Sony Digital 8 Image Captures and Observations

J. Beale, 1999 - 2004

My interest in the Digital 8 format is as a digital VCR, rather than a camera. (The Digital 8, MiniDV, full-size DV, and DVCAM tape formats all store the same DV video bitstream.) I have two D8 cameras that I use as D8 VCRs and they work well for that purpose. The least expensive Digital8 cameras used to be cheaper than comparable MiniDV, though now in 2004 they are similar in price (near $300). There are fewer new D8 models available now, and there is some question in my mind if Sony will continue to produce Digital8 cameras much longer.

In 1999, I brought a firewire cable and a MiniDV tape to Frys Electronics in Fremont to see if the Sony Digital 8 cameras would do for digital video editing. The MiniDV tape had a few brief segments recorded from my TRV900 at home. I put my tape in a TRV900 they had on display and hooked up the firewire cable to the adjacent Sony TRV110 Digital-8 which had a Hi8 tape in it. I played the DV tape into the TRV110, recording on Digital8 and then played back the tape in the other direction with the TRV900 recording. When I took my tape home and looked at the original and the copy from the TRV110 I didn't notice any difference. (these are 1-st. gen D8 cameras, no longer sold. 2/2001)

Then I tried a more stringent test: I made a 30-second video clip in Premiere incorporating two high-resolution still frames and wrote it va firewire from my PC to my TRV900 MiniDV camera. I read it back into the computer via firewire and extracted the two stills as BMP files, calling this "1st generation". I then copied that 30-second segment on the tape from the TRV900 over firewire to the TR7000, giving me a second generation copy on Digital 8, and then back to the TRV900 for a 3rd generation on MiniDV, and back etc. up to the 9th generation (on the TRV900 at this point) which I then uploaded back to the PC again, and again extracted the two stills. They look identical. I did a binary file comparison on the 1st and 9th generation BMP files and they are bytewise identical- every single bit is the same. Looks like I had no tape dropouts along the way! So, my conclusion is that this works- the firewire transfer is actually lossless- and you can use the Digital8 models as an inexpensive digital VCR for editing purposes.

You can, of course, use it as a camera as well. Some images taken by Digital 8 cameras are shown below. The first three indoors at Frys from a TRV110, the others (horse, sunset, concert) from a TR7000 (the least expensive Digital 8; has no viewscreen). There are five "first generation" Digital 8 models: DCR-TRV103, 110, 310, 510, and DCR-TR7000. As far as I know the lens/CCD and picture quality on all is the same. They all use the same CCD chip with 460k gross pixels and 290k active, and a 20x zoom lens. The "second generation" Digital8 cameras were released Summer 2000: models are TRV120, TRV320, TRV520, TRV525, TRV720, TRV820. The NTSC models all use a CCD chip with 460k pixels (290k active pixels) and have a 25x zoom lens. Here is Sony's Digital 8 page. Their features are briefly summarized at The "third generation" digital 8 cameras came out early 2001, including the TRV130, TRV230, TRV330 and TRV530, also the GV-D200 Digital8 Digital8 deck, and GV-D800 deck with LCD screen. In 2002 Sony introduced the "fourth generation" D8 cameras, including the TRV740 and TRV840 with a HAD 1/4.7" megapixel CCD chip. Sony has some of the Digital 8 manuals online, from DCR-TRV103 to TRV830.

model scene, long zoom, f/1.4 +3db

model scene, med. zoom, f/1.8 0 dB horse, med. zoom, f/1.4, 1/100 sec, +3 dB

pylon at sunset, med. zoom, f/14, 1/100, 0 dB B/W tiles showing color aliasing

Resolution Test Pattern TRV900/TR7000

Infrared imaging

TR7000 Menus what control menu options are available

TRV120e (PAL model) page from Mark J.T. with many still shots.

Kenko KCW-042 wide-angle lens with digital 8 cameras

Above is a representative sample of video I've taken with the TR7000. Some scenes work better than others. The sunset picture came out ok, the black-and-white tile floor shows up a problem with the camera; the image shows yellow and purple lines where there should be only black or white. This shows up on video (even after dubbing to VHS), not just stills, and I find it irritating. In my experience, the effect is nearly absent with outdoor, natural sunlight; it happens only indoors under incandescent (and, I assume, fluorescent) light. You may not notice the effect if you don't have high-contrast, small features in your shot.

