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- Highly portable, arresting design, performed well in bright lighting
- Below average low-light performance, unconventional shape takes some getting used to
The HDR-TG1 is the smallest HD camcorder we've ever reviewed. To a certain extent, its portability comes at the expense of video quality. However, it still offers an impressive performance across the board. Enthusiastically recommended.
Price$ 1,599.00 (AUD)
When it comes to exciting drawcards, few camcorders can compete with Sony's HDR-TG1. To quote the back of the box, it's currently the world's smallest, slimmest and lightest 'full HD' camcorder — which puts it in the same "must-have" league as iPods, Havaianas and hot cakes. Hip, cute and ultra-portable, it will please anyone requiring a high-def handycam for shooting on the go. (Just don't expect it to compete with Sony's larger HDD models, which offer a superior performance across the board).
Weighing less than 300g, and with dimensions of 32x119x63mm, the HDR-TG1 is certainly impressively tiny for a high-definition model. It attains its small size by eschewing the inbuilt hard drives and bulky tape compartments that weigh down other camcorders. Instead, all footage is stored using Sony's proprietary Memory Stick format, which currently has a maximum capacity of 16GB. The benefits of memory card–based camcorders are numerous, including added playback convenience, prolonged battery life, better hardware reliability and — you guessed it — reduced camera size.
The Memory Stick format also makes it easier to edit video, with the ability to quickly transfer your data to compatible PCs and notebooks (a 30-day trial of Sony Vegas Movie Studio has been included for this purpose). When using the camcorder at its default setting, the bundled 4GB card will hold around an hour of high-def video. Higher capacity Memory Sticks will obviously store more data, but they aren't exactly cheap — expect to pay around $300 for a 16GB card.
Taking its cue from Sanyo's Xacti range, the HDR-TG1 sports a pistol-grip inspired body that bears little resemblance to a traditional handycam. With its vertical/upright and strap-free design, the unit initially feels awkward in the hand, with no clear-cut way to hold it. (We'd therefore recommend attaching the including wristband to avoid any accidental drops). While the unconventional shape does take some getting used to, those who persevere will eventually discover an intuitive little camera. The zoom ring, record button and camera/movie modes are all within easy reach of the thumb, making one-handed operation a breeze.
Impressively, Sony has managed to fit a 2.7in touch screen onto the HDR-TG1's diminutive body. This ensures that menu navigation remains as responsive and natural as the rest of Sony's handycam range. We were also impressed with the overall look of the device. The scratch-resistant titanium casing is exceptionally classy. Its overall look and shape reminded us of a compact camera, which is a smart design choice on Sony's part. It means that users can pull it out of their jacket or handbag without making a fuss — perfect for social outings.
It should be noted, however, that the HDR-TG1 does not double as a stills camera... at least, not in any practical sense. While the 4.0-megapixel stills mode is better than some models we've looked at, its output remains unsuitable for making prints. This is a shame, because with better photo-taking capabilities the HDR-TG1 could have been the ultimate hybrid device
Despite its ultra-light dimensions, our test footage remained surprisingly smooth and steady — even while shooting in a fast-and-loose manner. When you consider that the HDR-TG1 lacks an optical image stabiliser (instead, an inferior electronic variant is used) this is quite an impressive achievement. The autofocus is quick and reliable, which is an absolute must for a camcorder of this ilk (while manual options are provided, the HDR-TG1 is primarily designed for casual on-the-fly shooting). We were also impressed by Sony's Face Detection technology, which automatically targets up to eight human faces and adjusts colour and contrast to ensure they are captured in the best possible light.
It's not all a bed of roses though. Despite its impressive-sounding 1920x1080i resolution, the HDR-TG1's small 1/5in CMOS sensor cannot hope to compete with Sony's larger high-def handycams. Its low-light performance was particularly poor for a camcorder in this price range, exhibiting more noise than we are typically used to. This will be a blow for users hoping to chronicle their night life, with grainy colours vastly diminishing the picture quality. This is the price you pay for an ultra-tiny form factor. If you're a casual user who wants an easy and convenient way to capture home movies, the compromise is probably worth it.
The HDR-TG1 comes with all the usual ports and connections, including USB, AV out and HDMI, all of which are tastefully hidden beneath an array of plastic flaps. Unfortunately, an external microphone jack is not offered, though the inbuilt 5.1ch Zoom Microphone does a pretty good job of capturing audio. All up, a solid effort.
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