Sony DCR-TRV80NTSC Handicam
Review Date: February 9, 2010
Purchase Price: $1499.99 (now available used on Amazon for $350-$450)
Purchase Date: April 5, 2003
Purchased From: Fry's Electronics
This has been a great camera. I've been using it at the track for years and am happy enough with it that instead of buying a newer model for a second SD camera I am seriously thinking of getting another one of these. The explanation is simple. The video looks great, and it has been very reliable.
I doubt I would have even bought a video camera except for track events. After I saw one in another car I knew it was something I had to do. So I went to Fry's Electronics and checked out their extensive selection. It was pretty confusing as I knew nothing about these things, although I was pretty good with photography. It seemed that there were three broad price categories, relatively cheap but not really, expensive, and way too expensive. I did not even understand what I was looking at so the expensive cameras were out of the question. The cheaper cameras, from a features standpoint, did not compare well with the mid-range cameras and my experience with the budget stuff has been such at I generally do not go that route. Mini DV tape was just coming out and that looked good and the TRV80 was a Mini DV camera. The Sony DCR-TRV80 also boasted quality optics, so I figure that means the Sony engineers were really trying to make this a great performer. (The reviews that I eventually read, long after I bought the camera, would say pretty much this.) Still, it was pretty expensive, but that's what I went with, and years later I still have no regrets.
I had already bought a Hama camera mount and I just happened to have it in the car that day so of course I shot video of the drive home, probably watching the pretty LCD screen a bit too much for California freeway driving. When I got home I reviewed the tape and I knew this was going to work out well.
The first time I took it to the track I recorded several sessions. The results were mixed as I didn't know how to use the camera in this situation. That day I learned about the relationship between good audio and the number of windows that were rolled down, that auto focus does a great job focusing on the reflection of your dash in the windshield when the light was right, then searched for and eventually found another subject then the light (angle of the sun) changed. I also started to learn how trying to manage the camera will driving can really mess you up, especially since I was still pretty new to this type of driving. While fiddling around with the camera to start recording I'd forget to do things such as buckle my chin strap or even fasten my seat belts.
And to be honest, the image quality was not so good. So much glare, and strong sun. But I solved that problem with a polarizer.
At this point I wasn't using many of the nice features of the camera but over time I would and I'd come to depend on them. The camera's image stabilization feature is very nice feature, perhaps essential for this applications. There's plenty of vibration in a speeding car and it hardly ever comes through in my videos. The A/V port was bi-directional so I could use that with a bullet cam. I also spent a bit of time playing with exposure and white balance, things like that, and before long the image quality was much improved. When I compared it to what most people were shooting and felt even better. This camera was doing a great job.
One thing I never had a problem with was the tape mechanism. People were telling me it would be a problem but it never was. I have seem a few tape glitches over the years, but that might total a whole 2 seconds compared to the hundred, possibly near two hundred, hours of video I have shot. Also, I have come to learn that the data rate of DV tape is in the 30 MBit/second, well above DVD quality, and this camera uses a CCD, which works better than the CMOS sensors seen on many cameras.
While everything sounds great so far I do have two complaints, but keep in mind these complaints are common to many video cameras. The first is that you have to take the camera off your tripod or camera mount in order to change tapes. That's not just a nuisance, but in this case it messes up the alignment/aim I spent so much time getting just right. The second is similar, but it concerns the battery and how in most cases I have to remove the camera from the tripod in order to change batteries.
The camera came with software that would let you download the video but it seems it was limited to 320x240 images. Odd. Being new at this I didn't know any better way to get the video onto my computer. I eventually figured out how to do this using Premiere 4.5, or 6, I forget, but that made a big difference.
The camera is now a bit scuffed and dusty, but it is working great. I still use it even though I now have a newer Sony high-def camcorder. I used it at the recent Lemons race, mounting it on the rear of the pace car. In the video I used those clips as picture-in-picture insert into my high-def footage. I also use the camera for second views and for recording the audio of my conversations with my students.
Below are frames from several different videos using this and other cameras. Click the images to see them full sized.