If you want to improve your indoor shots using a Digital8 camera, you might experiment with "photoflood" light bulbs, which have a color temperature nearer to sunlight (5600 K) than tungsten-filament bulbs (2800 - 3200 K). I have some regular-size ("medium base" screw thread) 250 W, photoflood bulbs from These have a blue filter coating on the outside and a very hot, "overrun" filament on the inside causing short expected lifetime, in this case marked as three (3) hours.

Hacking your Digital8 camera: there is an interesting page listing codes to turn on features not normally present, at least on PAL model Digital 8 cameras. For example you can obtain zebra bars, white balance preset, and color bars. I haven't tried this because I don't use my D8 as a camera so please don't ask me about these, direct inquiries to the author of that page. There are commercial products to make this easier, like Lremote.

Subject: D8 (TRV7000) as a companion to the TRV900
Date: Fri, 16 Apr 1999 13:08:17 GMT
Greetings, I received a TRV7000 yesterday from One Call. Good price, $679 with Fed X shipping. My first impression of the camera are positive. While it is not near the physical quality of the 900 who would expect it to be? After giving it the eye I proceeded to look at a live camera feed on a 9 inch Sony field monitor. Looks pretty good for a single chip unit. The video amps are a bit noisy compared to the 900, again that is expected. The noise factor was well within limits for a unit in this price range. When I think back to my first Sony 8 in 1986 this thing is like Betacam SP! I'll have to praise Sony for not trying to re-engineer the buttons and menu layout. This little pig works virtually the same as the 900. I was so comfortable with it I did not have to look at the book to use all the features it has. If you need a backup camera to the 900 this may be a good choice for several reasons. One is what I just mentioned, its buttons and menus are so close in layout and function. Two, they use the same batteries. Three, it is cheap in comparison to other digital stuff. Four, it has firewire and makes a perfect slave deck in editing. I made a firewire copy from the 900 to the 7000 without a hitch. It looks GREAT!!!!!!!! The 7000's vtr section seems smooth and very responsive. Just as the 900 the 7000's edit search works in vtr record mode, makes a nice tool for doing retakes. I'm not ready to comment a whole lot on the camera capabilities at this point. I took it outside at dusk and what I shot looked fine. I will say that D8 is FAR better than Hi8 when it comes to color saturation and color signal to noise. I recored a color bar pattern on the 7000. It looks as if it were on miniDv. This is where Hi8 flys apart. My gut feeling, I do mean gut feeling, I have no proof, I think the 8mm tape is going to hold up better than the miniDv. When you cue the D8 stuff it looks more solid on the screen, less mosaic and other digital patterns. My other reason for this belief is the 8mm cartridge is bigger and more solid. Well, enough for now. I will keep people posted on other interesting findings. I'm shooting a fashion show tonight with the 900. I'm bringing the 7000 to play with under more real conditions.


P.S. I was blown by the faders on this unit. The overlay works as good as the 900's. In fact there are more faders on this unit than the 900. I wished the 900 had a mosaic fader. Mosaic is a nice fade between fast dances at a reception.

Subject: Re: D8 (TRV7000) as a companion to the TRV900
Date: Sun, 18 Apr 1999 15:05:07 GMT
Hello Again, Well, I took the TR7000 on two shoots. One was a fashion show at night indoors. The camera performed well in low light. I owned a TRV9 before I bought the TRV900. IMHO I would say the 7000 is very close in performance in low light in comparison to the TRV9. If you use the low light program and a camera top light the performance is very adequate. One draw back I see against the 7000 is the lack of a manual white balance. This camera was very slow at making changes to white balance in changing light conditions. One thing I did was stress the white balance under flourecent light. The subject had that slight green cast on over exposed areas of the frame. Not real bad. Let me say again, this is a sub $700.00 digital camcorder with firewire and full analog. I do not expect the world. The manual focus is very smooth and manual exposure worked as advertised.

