Sony Handycam HDR-TG1E: worlds smallest true HD? How about mostly true HD.

While we have often been critical of manufacturers that supply camcorders/handycams with low-level-lacking-in-features editing software we think we have just found something worse; supplying time-restricted software made by your own company! How miserable is that? You buy a video camera worth $1500+ and you still have to buy software to make it work beyond a month. And the cost of a disk and PDF manual is …?

That’s exactly what you get when you buy a Sony HDR-TG1E billed as the world’s smallest and lightest ‘true’ hi-def video camera. Well yes it does do 1920 x 1080 but that is interlaced (i) not progressive (p) so following on from arguments about other companies making the same sorts of claims about their products in the past let’s just agree that it is mostly true HD.

The TG1E (when will Sony and others get with the times and use model names not obscure numbers; how much cooler is it to say you own a Sony ‘Windfire’ or ‘RazorEdge’ or something other than “I just bought a Sony HDR-TG1E”?) breaks away from the conventional barrel shaped camcorder. Instead it has an upright rectangular body with a flip out 2.7in touch screen LCD with a resolution of 960 x 220. Not brilliant resolution and there is no viewfinder but it does the job. Also making the TG1E different is that the body is made of pure titanium thus being very resistant to scratching but understandably adding to the base cost one would imagine.

An added benefit of this design of camera is that it is equally easy to use for both left and right handed users with the thumb easily falling to place on the rear mounted start/stop button or photo button.

The AVCHD format used by the TG1E is rapidly becoming the de-facto standard for consumer cameras and uses Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick Duo format for storage. One can only wonder how long it will take Sony to switch from Memory Stick to the more popular SD format when you consider the cost of say a 4GB Memory Stick Duo (supplied with the TG1E) is $90 or so compared to an SD card at $59. Because of the capacity of these cards – around 30 minutes of hi-def – you will need a few of them for the average holiday.

The TG1E contains all of the latest woo-hoo factor stuff such as face detection a ‘zoom’ microphone pre and post roll previewing (called Film Roll) and can backup to DVD via an optional backup DVD device. The downside of that is the backup gizmo is $300.

Specification wise it follows the standard Sony formula of Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens 10x optical zoom and a focal distance of 3.2-32mm in 16:9 aspect ratio. Focus is optional auto or manual and via the touch screen spot focus and a spot meter are available as are white balance options exposure and tele macro. Up-market features include zebra patterning guide frames shutter speed options and smooth slow recording. Audio is ‘5.1 surround sound’ but really as we have said before take this with a grain of salt as real 5.1 should be added in post-production.

Connectivity options include HDMI component A/V and USB. A docking station is supplied.

Our overall impressions are that this is a nice little camera (it weighs only 240g plus battery) that is great for keeping in the backpack or handbag. It needs bigger storage adding to the overall ‘running costs’ but if size is more important than features and ease of use preferable to after-the-fact-editing say then the HDR TG1E makes a good choice.