Announced at the January 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, Sony’s $1500 HD 3D camera, the HDR-TD10, is probably one of the more highly-anticipated 3D products to come out of that show. As of mid-April, the handycam hadn’t yet hit the store shelves but I was among a handful of journalists who recently spent time shooting with the camera. I admit I’ve been skeptical about the readiness, on a practical level, of the consumer and prosumer market for 3D video (and vice versa) but working with the TD10 made me re-evaluate some of that skepticism. It’s still a new frontier, though, and there are any number of hurdles to be overcome but, it looks like resistance to 3D is futile.
If you’re not quite ready for 3D—or only want to shoot selected footage in 3D—the TD10 also shoots in 2D and can playback 3D video in 2D through the camera.
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The Sony HDR-TD10’s specifications are pretty impressive. It’s equipped with two wide-angle, 10x optical zoom G lenses (the G designation indicates Sony’s higher quality lenses), one for the left eye and one for the right eye. In fact, the front of the camera actually resembles two “eyes,” resulting in a WALL-E type expression—it’s kind of cute, in an anthropomorphic way. Sony utilizes frame-packing with dual, back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensors, each one recording full HD at 1920 × 1280, (as opposed to side-by-side 3D, which records both images to a single sensor, thereby cutting the resolution of each in half). Since the TD-10 is, in a sense, two cameras in one, the body is larger than most camcorders on the market today, measuring 2 1/4 × 2 5/8 × 5 1/8 inches and weighing about 22.6 ounces.
Not surprisingly, the Sony HDR-TD10 is also equipped with optical SteadyShot for image stabilization (in 3D mode, it only works at wide angle) and sensor-shift technology to help ensure that the 3D images are aligned. There’s a 5.1ch Surround Sound microphone (and a mic/headphone jack), stereo speakers, and a host of other features that you’d expect on a camcorder. Many of these features such as focus tracking, manual controls and capturing a 7 megapixel still image, work only in 2D mode, however.
One of the highlights of the Sony HDR-TD10 is its 3.5-inch LCD, which provides 3D viewing without glasses. You have to angle the LCD just right to see the effect but it’s really impressive when the monitor is positioned perfectly. Of course, you still have to use 3D glasses when playing back video on a 3DTV.
In addition to HDMI, composite video, and proprietary USB ports, the Sony HDR-TD10 is compatible with Memory Stick PRO Duo, SD/SDHC/SDXC cards and comes with 64GB of internal memory. The handycam is bundled with an HDMI cable, USB adapter cable, A/V connecting cable, USB cable and a remote commander, so you’ll be good to go straight out of the box. A pleasant surprise was the ability to transfer files directly to an external USB hard drive. For more detailed specifications, please go to www.sonystyle.com. Just read the footnotes carefully to differentiate between what’s available only in 2D versus 3D.
With some basic training under our belts and the Sony HDR-TD10 in hand, we were off to one of the stage sets at Sony Studios where two scenarios—complete with actors and stunt men—were ready for us to shoot. Initially, the camera was uncomfortable to hold due to its size. Since my hands are relatively small, I was concerned about being able to reach the controls but after about 15 minutes of shooting, I found the perfect grip.
Indoors, the LCD was highly visible and the resolution was good enough to be able to set the convergence point (where the left and right axes meet to produce a 3D image) using a dial at the front of the camera. It was still difficult to get just the right setting but, after some practice—and a little help from one of the professional stereographers on set—I was generally able to make it work. We were directed to shoot from different angles and encouraged to get up close to the subjects since using a telephoto zoom can flatten the image.
When we moved outdoors under the bright sun, the LCD was difficult to see. I adjusted the settings so the camera automatically selected the convergence point since the limited detail on the sunlit LCD made it impossible to manually set the convergence point. This automatic feature actually worked quite well as I captured video of a Dixieland band, jugglers and a unicyclist. Frankly, I was having so much fun that my doubts about 3D video took a back seat.
