By Sarah Falson

SYDNEY: Sony Australia today held an event for a small selection of the press to herald the release of its latest high definition 1080i handycam, the HDRFX7 ($5,499), that is pitched toward the amateur enthusiast market.

“HD TV is growing rapidly in Australia, with close to three times as many people owning HD display devices each year," said Sony Australia assistant product manager – handycam, Yasuko Sumino.

"HD TVs should reach 600,000 units in Australian homes by the end of the year.

“Now, almost 20 per cent of households own HD-ready devices. We estimate this to rise to 80 per cent by the year 2010, which is also the year the government mandates that HD TV broadcasts will be available,” said Sumino.

Accordingly, demand for high definition camcorders is rising, as people who own high definition displays want to record their home movies in the same high quality, according to Sony.

Sony enlisted the help of Pieter de Vries, Australian cinematographer, to launch the HDRFX7. Vries had recently been given a test unit with which to trawl Sydney’s streets, and reported his ‘findings’ today at the event.

“It really is a very impressive camera, but shooting in high definition is like a dual-edged sword,” he said of the HDRFX7, which is 30 per cent lighter in weight and 27 per cent smaller than its predecessor, the HDVFX1.

“High definition shows so much definition and resolution, that it can be overwhelming. It can also be unforgiving in certain lights, as you see every little detail.

“People will have to get used to it – HD makes hiding the bad bits very hard! There is a trick to working with high definition,” he said.

According to de Vries, once you learn these “tricks” (“We now have to resort to the tricks of the trade to blur out the bad bits,” he said), the HDRFX7 is simple to use.

“The 20x zoom is a great advantage, and it’s easy to switch from automatic to manual mode.

“We still use serial SDI connections at the top end, but the picture taken by the HDRFX7 is incredible, when displayed on a HD TV.

“I was a bit surprised that the controls and LCD screen were moved to the side of this model; [the FX1 included these features on its top]. I thought that was the way it was going to stay, but oh well.”

The HDRFX7 incorporates a 3 ClearVid CMOS imaging sensor, with three independent 0.5-inch chips. According to Sony, the CMOS sensor has many advantages over the CCD sensor used in the HDVFX1 camcorder, including a wider dynamic range for depth of colour, smear-free image-making for clearly-defined sun spots, lower power consumption and advanced high speed data processing.

The lens is a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T with extra low dispersion glass that reduces colour fringing.

A dual recording feature allows users to record video and snap a still digital photograph simultaneously, or they can grab a screen-shot image of a recorded video at a later date. Stills are captured at 1.2 megapixels when filming, and up to 5 megapixels on their own.

All the latest connectivity options are present, including slots for Memory Sticks, USB 2.0 input, HDMI connections, component out and AV out.