, let alone produce moving images that are so sharp that they make my eyes itch. Sorry, as a forty seven year old git, it’s frankly astonishing. The results it produces are absolutely bloody amazing. And the rest is detail.
Firstly then, flexibility. Well, for all my sarcasm and cynicism it can do virtually anything the amateur user will require, anything. Auto-focus image stabilised shooting means that even the visually challenged drunk can get a result. The instant sequence management is, once you’ve got to grips with what’s available, very useful, you can review and instantly delete scenes and each is offered as a separate still frame so it’s a doddle to erase, which is nice. Fast and slow playback is old hat and skipping isn’t new but it’s just so quick, so much more user friendly than nasty old tape. Of course the digital zoom is useless, unless it’s that T-Rex shot and you’re keeping your distance, but the macro is excellent although the auto focus doesn’t work well if you jam the lens into a close-up as the sensor is too far from the lens. I had to focus on my fingers and then transfer the focus to the subject. A bore, but the 1:1 was great in the end. It would have been great to have the mini light closer to the lens for the macro too, but it’s no good for this and of only a little use outside of the ‘pissed-party-interview’ shots you may want occasionally.
To be honest I didn’t get to any of the in camera effects, I'll leave that for the kids, or some geeks, as I’m used to doing this sort of stuff after the image collection process. The program modes, ‘portrait’, ‘sports’, ‘beach’ etc are even enhanced by a ‘firework’ mode. Wow. Bang. Whizz! The toggle switch, familiar via our mobile phones, is great and easy to use-ish, and there is a 3.1 mega picture still camera which I tried once. To be honest I’m still at the horses for courses stage, phone, still camera, movie camera – three independent items from which I want the best quality for my cash. Thus I very clearly don’t want a 3 mega pixel add on here when I’ve got a 12 mega pixel dedicated still camera in my pocket. It’s a gimmick for the housewife user. Sorry, no offence to wives in houses intended, I’d be one in a shot if someone would have me.
So, what is actually wrong with this covetable little beauty then? Not much, other than I wouldn’t want to drop it. I last dropped a camera in 1988, it’s not a habit of mine, nor of most, but this gadget does appear to be frighteningly fragile, very un-waterproof, un-shockproof, un-bouncy. The miniscule optical viewfinder is horrible and hopeless in any kind of sunshine, and if you wear glasses, well you cant. It’s a digital appendix, an organ which is becoming redundant, this is the age of the screen, even DSLR’s have ‘live view’ now, but this shrunken peep hole is not complemented by a screen of any size, the LCD is too small too! And its buttons and switches are really fiddly and feel cheap; in fact my impression is that in order to price this sort of incredible technology in the marketplace compromises have been necessary. The production cost has gone into the gubbins not the packaging so whilst the results are superb the overall feel of the thing during use is not...is not...it’s just not like a Leica. It’s neither robust nor a lovely object. It feels a little bit disposable, which as we all know it ultimately is.
I don’t know about you but I’ve come to dread loading more software onto my already beleaguered PC. And then have to sit there and navigate my way round it. I’m no fan of globalisation but I wish there were just one system, one set of programmes which every company would use, I know it would be a monopoly, but it would be easier just to update and carry on. I really hate all the satellite software that gets tucked inside it all as well. I weed that out straight away and I don’t want to register anything ever. My lap top is an internet virgin, I don’t let it anywhere near that filthy web of viral filth, and because I use it for my field photo-management I don’t want it clogged up with Norton or whatever, so my only option for a viable working speed from a seriously portable device is internet freedom – but there is a problem. Lots of software won’t run without registration. This camcorder comes with a Corel software package which has a good reputation, or so I’m told, but I’ve got all the Sony stuff on my PC and know how to use the bits I want so I don’t really want a different version just for this one gadget. Moan, moan, moan. Anyway, I can’t comment on this as I can’t use it without registering and I can’t register because I have no e-mail in my rural idyll. Maybe later...but not on my laptop!
Tape is dead – long live disc. Or at least until we can have a portable hard drive recorder we can really trust, and which will fit in our pockets. Upside; astonishing quality from a truly tiny piece of kit. Downside; you need the other hardware, HD compatible TV and recorder and, no big deal, a computer which is internet enabled. The device is a bit tinny and you’ll need safe hands and a good soft case to make it last. The viewfinder is a fossil but it's no joke. Would I buy it and use it...the acid test question? Yes, but I'd use it as a family camcorder and I wouldn’t take it to work or loan it to anyone, no one but OCD me would touch it. And I'd moan about the viewfinder/screen size forever.