Comparing the Sony Mini-DV Camcorder Imaging Types

(First posted December 05, 2001 - last modified 4/17/2003)

Among the many Sony Mini-DV models offered in 2001 through early 2002, there were five main imaging 
types: the 3-chip VX2000/PD150/DSR250 (
reviewed here); the 3-chip TRV900 (reviewed here); the 1-chip 
1.5-megapixel TRV30/PC120; the 1-chip 1.2-megapixel TRV20/PC100/PC110; and the 1-chip 690k-pixel 
TRV11/TRV17/PC5/PC9. Late in 2001, the 1.2-megapixel models were dropped, and in mid 2002, the 3-chip 
TRV900 type was dropped and two more types were introduced: the 1-chip 1-megapixel TRV25/27 and the 
3-chip (1-megapixel each) TRV950 (with reduced-size CCDs). Only the first group of five types are covered here... 
To compare these, I shot video with a sample camcorder of each type in several lighting situations, and have included 
three here for illustration. With the camcorders used (the VX2000, TRV900, TRV30, PC100, and PC9), DWB 
was selected for exteriors (the Sony Mini-DV camcorder exterior color balance generally looks best with this 
white-balance setting), AWB for interiors (the Sony color balance generally looks best with this white-balance 
setting for interiors, short careful manual white-balancing) - with all other settings set in the automatic modes and 
with the stabilizers on, unless otherwise noted. The VX2000 and PC9 had UV filters on; the others had skylight 
filters on (this would affect exterior color balance slightly). The Sony Mini-DV 3-chip camcorders use optical image 
stabilization; the 1-chip camcorders use electronic image stabilization (requiring a higher total CCD pixel count than 
is used for the camcorder image area - and this forces both the pixel size and the CCD area used for imaging to be 
smaller). Both stabilization types work well, but the EIS also moves the shutter speed from 1/60th to 1/100th second, 
further affecting low light performance. This is somewhat offset by using "HAD"-type CCDs (with their higher 
sensitivity), but the price is greater vertical smearing of bright areas in the image. For descriptions (with examples) 
of the various video picture characteristics to look for, go
here. The relative sizes of the various camcorders can 
be seen in the photo, below.

General comments on each of the five imaging-type camcorders used:

-- VX2000 (PD150, DSR250)

Fairly large and heavy for a "handycam"-style camcorder, and a bit difficult to hold steady with the lens zoomed 
long, the 3-chip (1/3" CCDs) VX2000 offers excellent overall image quality (sharpness, color accuracy [depth, 
neutrality, purity], contrast, brilliance, smoothness, and relative freedom from picture artifacting [oversharpening, 
stairstepping and Moiré effects, tints, and "grain" - though the picture is sharp enough to show compression 
"mosquito" effects with fine textures]). The picture contrast is noticeably lower than for the others, especially the 
1-chip models, permitting good images to be shot under a wide range of lighting conditions with minimal picture 
problems evident. The high picture quality and the excellent low-light performance place this Sony type at the top 
of the Sony Mini-DV camcorder line - and the picture "custom controls" offer the option of modifying color 
saturation and warm/cool bias, sharpening, and AE-bias to taste. It is also unsurpassed (and rarely equaled) by 
Mini-DV camcorders offered by other manufacturers. The picture is far from perfect (and it is surpassed by much 
larger, heavier, and more expensive cameras), but at its price point it is remarkably good. For more, see the 
here. (The VX2000 and PD150 were replaced by the similar VX2100 and PD170.)

-- TRV900 (PD100a)

Moderate in weight, size, and price, the 3-chip (1/4" CCDs) TRV900 is easy to hold and handle, and it offers a 
very good image in good light and a decent image in poor light. The CCDs, not being of the "HAD" type, have less 
tendency to smear bright areas vertically in the image (though the VX2000 is superior in this respect). The TRV900 image tends a bit toward magenta compared with the others, and the picture contrast is higher than that of the 
VX2000, aiding the impression of sharpness but hurting the smooth rendition of tones in the image (the contrast is 
lower, though, than it is in the 1-chip Sony camcorders). With motion, contrasty subject edges show more "flapping" 
effects at scan lines than the VX2000, but considerably less than the megapixel 1-chip camcorders show. Overall, 
the image quality is very good, and better than most of the competition (even at considerably higher prices). (A slightly 
better alternative in many respects is the Sony VX1000, no longer made, with a different imaging type not covered 
in this comparison.) For more on the TRV900 (and VX1000), see the reviews
here and here. (The TRV900 was 
replaced by the TRV950, with smaller 1/4.7" CCDs of higher pixel count, resulting in less low-light range - and I 
found the picture contrast excessive with it.)

