Pros: Great lens; ergonomically comfortable to use; wonderful sound and picture quality
Cons: Cassette loads from camera bottom; mediocre image stabilization; lens has narrow angle of coverage
Review December 29, 2006
It may seem strange to be reviewing this mini dv camera 3 years after I bought it (2003), but I wanted to give others a sense of this piece of equipment so that they might have a bit of an informed opinion if they are considering buying used.
Having said that, I would suggest that nobody buys anything used that uses heads of one sort or other to record because the heads in machines such as tape recorders and video tape recorders can become worn very easily. Of course if youre buying from somebody whom you trust has hardly used a piece of equipment, that is a different matter.
Anyway, back to the DCR-TRV33, as it is properly called, despite being popularly known as the TRV-33.
I bought the camera in preparation for a 3 and a half week trip that I took to the U.K. in 2003. Because I live in N. America, I bought the commonly available NTSC version of the camera, although I had considered buying the PAL version (the broadcast standard for the U.K.) because I anticipated making copies of tapes and sending them to friends and relatives there. However, I eventually decided to buy the NTSC version of the camera, which at the time was $1200 (CAN.).
I should say that for a very brief time I owned a Panasonic mini dv; no thicker than a paperback book, that camera had two advantages over the TRV-33 in that its night vision mode was colour, while the TRV-33s is not, and that its lens had a much wider angle of coverage relative to that of a TRV-33. (The TRV-33s night light is a green kind of colour).
I just couldnt get on with the Panasonic ergonomically, finding its upright design with the zoom control operated by ones thumb, to be very cumbersome. So, I replaced this camera with the TRV-33, which was about $300 cheaper.
The lithium ion battery that came with the TRV-33 only lasts for an hour, so I immediately bought another lithium ion that holds a three hour charge, and have used that batter exclusively ever since. In addition to the length of its charge, I have found that this battery has another advantage over the regular battery, despite costing over $200 (CAN.). For me, the battery counterbalances the rather light weight of the TRV-33. This is important to me because I find it difficult to hold the camera still, and also because the TRV-33 only has digital image stabilization to eliminate camera shake, rather than the better and more sophisticated optical image stabilization. (By the way, I have not really kept abreast of the changes and advances in mini dv technology, but I know that a relatively cheap mini dv camera that I played with recently was wonderfully stable, and this used the digital image stabilization system).
Here are my thoughts, in list form, on my experience of the TRV-33:
Advantages/Things I Like About The TRV-33:
? Apparently the TRV-33 has one of the highest resolutions (lines per screen) within the Mini DV specification I seem to remember that it is 525, but cannot remember exactly. I have been very impressed by the quality of the video produced by the camera, and also by the quality of the optics included (the lens is made by the well-respected Carl Zeiss).
? The cameras exposure controls (meter?) balances sharp contrasts of bright sunlight against dark shadow very well
? Sonys famous touch screen (i.e. the VCR controls rewind, play, fast forward, stop, pause etc.) appear as video displays on the viewing screen when in VCR mode, and one touches the screen to activate the controls (the feel is a pleasant, spongy feeling). I was sceptical that this would last, but had read good things about these screens, and Im pleased to say that I was totally wrong.
? The camera is very robust it survived not only 3 weeks of me dragging it around, but has been used by a couple of children under 10 years-old for several hours, and came through immaculately (they also took good care of it, of course). And so did a colleague who used it for a week or so.
? Ergonomically I find the camera very comfortable to use. The play/record and zoom controls literally fall under ones fingers (although the mode controls are a little fiddly)
? Despite the disadvantage of pure night shooting (see below), the lens sees more shadow detail than I am able to.
? Although the cameras motor is louder than I would like, the internal microphone is excellent. I was struck by this recently when watching some tape that my cousins wife had shot with the camera of my cousin and I singing and playing guitar. The microphone provided a very pleasant tonal balance without any sibilance (sharp ess sounds) in the higher frequencies, no boominess in the bass, and a very well developed mid-range. In my opinion this mic. is much better in quality than some of the cheaper bona fide microphones ($70-150 range) that are sold for those getting involved with multitrack recording for the first time. I would say that its sound is more appealing to the ear than the fabled Shure SM57 and 58 mics..
? The camera comes with a line in which allows one to plug in an external microphone. This is very important if one wants to either (a) avoid the noise of the cameras motor, by positioning a microphone away from the camera, and/or (b) stand far enough back from the subjects in order to be able to see them without panning, while still being able to capture the sound. (Because the camera will have to be within a few feet of people talking at a regular level in order to capture them talking).
Disadvantages/Things I Wish Were Different About The TRV-33
? The mini dv cassette loads from the bottom. This is a distinct disadvantage because it means that if one is using the camera on a tripod, you have to physically take the camera off the tripod in order to get at the cassette.
? As I mentioned above, the TRV-33 addresses camera shake by offering digital image stabilization, rather than the more effective at least when I bought the camera in the summer of 2003 optical image stabilization. It is better to have the stabilization on, rather than off, but it is still somewhat ineffective: Id give it a 5 or 6 out of 10.
? Unfortunately, the excellent optical quality of the lens (sharpness, contrast/transmission of light etc.) is not complimented by angle of coverage. I would estimate the lens to be the equivalent of a 50mm. Lens on a 35mm. Camera, when at its widest zoom. I knew when I bought the camera that this would be a problem, and I have consistently found myself having to pan from side to side, and up and down, whereas with the other camera I would have been able to capture the image in one, unmoving shot.
? The still (digital) camera in the TRV-33 is only just over a Megapixel (i.e., 1 mega pixel): not good by anybodys standards, although at the highest resolution, the camera produces good results at 4 x 6.
? The included 8 MB Sony Memory Stick (now an obsolete format?) provided enough memory for 90 images at 640 x 480, I think; not really great at all. Once again I think that this amount is laughable by todays standards. I was told in a photo shop recently that they did not sell memory cards of less than half a Gigabyte (512 MB) storage.
? Also as mentioned above, the night mode/vision of the camera is of the old type that captures images in a monochrome, green, mode, not in colour
? The cameras motor is louder than I would like, although not unacceptably loud, i.e. it does not obscure people talking at lower volumes as long as they are within a few feet of the camera and that the camera (i.e. microphone) is pointed at them. This is true of all amateur cameras with built in microphones.
I think that that about concludes my review. I certainly have been more impressed with the output of the TRV-33 than several of its more expensive contemporaries, and surprisingly find that it still holds its own in this department today, with the caveat about stabilization mentioned above.