Product Review

Sony HVR-A1U HDV One-Chip High Definition Video Camera

Part I

November, 2007

John E. Johnson, Jr.



● Codec: MPEG-2
● Sensors: One 1/3" CMOS; 2,969,000
● Resolution: 1440x1080
● Storage: Mini DV Tape; Memory Stick
   (Still Photos)
● Lens: Carl Zeiss; 10:1 Optical Zoom;
   5.1mm-50mm; f/1.8-2.1; 37mm Filter
● Exposure: Auto, Manual
● Shutter Speeds: 1/4-1/4000th Second
● Recording Modes: HDV-1,440x1,080;
● 24 FPS Mode
● Outputs: Firewire, USB-2, Component
● External Microphone Input
● Remote Control Included
● Dimensions: 7.6" H x 2.9" W x 7.6" D
● Weight: 2.5 Pounds
● MSRP: $2,999 USA



When Sony introduced the first high definition video camera a couple of years ago, it was 1080i rather than 720p. Actually, the format of this and most such video cameras is called HDV, which means 1,440x1,080i. It requires recording 1,555,200 pixels per frame, while 720p needs 921,600 pixels.

HDV is an intermediate step to full 1,920x1,080i (1080i), and eventually, we will have 1080p30 in consumer video cameras (already present in some professional cameras) and maybe 1080p60 at some point.

The HDV format is very close to full 1080i, and in fact, many television studios use HDV cameras because they are about 1/5th the price of the professional 1,920x1,080 cameras.

You can buy an HDV camera for less than $1,000 now, but you really get what you pay for. Although the chips are 1,920x1,080 the lens is not as fine a quality as the ones on the higher priced models. It is because of the important lens factor, which includes sharpness but also contrast, that we have gone to the MTF50 criterion for measuring resolution.

The Design

Sony's HVR-A1U is a one-chip HDV camera, with a gross resolution of 2,969,000 pixels. The HD recording uses 1,983,000 pixels, and the SD recording mode uses 1,486,000 pixels. The chip is a CMOS design rather than CCD.

The recording format is MPEG-2 onto DV tape (Sony suggests using official DVCAM tape, which is a higher quality, but standard DV tape works fine).

You can use the standard quality stereo microphones that are mounted on the top front of the camera, or you can use the included external stereo microphone that looks like a shotgun mike and points forward. This is a condenser microphone that requires 48v power, which is supplied by the camera. It comes with a foam wind screen (shown in the photo above), but that does reduce the sensitivity a bit, so I did not use it in my recording tests.

The condenser microphone has a mounting bracket and XLR balanced cable that plugs into the camera. On the side of the bracket are switches to turn on or off the 48v supply (in case you want to use your own XLR microphone that does not require 48v). There are two XLR input jacks.

Behind the lens is an Auto/Manual focus slider switch that also lets you zoom manually. Below that are Tele Macro, Expanded Focus (enlarges the image so you can focus with better accuracy), and a Back Light button (for shots where the sun is behind the subject).

Below the Back Light button is a Manual Exposure slider and a button to manually adjust playback volume.

The included lens shade has a slider on it to cover the lens in between use.

A small remote control is included, which lets you operate most functions of the camera.

To the right of the Manual Exposure slider are three fold-down flaps that open up when you want to connect the Firewire cable (for uploading taped videos to your PC), video outputs to play tapes on your TV and also a jack for recharging the battery (one full charge lasts for about 1.5 hours of recording and playback).

You can also see the LCD screen in the closed position. It folds out for taping or viewing playback and is 2.7" diagonal. It flips over if you want to be in the picture and see what is being taped. To view the status indicators, you press the Display button on the camera body. The Auto Lock slider locks all the settings so you can't accidentally change them. If you want to go manual, you slide it to Off. You can start a recording and use the zoom by pressing the buttons on the display. For playback, controls are displayed on the screen itself.

The right side of the camera has the On/Off dial, indicators for the camera mode (recording, playback, still photography), and buttons up near the lens for Nightshot (changes the shutter speed for night time videography) and Assign (lets you choose a favorite function, like White Balance or Steady Shot to be activated when you press this button).

You can also see the button for starting a recording, a LANC socket (for connection to other devices like a video tape recorder), the Photo button for taking still shots, and the Zoom slider.

On the rear of the XLR microphone bracket, there is a Low Cut function for when the wind is blowing hard.



Go to Part II.

� Copyright 2007 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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