If you've been reading about camcorders online, you might have heard of the Flip camcorder; a small SD camcorder famous for its simplicity and ease of use. The closest HD equivalent would probably have been a Sanyo Xacti or the Canon Powershot TX1. But now comes the Sony HDR-TG1E, waltzing into our labs with style and grace.
The TG1E looks absolutely beautiful and elegant. Small enough to fit into the palm of your hand and light enough to carry conveniently, with a half titanium, half plastic shell. This does not make it any less sturdy; the TG1E is covered with a hard coat, which is useful if you tend to dump your belongings carelessly. The TG1E can be connected to USB, AV out and DC in through a base HandyCam station. Sony also packs a useful (if short) USB converter cable which jacks in through a port on the bottom.
Flipping open the LCD panel turns the TG1E on and shooting is as simple as pressing the big round button on the back dial. All buttons are conveniently placed within reach of your thumb. Turning the pressure sensitive smaller ring zooms in and out while the outer ring switches between camcorder and camera mode. The photo button is located at the end of the silver cylinder connecting the TG1E body to the LCD panel. Menus are accessed through the touch-screen LCD panel. The only gripe we have is how the Power Off button is way on the other side of the body, but it could have been intentional to prevent accidental shutdown.
As a point and shoot camcorder, it's the easiest HD camcorder we've used so far, but it is not for the manual obsessed shooter.
With its smaller body, the TG1E packs a smaller sensor (1/5") compared to its predecessor, the Sony HandyCam HDR-SR12 (1/3"), while promising the same resolution. That means a considerable amount of scaling for the TG1E processor, as the difference between its effective pixels and the output image is quite significant. This is probably why noise was prevalent in the majority of the shots, especially in low-light situations. Don't be fooled by the brilliant and beautiful playback on the LCD, you have to plug it into your PC or TV to see the real deal.
Shooting the resolution chart in HD FH, the highest quality setting, the TG1E returns a performance of slightly above 500LPH horizontal and vertical. Colors were rather washed out and lacked the extra punch. Strangely, SD video returned more deeply saturated results with higher contrast. On the resolution chart, SD HQ (highest quality) video was slightly above 300LPH horizontal and vertical.
If you glance at the TG1E, you'll notice a flash bulb on top of the lens. The kicker here is that it's only used for photos and since there are no accessory slots on the clean body of the TG1E, you're out of a portable light source for shooting at night. That's a big minus for the TG1E, which tries to compensate with a Slow Shutter Mode, but like all slow shutter modes makes action a jerky, slow-motion event.
There are also visible interlacing artifacts (the TG1E records to 1080i), especially along moving edges, which appears in both AVCHD-encoded HD & MPEG2 SD video. You'll also see purple fringing on backlit subjects, and shots are often jittery even with Super SteadyShot switched on. The downside of its small, boxy design is how it probably has to deal with more wrist jitters than a big camcorder sitting snugly on your palm.
It is hard to place the TG1E: it doesn't really belong in the HD category even though it's a HD camcorder nor is it in the camcorder-lite category despite its compact size due to its price. The TG1E's imaging quality may not be the best we've seen, but there's no denying that it was one of the most fun gadgets we've had to review in a while. It isn't perfect, but it's hard not to at least like it. If you're thinking of getting one though, think of it as an expensive, convenient and beautiful camcorder at almost S$2000 with quality that falls somewhere in-between that of SD & HD.