The next day I took the 7000 to a home show. The show was indoors and outdoors and under those very weird lit white tents. The camera performs very well under sun light. Unlike the TRV9 that has a blueish tint under bright sunlight the 7000 was right on the money. Good thing, no manual white balance. At that point you would have needed a filter to correct it. Going from all the different areas and lighting conditions was a breeze. The camera did very well. I was using a NP750 for a battery . I had over 300 mins of usage reported by the camera. The discharge rate looked correct as time went by. Another interesting thing I found out, the flash I bought for the 900, it works like a charm on the 7000. It syncs at 1/60th on the shutter. Cool! The still are not near the quality of the 900. The lack of three chips and progressive scan make the difference. My final findings will be of interest to those using Studio 400. YES! It works VERY well with Studio 400. I kept the same settings as if it were the 900. Not once hitch. If I find any other news of interest I'll pass it on. I hope others do likewise.

Happy Video Taking...

Subject: To Digital8 TR7000 owners wearing eyeglasses
Date: Thu, 17 Jun 1999 17:20:02 GMT
The first time I used my TR7000 in bright sunlight, the ambient light filtering in between my eye and the small eyecup on the viewfinder made it difficult to view all the detail in the viewfinder. Right away I thought of how I might fabricate a larger eyecup from whatever materials I could dig up around the house. Then I decided to pull the eyecup from my 10-year-old Hitachi VM-5200A full-size VHS . . .PERFECT! It fits right over the existing TR7000 eyecup and works great! Not wishing to sabotage my 5200, I looked into Hitachi's parts system for a new eyecup. If you also find this to be a problem and don't mind spending $9 to fix it, heres what to do: Call TriTronics, Inc., at (800) 638-3328. Order Hitachi part# 6014322 -rubber eye cap for model VM5200A. Cost is $5.31 plus $3.50 for first class shipping via U.S.Mail. They accept credit cards and have no minimum order policies. I received mine in 2 days.
Norm in NJ.  norman.weiler at selectiveinsurance com

Subject: External mics on Sony TRV110E
From: "Chris Watson" ( at bhp com au)
Date: Thu, 23 Sep 1999 10:45:55 +1200
> All the external mics I have tried with the Sony TRV110E camcorder
> generate hum or buzzing to a greater or lesser extent. Even with short
> cables. They are all condenser mics with their own power supply.

I have got external mics (dynamics and electrets) to work on my TRV110 by putting a dc blocking capacitor in series with each channel, about 0.5 microfarad. I made an adaptor box with a stereo mini plug cord for the camera. The box has a mono mic socket for each microphone, the capacitors and a mono stereo switch. --Chris

Subject: Burned-in timecode on DCR-TRVxxx cameras
From: "Roger D. Olney" (rdolney at shore net)
Date: Sat, 23 Oct 1999 11:12:34 -0400
The Sony D8 camcorders (at least my DCR-TRV315) has a very useful feature of which I wasn't aware until very recently. It can output the drop frame timecode over the analog or S-video outputs so that it will be "burned" into a VHS dub. [The low-end D8 camera (TR7000) without an LCD screen does not have this feature. -jpb]

I know of several editors who find this extremely useful. You can make a VHS dub of your D8 footage with the timecode on the VHS dub and use that for making up your frame accurate capture list. This would allow many of us to use our VHS VCRs and large televisions to decide what footage to capture without having to put the wear and tear on our camcorders.

To enable this feature on the DCR-TRV315, turn your camcorder on to VTR mode. Push the menu button. Scroll down to the "ETC" menu (which says "OTHERS" in the gray bar at the top of the LCD) and select that menu. Then scroll down to "DISPLAY". Select that choice. You now have two options: "LCD" and "V-OUT/LCD". If you choose "V-OUT/LCD", then the timecode will be sent to the video outputs of the TRV315 whenever you have the "Display" button pushed. In other words, whenever you see the timecode being displayed in the LCD, it will also be sent to the video outputs. You will want to turn this option off before making VHS dubs of finished projects if you have the time code display on, as I usually do, when making dubs.

