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January 2009
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Exmor ‘R’ debuts in Handycams

Sony’s new back-illuminated CMOS sensor design makes its first appearance – along with technology borrowed from the Alpha system – in a new HD Handycam video model, the HDR-XR520VE/500VE. Hopefully presaging future DSLR developments, the range also includes models with built-in GPS tracking to record the location of shots as you film.

The new HD Handycam® range features several leading-edge technologies originally developed for Sony for its Alpha range of digital SLR cameras. For the first time, range-topping AVCHD HDD Handycam models (HDR-XR520VE/500VE) feature a super-sensitive Exmor R CMOS sensor. Developed exclusively by Sony, this radically new design adopts a unique ‘back illuminated’ cell structure. The sensor has been re-engineered so photo-sensitive areas receive maximum illumination, unobscured by a grid of fine metal wires that partially blocks the pathway of incoming light in conventional designs.

This ‘flipped’ sensor layout increases the amount of illumination reaching the photo detector. Dramatically boosting overall efficiency, Exmor R CMOS Sensor approximately 2x increase in sensitivity compared with conventional models. This ensures brilliant, low noise-images, even in low light. Now we must wait to see whether Sony can translate this back-illuminated design to DSLR CMOS sizes.

This innovative sensor structure is coupled with on-chip analogue to digital (A/D) conversion, minimising the pathway of analogue signals that are more susceptible to noise than digital data. On-chip A/D conversion thus reduces picture noise further for better low-light performance. Other features of this advanced Exmor R CMOS sensor include a unique ClearVid array pixel layout: this allows very high resolution still recording up to to a maximum 12 effective megapixels.

Also making its debut on top-flight AVCHD HDD Handycam® models is Sony’s new G lens. Complementing the new Exmor R CMOS sensor’s superb imaging performance, this premium lens expands creative shooting possibilities. Presumably the G lens is designed by the former Konica Minolta optical team, like the G lenses for the Alpha range.

Its advanced optical design includes low-dispersion aspheric glass elements for crisp, clear images with reduced chromatic aberration, especially at telephoto settings. Image contrast is stunning from corner to corner, while a 6-blade iris produces beautifully circular ‘bokeh’ defocus effects with point light sources.

Developed originally for the Alpha digital SLR range of cameras, the high-speed BIONZ imaging processor in HD Handycam® models handles the high-resolution data from the Exmor R CMOS sensor with ease. This contributes directly to the picture quality, quick responses and smart shooting features of this year’s High Definition Handycam® range.

Selected HD models (XR520VE/500VE/200VE) include a sensitive GPS receiver inside the camcorder that tracks your position anywhere on earth where there’s satellite coverage. Videos and still images are automatically matched with location data as you travel. After shooting, Map Index shows where each clip was shot as ‘map pins’ on the LCD screen. Just touch an on-screen thumbnail image to select a clip from the map. Online map views can also be enjoyed on your PC using the supplied Picture Motion Browser software.

After shooting, Memory Stick™ Handycam® users can enjoy fast data transfers from Handycam® to PC. Available in high-capacity 16GB (from March 2009) as well as 8GB and 4GB, Memory Stick™ PRO-HG HX achieves 20MB/s (read) and 15MB/s (write) transfer speeds: more than 3x the performance of Memory Stick™ PRO DUO, and significantly faster than direct USB connection from the camcorder’s internal memory to PC. In practice, this allows transfer of a 110 min Full HD video file (approx. 15 GB) from Handycam® to a PC in less than 15 minutes (using PRO-HG HX and supplied USB adaptor for connection to PC).

1 comment to Exmor ‘R’ debuts in Handycams

  • alphaomega

    No details of the physical size of this Exmoor ‘R’ but it seems to go up to 12 Mp. I am certain that this technology will eventually migrate to the Alpha system. Considering a 2x increase in light to noise ratio with back lighting maybe an APS-C upgrade of the A700 could yield image quality to rival the current 12 Mp FF cameras such as D700 with even lower noise at higher ISOs. Maybe I am forever hopeful, but having decided to stay with APS-C I can see a worthwhile upgrade to my A700/A350 combo coming up within 12-24 months. Just think what such a sensor scaled up to FF will be able to do in terms of particularly spectacular high ISO performance. There is clearly a question of how good the performance improvement can be at 100/200 ISOs because of the limitations of the lenses to resolve more detail. Exiting times ahead. I will wait with any upgrades to my DSLRs until Sony brings out an APS-C model with this technology.