Sony TG3 Handycam review

Sony's latest High Definition camcorder is the latest to make the 'world's smallest' claim. But how does it otherwise fare in its Best4Reviews' test?

Sony claims its new, upright design TG3 Handycam is the world’s smallest full HD – High definition – camcorder.

For those not in the know, HD video is composed of 1080 horizontal lines – twice the amount and four times the number of pixels that make up a standard definition picture. Sony’s TG3 boasts a 1920x1080 pixels resolution, therefore allowing it to claim ‘full HD’ status.

Bulkier than it looks in photographs and resembling to an extent an electric razor beamed in from the 1970s or early 80s – accentuated by the built-in microphone (supplying 5.1-channel surround sound) being located at the top and the chocolate coloured hue of the main body that houses the rechargeable lithium ion battery and supplied 4GB Memory Stick Pro Duo card. There is no built-in hard disk to otherwise fall back on, but the trade off is a less chunky device than competing HDD camcorders.

As this is a premium device aimed at the fashion conscious, the Sony TG3’s body is clad in scratch-resistant brushed Titanium. Very attractive it is too.

Other key features include a 10x optical zoom – fairly standard at this price point.

Like the recent raft of HD camcorders, the Sony TG3 utilises a new compression format in AVCHD, an MPEG4 code that allows playback on Blu-ray devices including Sony’s PlayStation 3. While a boon for those who own High Definition TVs, such as Sony’s own BRAVIA range, no HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) cable is provided out of the box – which feels slightly stingy. You do get regular (analogue) AV cables for replaying on standard definition sets however, plus USB 2.0 lead for downloading footage or stills to your PC or Mac. A back plastic docking station is provided, into which the camera stands upright on your desktop for both recharging and/or downloading.

Incidentally, Mac users should be advised that there will be compatibility issues with older machines and earlier versions of iMovie – go for AVCHD format supporting iMovie 08 on an Intel-based Mac for the safest option.

The Sony TG3 Handycam’s upright design means that it’s easily gripped in the palm, and can be operated using one hand. A case in point is that the start/stop record button is encircled by a circular zoom control with ridged edge for thumb ‘purchase’. Though this feels weird at first for anyone more used to a traditional rocker switch or slider, its use quickly becomes second nature. Likewise the camera is activated almost instantaneously by simply flipping open the 2.7-inch touch screen that remains face side-in and flush with the body when not in use, thus maintaining the TG3’s minimalist appearance.

The TG3’s zoom action is impressively smooth and the image free from the obvious effects of hand wobble even when shooting handheld at maximum zoom. The fact that menu options are selected and implemented via the responsive touch screen ensures that attendant controls are kept to a minimum.

More commonly found on digital stills cameras, Sony’s TG3 features ‘intelligent face detection’ – which claims to automatically attribute more data to human subjects, thereby ensuring greater detail and lower image noise (grain). Though noise is notably absent with enough light around, greater detail in the face didn’t appear immediately obvious to us. A photo mode adds the ability to capture four megapixel stills, or two megapixel ‘grabs’ when shooting video – the 1920x1080 pixels HD video resolution equating to just two megapixels after all.

The Sony’s footage displays naturalistic colours even if Caucasian flesh tones veer toward the pink-ish. It’s difficult to tell if any greater definition is biased to the face – we didn’t notice – but overall the TG3’s imagery is reassuringly sharp. Though not the most powerful or punchy we’ve heard, the Handycam’s sound also avoids the typical boom-y results from camcorders and is likewise naturalistic. If you don’t need a huge storage capacity out of the box that competing hard disk-based models supply – the Sony TG3’s supplied 4GB card allowing us around 70 minutes of high resolution video – the camcorder might seem an attractive option.