-- TRV30 (TRV50, PC115, PC120)

Compact and light, but not much cheaper than the TRV900, the image produced by the TRV30 (and the even 
smaller PC120 and PC115) is quite remarkably good in sharpness and color quality for a 1-chip camcorder. 
Picture negatives: considerable artifacting with motion (stair-stepping and "flapping" at scan lines - and these are 
annoying!), more noise in smooth-tone areas than the 3-chip camcorders (even in good light), not very good low 
light performance (poor range, though image quality remains reasonably high until just before the low light limit is 
reached [there are suggestions for getting acceptable image quality at the camera's low light limit, described later]), 
fairly high contrast (highlights burn out easily), and very noticeable vertical smearing of bright lights. Other negatives: 
the camera AE tends to overexpose exterior views some (using "spotlight mode" can help, as does using "portrait 
mode", my favorite mode for general use with this camera), the eyepiece viewfinder is too bright for good exposure evaluation, the zoom control is difficult for me to operate, the megapixel stills show considerable color noise (they 
look fine at 640x480...), and the TRV30 (but not the PC115/120) must be removed from a tripod to change tape. 
As with the other megapixel 1-chip Sony cameras, the footage shot under low-contrast lighting can look very good, 
and can show less negative picture artifacting. In general, for a similar price, the 3-chip TRV900 was a better 
camcorder - but size and weight considerations (and the good qualities of this 1-chip picture compared with many 
others) may still lead one to the TRV30 or PC115/120. (The similar 1.5-megapixel TRV50 was added to the line, 
then replaced by the 2-megapixel TRV70 and TRV80, etc.)

-- PC100 (PC110, TRV20)

Very compact and light, this camcorder fits inside a tiny camera bag, or even in a lens slot in a still-camera bag. I find 
holding and handling easier than with the TRV20/30 body shape, and the zoom slider easier to control than the small 
lever on the TRV20/30. The image is very good in quality (similar to that of the TRV30/PC120, but with a cooler 
color bias - and it shares the TRV30 characteristic of showing considerable artifacting with motion, though slightly 
less of it), but it is not comparable with the best 3-chip camcorders except under lighting conditions favorable to it 
(it looks great in the rain...;-). Even so, I often use mine for insect-shooting and some other types of nature work that 
aren't harmed by excessive contrast, and even for landscape work when color accuracy is not critical. I also find the 
640x480 still capability fine for web work (color noise spoils the higher-resolution still images), and I use the PC100 
and TRV30 for making quick shifted-camera
3-D images. (The PC100, PC110, and TRV20 models were replaced 
by the PC101, TRV25, and TRV27 - then the TRV33, TRV38, TRV39, etc.)

-- PC9 (PC5, TRV11, TRV17, TRV18, TRV19, TRV22)

Extremely compact and light (about 2/3rds the size of the small PC100), I use this camera as a "pole" or "clamp" 
camera, placed unobtrusively near the action. Image quality is the lowest of this group in terms of sharpness (though 
better than earlier Sony 1-chip Mini-DV camcorders like the PC1 and TRV9, reviewed
here), but it is somewhat 
better than the others in terms of picture smoothness with motion, and in ultimate low-light "reach". It's picture is 
good enough for casual use, and better even than some low-end (in quality) 3-chip camcorders in some ways. The 
picture is pleasant, with neither outstanding virtues nor faults. (The PC9 is no longer current, and the TRV17 was 
replaced by the TRV18, then by the TRV19 and TRV22, etc.)

Frame-grabs from the motion-video of the five Sony Mini-DV imaging types:

  In bright light
  In dim light
  In tungsten light


My TRV-30 and IR-enabled TRV-9 are FS, alas,  at:


Other websites with interesting Mini-DV reviews and comparison frame-grabs are at:

(See for translations.)

Video image characteristics examples can be found at:

Camcorder manuals can be found at:



All of this is copyrighted material (David Ruether, 2002-2007), and may not be reproduced without permission. 
Permission is granted to copy this material (including any of the still photos) for personal use only.

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