I have a friend in NYC who does video editing for network shows, and he often uses the technique of burning timecode to VHS dubs so he can make capture lists at home at night. I had thought from his description of the way he did this that it took some high-end professional gear to accomplish. I was delighted to discover that even with my lowly D8 camcorder, I have access to the same professional feature. I have looked at my Canon Ultura and it doesn't seem to have this capability.

TR7000 Notes and Comments

Here are a few more notes on the Digital 8 series, based on the TR7000. It plays back 8mm and Hi8 tapes not only through analog (composite and s-video) out and "LaserLink", but also as digital signals through the DV port (firewire). It does these things on D8-recorded tapes as well, of course. The audio and video signal when played back on another firewire device (D900 walkman or TRV900) is delayed about 1/4 second, due to DV codec delays on both ends I guess. If you have feedback from the record mike to the playback monitor, this generates an interesting "echo" effect. In common with the TRV9 and TRV900 MiniDV cameras, it does not do real-time transcoding; you can't put external analog video in and get DV firewire out without recording it on a tape first.

You can see what shutter speed and f-stop the camera is using in the viewfinder on playback, but not during recording. The camera can do slow shutter speeds: 1/30, 1/15, 1/8 and 1/4 second, which are accessed through the "Digital Effect" menu ("Slow Shutter" 1 through 4). When using slow shutter or nightshot, you cannot also manually control exposure. In "nightshot" mode there are three possible shutter speeds: 1/60, 1/15, and 1/4. Unlike the TRV900, you can use the laserlink when you are recording live- in fact, the laserlink IS the nightshot light! Yes, when you are in nightshot mode, your IR light is actually modulated with the video signal you're shooting. If you are taping someone in Nightshot mode and they have the Sony LaserLink receiver, they can view your signal as you record it. Spy and counterspy :-).

Picture Effects The camera has a number of digital effects. Interestingly, some of these can be applied during playback, as well as at record time. You can use NEG.ART, SEPIA, B&W or SOLARIZE during playback. Separately, you can also use either STILL, FLASH, LUMI, or TRAIL effects during playback. Effects can be added only from tape playback, not external video in, and they are visible only on video out, not DV (firewire) out. LUMI is the luminance key function (bright areas of a still frame brighter than a selectable threshold are replaced with moving video). This can be useful for adding titles, a decorative border etc. What I'd really like, but is not possible in this model, is to add transition effects on playback. The PASTEL effect (available only when recording) can give interesting results; it appears to invert the luminance signal but maintain the chroma, and also enhances edges. It seems to be the most "artistic" of the effects.

LANC RemoteAs you would expect, the wired remote RM-95 works with the TR7000 as well, you can control zoom and focus. The TRV900 and TR7000 IR remotes use the same control codes (for all the features they have in common) so you can use one remote with both cameras. The IR and wired remotes use the same zoom rate as the slowest you can get from the on-camera zoom switch, which is quite slow. I consider this a feature, enabling you to do remote zooms during a take which aren't distracting.

Tech Details According to the manual: FF or rewind time on a 120 minute Hi8 tape: approx. 8 minutes. Power used: 3.1 W. Operating temp: 0-40 deg.C (32 - 104 deg.F). Mass: 2 lbs (930 grams) with NP-F330 battery and 120 min. tape. Lens focal length (optical zoom range) is 3.6-72 mm, which would be equivalent on a 35mm camera to a 41-820 mm lens. The 360 digital zoom extends this to 14760 mm equivalent (!) but like all digital zooms, quality becomes poor rapidly- don't expect a usable image. (The TRV900 has a 35mm equiv. optical FL of 41-500 mm.) The IR illuminator LED (used in "Nightshot" mode and "LaserLink" feature) has an output centered at 887 nm and a roughly gaussian lineshape with full width at the 1/e points of 74 nm.

