In preparation for my winter field trip to Japan, I bought the Sony HDR-HC1. I wasn't sure if the Canon XL-H1 would arrive in time and the Sony is small and inexpensive enough to serve as a good second unit. From what B&H told me, it actually looks like the XL-H1 is arriving this week, so I'll have two units which will be fantastic. I'll be able to set the Sony up on a tripod to capture wides and some audio channels, and use the XL-H1 as the roving camera. Or vice-versa.
On the DV-L, one person had some questions about the Sony. Here is my response as well as some additional thoughts about it:
- No manual iris control
- No manual gain control
- Literally infinite depth of field - selective focus is very difficult
- No place to put a shotgun mike, the accessory shoe is proprietary and a strange size. You'll need to use a L-bracket
- The cassette door is on the bottom of the unit. If you have a tripod quick release plate (or an L-bracket for a mike) mounted on the bottom, you have to remove it in order to change cassettes
- Anything but the standard (small size) battery will jut out and hit you in the nose if you use the viewfinder.
- Only a 10x zoom and not very wide
- One could whine about the lack of XLR inputs, but that is why the Goddess gave us the BeachTek.
- Mike input (1/8") - works well with my Sennheiser wireless mikes (at -30db output), although the Sennheiser picks up some faint unshielded electrical noise from the Sony.
- Headphone output (1/8") - great for monitoring, but there's no volume control during recording monitoring. This is good or bad depending on your level of forgetfulness.
- It's noisy in low-light (standard household lighting).
- Dirt cheap (about $1700)
- Gorgeous images when there's enough light (daytime, studio lights, etc.)
- Nice switchable focus/zoom dial. Makes steady and slow zoom outs easier.
- Tiny, tiny, tiny. It'll be a nice handicam for the moments when dragging the XL in will be a pain
- Pretty good battery life. About 50 minutes from the standard tiny battery and about 1.5 hours from the larger units. Takes standard 'M' InfoLithiums
In summary, if it wasn't HDV, the Sony HDR-HC1 would be a very fine $600-800 camcorder on the high-amateur side. Certain things make it a pain to use as your primary camera in documentary filmmaking, namely: it doesn't have enough manual features (especially iris and gain), no easy way to put on a non-Sony shotgun, and difficulty inserting cassettes while using a tripod mounting plate. If you only have funds for a single camera, you might want to step up to something that is a bit more flexible.
Would I recommend it to my visual anthro students? Given that I was prepared to go to Japan for some filming with just the Sony if the Canon XL-H1 didn't arrive, I would give a tentative affirmative. You'll still need to spend about $400 more for a good shotgun mike, L-bracket, and BeachTek XLR adapter. You might be better off spending that money on either a great MiniDV camera such as the Canon GL2 or spending a little bit more on the Victor GR-HD1 ($3000) or the Sony HDR-FX1 ($4000), both of which set new standards. But students are poor and the HC1 produces images that are certainly usable.
The bottom line is that the HDR-HC1 won't disappoint in the one area that's important: quality of the image.
Here are some other reviews: