Sony’s Handycam Camcorder Celebrates Its 25th Anniversary

Handycam is a Sony brand used to market its camcorder range, and was launched twenty five years ago in 1985 as the name of the first Video8 camcorder, replacing Sony’s previous line of Betamax-based models. The name was intended to emphasize the “handy” palm size nature of the camera, made possible by the new miniaturized tape format. This was in marked contrast to the larger, shoulder mounted cameras available before the creation of Video8, and competing smaller formats such as VHS-C.

Sony has continued to produce Handycams in a variety of guises ever since, developing the Video8 format to produce Hi8 (equivalent to S-VHS quality) and later Digital8, using the same basic format to record digital video. The Handycam label continues to be applied as recording formats evolve, into realms such as HD video recording (1080i) and large capacity hard disk drives (240GB) and flash media (64GB) with incredible features.

What is your favorite Handycam model or memory?

Let’s take a look at some notable Sony Handycam Camcorder Features, according to Sony’s Handycam 25th Anniversary Website (entire contents of site are below):


The Beginning Of Handycam

The Handycam begins with the CCD-M8, introduced in 1985.

The Beta video cassette, the predecessor to the 8-millimeter video format, was intended for use in integrated camera/recorder devices right from its inception. In the early 1980’s, when shoulder-supported video cameras weighing more than two kilograms were the norm, the size of the next generation was decided on first with the condition that the camera must be operable with just one hand. Since the 8-millimeter cassette was one quarter the size of the Beta cassette, the camera should be reduced in size by a comparable amount. That line of thought led to a final size that was equivalent to two Beta cassettes.

With this demanding size requirement as a goal, the CCD-M8 became a reality only after much trial-and-error development.

In addition to being the first camcorder to break the one-kilogram weight barrier, the CCD-M8 was also the first to emphasize easy operation. The user had a choice of three focus settings and two white balance settings, and then it was just a matter of pressing the record button to shoot. It was record-only device, and playback was to be handled by a separate playback deck.

The “one-button” concept introduced in the CCD-M8 led the way for the significant advancements in automation technology that followed.

25 Years Of Handycam

The flagship HDR-CX550V model, released in 2010 on the 25th anniversary of the Sony Handycam, inherits outstanding features and performance acquired through two and a half decades of evolution. convenient, practical features such as “active” image stabilization that works effectively even while zooming, an Intelligent Auto mode that automatically determines which of 90 possible scene settings are ideal for the scene you’re shooting, and one of the highest performance lenses available in the field – Sony’s 29.88mm G Lens (35mm equivalent for movie shooting) – deliver not only excellent image quality, but an unprecedented shooting experience in wide angle as well. And users who want maximum creative capability will be delighted by a range of new manual features, including aperture priority and shutter speed priority modes.

Despite the impressive list of features and functions provided by the HDR-CX550, it features a remarkably compact design that is at the same time solid and substantial, befitting its role as the representative of 25 years of Handycam evolution.

The Small Size Of Handycam

It is sometimes necessary to adopt a new system in order to record the best possible image quality. In such cases, the first model is likely to be relatively large and be designed to serve the high-end market. The second model, however, will retain the same features in a significantly smaller, easy-to-use design.

Size comes first. To miniaturize to suit Sony customers’ needs, they design from the outside rather than the inside.

The first Handycam, the CCD-M8, was designed from the outset to be about the size of a Beta videocassette. That size goal was attained, and a weight of only one kilogram was achieved for the first time.

By setting and relentlessly pursuing specific miniaturization goals, impressive size reduction has been achieved in the Handycam line. The CCD-TR55, released in 1989, was widely known as the “passport-size Handycam” based on the concept of travel. It was designed to be small enough to fit in a handbag and be taken anywhere. Here’s a weird advertisement I found for the TR88 from ’89:

A miniature drum mechanism had already been developed for the preceding product, the CCD-V88, but further miniaturization was necessary using the same basic technology and newly developed miniature lens. One problem was that the CCD-V88 had a number of protrusions that made it seem large, which were eliminated by implementing an internal microphone for the first time ever. The problem of mechanical noise being picked up by the microphone was overcome by applying noise-canceling construction methods.

Miniaturization means higher circuit density, which can lead to heat buildup within the device. These and other problems were effectively overcome, resulting in groundbreaking miniaturization in “passport size” Handycam that successfully popularized the travel-camera concept.

The same approach to miniaturization was applied in the DCR-PC7, the successor to the first DV camcorder, and in the HDR-HC1, the second-generation Hi-Definition camcorder.

Handycam Image Stabilization

Image stabilization has become an indispensable feature in both still and video cameras. The evolution of image stabilization technology in Handycam camcorders goes back 18 years.

Hand shake is a fundamental problem when shooting video, and camera manufacturers have come up with a variety of ways to reduce it.

One method adopted by another manufacturer was electronic compensation based on image recognition. This type of electronic compensation became so popular that image stabilization was expected in all video cameras thereafter. However, it suffered from a few drawbacks, such as not working while zooming, and sometimes misunderstanding subject movement for camera shake.

The first image stabilization system incorporated in a Handycam employed a prism in front of the lens, the angle of which was minutely adjusted to compensate for shake. This was Sony’s optical active prism stabilization system, introduced in the CCD-TR900.

The active prism system was subsequently employed in high-end models as well, but was quite large and not suitable for use in compact models. A new type of electronic image stabilization was there fore adopted in order to maintain the compact dimensions and light weight of the Handycam line.

Electronic compensation was added to the existing specialized gyro sensor that was being employed to directly detect shake, and the resultant system was introduced in the compact CCD-TR2.

Image stabilization was then required for still images captured by compact models as well as moving images. To effectively achieve that requirement, a compact lens with an internal compensation element was devised to allow lens-shift stabilization (DCR-TRV900).

In 2003, the New Torino (Turin) Project was kicked off, with the goal of achieving even greater image stabilization performance before the Torino Olympics.

Research was focused on reducing the size of the active prism system so that it could be implemented in home video camcorders. This resulted in the development of a dedicated microprocessor (BONOBO) and a new precision optical stabilization lens system that were released in the HDR-UX7.

The name of the project was changed, and it became a permanent operation that pursued image stabilization development full time.

A major advancement was achieved in the HDR-XR520/500 with an Active Mode that provided improved stabilization at the wide end of the zoom range, and allowed stable images to be shot while walking with the camera.

Once shooting while walking became possible, the rolling shake caused by body sway while walking became an issue.

A gyro to dedicated to roll detection was added, and roll compensation was achieved by using the BIONZ image processor. This system was released in the HDR-CX520/500.

Handycam Design

Sony product engineering defers to design, and design is never compromised solely to satisfy engineering criteria. Design and ease of use are both refined to the highest possible degree.

The same applies to Handycam design.

Handycam is specifically designed for handheld shooting, but the way that has been implemented has been modified over time with the introduction of new technologies and features.

The compact Handycam made it possible to shoot handheld, in contrast to its bulkier shoulder-supported predecessors. This made it necessary to find the most practical, comfortable position for the viewfinder for that style of shooting. The viewfinder extended from the side, toward the rear of the camera, and is a location that remains standard to this day.

When LCD viewfinders were introduced, it was necessary to modify the way tehy were mounted for optimum viewing. At the time it was normal to hold the camera with both hands while viewing the LCD, but by placing the LCD screen in a flexible flip-out panel it became possible to shoot comfortably with one hand while viewing the screen, significantly enhancing ease of use (CCD-TRV90).

The next goal was to make the camera slim enough to fit in a pocket. This resulted in a thin vertical design in which the lens and flip-out panel do not overlap.

The Sound Of Handycam

One of the major differences between still and moving images is sound. When a video is played back, the sounds of the city or friends talking help bring the original moments back to life. Great care is taken to ensure that Handycam camcorders offer the best possible sound.

The best-selling passport size CCD-TR55 had monaural sound. Stereo sound was a development goal for the second-generation passport size CCD-TR75.

Because of the compact size of the camera, the spacing between the left and right microphones was too close to achieve effective stereo sound. This problem was overcome by using the time difference between the sound arriving at the two microphones and by giving the microphones more directional pickup characteristics.

Another problem that had to be overcome was that nearby sounds would interfere with sound from a distant subject. The solution was to once again use the time difference between the microphones to implement a “zoom microphone” function that was linked to the camera’s zoom lens (CCD-TR900).

When DVD disks were adopted as a recording format, the 5.1 channel sound capabilities of the medium were too appealing to ignore. In order to provide even more realistic, spacious sound to match the video images, more microphones were added and precise computation of the time differences between those microphones made it possible to deliver stunning 5.1-channel surround sound in the DCR-DVD403.

The evolution didn’t stop there. In the HDR-SR12, further refinements in computation capability made it possible to achieve 5.1-channel zoom microphone operation linked to the lens.

The Beauty Of Handycam

A lens that precisely captures the scene. The image sensor – the camera’s electronic “eye” that converts the light captured by the lens to electronic signal. The processing engine that generates the final image from the signal supplied by the image sensor.

Handycam image quality is dependent on these three basic components. Development of CCD image sensors was initiated in 1970, and after overcoming countless problems and obstacles, the cutting-edge CCD sensor was implemented in the very first Handycam, the CCD-M8.

The fact that “CCD” became a part of the product name attests to the important role this advanced component played in establishing the Handycam line.

As semiconductor production technology advanced, CCD sensors gradually became smaller: starting at 2/3 type and progressing to 1/2-type, and then 1/3-type.

The general understanding throughout the industry was that the performance of CCD sensors would inevitably decline as the size was reduced, but Sony firmly believed that performance could be maintained or even improved despite the miniaturization.

That belief came to fruition when the CCD-TR75, implementing a 1/2-type precision CCD in a camcorder the size of the CCD-TR55, proved to be a huge success.

But as further miniaturization of CCD image sensors was pursued, power consumption became a problem to the point that it became necessary to adopt a different structure that had superior power characteristics: the CMOS image sensor.

Dynamic range limitations were overcome, and the CMOS sensor became more widely accepted.

In 2007, Sony developed the original Exmor CMOS sensor which by converting the analog electronic signal to digital format within the sensor chip itself, it achieved significant reductions in both noise and power consumption.

Then came the back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor that achieved twice the sensitivity of conventional miniature sensors, allowing high quality video to be captured even in low light (HDR-XR520/HDR-XR500).

The history of image sensors is also the history of man’s quest to shoot the most beautiful, vibrant images possible.

At the same time, it is generally understood that image quality is largely influenced by the recording format. Image resolution is limited by the format used.

The first Handycam used 8-millimeter videotape. But as CCD performance improved, the limitations of the recording format became a bottleneck. An improvement was achieved by switching from metal tape formulations to vapor-deposition Hi8 tape that offered the highest recording density at the time.

The next step was direct recording of digital video data to DV tape. The first consumer camcorder to use the DV format was the DCR-VX1000.

Miniaturization progressed rapidly, resulting in the first and highly acclaimed DV-format passport-size camcorder: the DCR-PC7.

The DV format was further refined in the HDV format that allowed Hi-Definition recording. Camcorder recording quality had leapt to a new level.

Capable of 1080i Full HD movie recording, the HDR-HC1 was the industry’s smallest digital Hi-Definition camcorder at the time, and became a massive hit.

Currently the AVCHD format provides ten times the resolution of 8-millimeter video. But that level of performance was not attained in one leap. It has taken time and the numerous small steps outlined above.

Handycam Is Easy To Use

Deciding what to shoot and how to shoot it has always been up to the shooter, but in order to make it easier to achieve outstanding results it was necessary to make the camera capable of automatically optimizing shooting parameters to match the subject.

It was particularly important to ensure that faces were captured properly.

Emphasis was placed on face-detection performance with the goal of producing the world’s first face recognition system for video shooting.

Although the production schedule was extremely tight, the BIONZ image processing engine made it possible to effectively detect faces.

The problem was, what to do next?

Sony was ahead of the competition in providing variable skin color, focus, and brightness parameters.

We also assigned a higher video bit rate to the face area, effectively suppressing noise that can occur around the facial outline.

The overall result was face detection performance that was good enough to be incorporated in the HDR-SR12: the world’s first camcorder with face recognition.

And then, while shooting movies of his one children, one of Sony’s engineers had the idea that it would be great if he could capture photographs of their smiling faces at the same time.

Hardware design was initially considered, but the solution was more quickly achieved via software design.

The Smile Shutter feature was first released in digital cameras, and then in video cameras in the form of a Dual Rec feature that allows simultaneous recording of moving and still images. In this contest, the Smile Shutter feature made it easy to capture the most natural, charming smiles.

Current Handycam camcorder include an Intelligent Auto (iAuto) that is capable of discerning four elements – face, scene, shake, and indoors/outdoors – and automatically selecting the ideal shooting parameter settings from 90 possible combinations so that optimal quality can be easily achieved in just about any situation.a

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