We also visited Venice Beach with its active skateboard park and a wide variety of street performers and other colorful subjects. As I shot more, my confidence continued to grow, especially since I could evaluate the footage in 3D on the LCD (and on a large-screen 3D Sony Bravia TV during lunch). Since there aren’t many manual options in 3D mode, I let the camera make most of the decisions. There is an Intelligent Auto mode, which pulls from an extensive database of scene types but I opted to use the “regular” auto mode instead.
After dinner, where I shot the neon lights of a roller coaster and ferris wheel through a glass window with mixed results, we headed back to the hotel. Sony had set up a viewing lab, complete with large-screen 3D Bravia TVs, 3D glasses and external hard drives to which we downloaded our footage.
Because I’m a stronger still photographer than videographer and because there is a definite learning curve with 3D, I was nervous about viewing the video I shot throughout the day. I also don’t have a terribly steady hand and, for many of the clips, I was moving around the subjects with only my hands (and SteadyShot) to keep the camera still. Sure, some of it wasn’t great—there was ghosting, my framing was a little off on occasion and some of the shots looked flat (a result of shooting at telephoto, which compresses the image). But I was happy with the bulk of my footage and was impressed with what this $1500 camcorder could achieve with little effort on my part.
The video (at least the good clips) was smooth and even when I moved in very close to my subjects, camera shake was almost non-existent. Exposures were generally spot on and colors were rendered naturally in both indoor and outdoor shots. Although I wasn’t happy about wearing 3D glasses (they’re bigger than Ray Bans and heavier), seeing the depth, clarity and balance of the 3D footage was well worth the extra effort. The sound was relatively clear and crisp as well and, surprisingly, there was only a hint of the wind that was blowing off the ocean at Venice Beach thanks to the camera’s wind filter.
Looking at other people’s videos, it was easy to see that they experienced some of the same challenges—and successes—that I did. But I think that everyone had more than a few clips that they were especially happy with.
There are still some unanswered questions about the camera and, more importantly, how to edit the 3D footage. At the time of the event, there was no way to edit the 3D footage and I am waiting to get more information about what editing software can handle the TD10’s 3D files. PMB (Sony’s Picture Motion Browser—a Windows-only software) will ship with the TD10 but from what I understand, you won’t be able to edit 3D with PMB. Initial indications point to Vegas, Final Cut Pro, and Windows Moviemaker but that’s not yet confirmed.
In-camera editing is limited and although I was able to crudely cut the length of specific clips, I didn’t explore the Highlight Playback feature, which can supposedly compile a clip of “key” scenes and automatically insert transitions. I would love to be able to cut and selectively re-assemble clips in the Sony HDR-TD10 without having to export the footage and save the computer work for more complex editing.
A couple of the professional stereographers I spoke with during the event were thrilled to have access to a $1500 3D camcorder since it’s much less painful financially to accidentally trash a $1500 camera during a stunt than one of their big 3D rigs. On the other hand, consumers and prosumers may not want to invest in a camera that requires a 3D TV and 3D glasses and perhaps special editing software. And there’s a definite learning curve associated with shooting 3D that may be daunting for consumers who are used to point-and-shoot video.
The Sony HDR-TD10 delivered better-than-expected results, but I’m not sure how things would have turned out if there was no pre-briefing about 3D technology and shooting and immediate access to professional stereographers and the Sony team. I hope that Sony will provide some basic guidance on the Web or in the user manual so consumers will have a positive experience when they start shooting in 3D. Like any new technology, education is key to moving forward.
We’ll have to wait for a final production model to make a full assessment of the camera but I must say that the Sony HDR-TD10 was great fun to shoot with and produced some excellent footage—even at the hands of this 3D novice.
Pros: affordable for a 3D model, dual full HD recording, 3D viewable LCD without glasses.
Cons: LCD hard to view under bright sunlight, no pause button during recording, questions about editing software (we’ll report back when we have more information).
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Original text ©2011 Theano Nikitas.
Original text ©2011 Theano Nikitas.