Sensitivity I pointed them both at the same flat-lit, blank white wall and the TR7000 reported f/3.4 at 1/100 sec, 0 dB gain and the TRV900 reported f/3.4 at 1/60 sec, 0 dB gain. This is with "steadyshot" on. I turned the TR7000's steady shot off, so both cameras used 1/60 sec exposure in auto mode, and compared images of a test pattern (averaging 18% grey) under indoor and outdoor lighting, and found the TRV900 is about 1 f/stop more sensitive than the TR7000. This doesn't make much sense, maybe I'll try some more experiments. The TR7000 lens also opens up to f/1.4 whereas the TRV900 only goes to f/1.6 (a slight difference). One problem in comparing them is that the TR7000 seems to choose 1/100 as the "normal" setting (if you have steadyshot mode on). In any case the difference in image quality makes this comparison a bit strained to begin with.

Using the default exposure mode, in dark situations the D8 camera goes to f/1.4, 1/60 sec, +18 dB. The first thing to increase is the shutter speed (!) which goes to 1/90 and then 1/100. Then the gain goes to from +18 to +0 dB in 3 dB steps, then the f-stop increases in half-step increments to f/22. The shutter speed does not increase above 1/100 sec unless you are in "sports" exposure program in which case it goes up to 1/3000 sec. Under the brightest conditions in sports mode it goes to f/22 at 1/3000 sec (and I got a very clear, well exposed closeup image of a 500 watt halogen bulb at that setting). The above is true if steadyshot is ON. If you turn off steadyshot mode, the camera uses 1/60 sec exposure in normal mode, which is almost a one f-stop advantage if you have marginal lighting. I tried recording a dim scene with auto-exposure and steadyshot on/off, and the picture was less grainy and had better color with it off (f/1.4, 1/60 at +12 dB) than with it on (f/1.4, 1/100 at +15 dB).

Iris The iris in my other camera, like most film cameras, is six-bladed and the aperture is a regular hexagon. From what I can see looking into the lens, the TR7000 iris has only two blades, each with a V-notch. The combination forms a diamond-shaped aperture. In addition, the lower "V" has filter material laid across it, so as the aperture closes you are in effect gradually introducing an ND filter as well. I assume the absorption of this filter is figured in to the displayed f number, making it an "effective" f-stop. The diamond aperture causes the diffraction spikes on bright lights (eg, headlights at night) to be less symmetric, but probably few people care.

Resolution The camera has (about) 460,000 "gross" pixels. What Sony doesn't mention on their web page (but is in the TR7000 manual) is that it uses (about) 290,000 "active" pixels at any one time to form the image (eg. 622x466 pixels). The pixel oversupply is used for digital stabilization; sliding the active pixel window around on the CCD to counteract image shake from handheld shooting. Turning off "steadyshot" does not noticibly improve image quality. I find the image quality ranges from pretty good to quite annoying depending on the subject matter. If you have high contrast small features or near-horizontal lines, you will see quite obvious color artifacts on them. If you have scenes with no contrasty, hard-edged lines, the picture can look quite good. I think it's roughly similar to my older Canon ES2500 Hi8 used "live". Of course the analog Hi8 format isn't as good in playback, whereas the DV format lets the TR7000 playback look the same as live. I have a resolution pattern showing you the detail you get in playback.

Firewire I tried using the TR7000 with my Bravado DV2000 firewire board. Device control and video transfer works fine both playing and recording. Used as a digital VCR, the Digital 8 camera records exactly the same DV data as a MiniDV or DVCAM recorder does.

Sound the internal stereo mike definitely picks up more camera motor noise than the internal mic on my TRV900. You can attach an external mic through the 1/8" stereo mic jack. The TR7000 has a headphone output but no volume control; it seems very loud to me. You can use the Radio Shack Headphone Volume Control (RS# 42-2459) on a little cord which plugs in between the headphone and the camera and controls the volume quite nicely. My tests indicate the mic input sensitivity, and the ALC behavior is identical to the TRV900 (when the latter is in "auto" mode). The TR7000 does not have manual audio input level control.

Jason King wrote:
>I think I've missed something and the manual that came with my DCR-TRV110
>is less than clear: What are the advantages/disadvantages to the 12
>and 16 bit audio modes?  Is there any reason not to just always use 16
Answer: Almost none. The MiniDV standard provides for 4-channel (two stereo pairs) 12 bit/32 kHz sample sound, or 2-channel (one stereo pair) 16 bit/48 kHz sound. The Digital8 format does the same, since fundamentally it is the very same signal. The 4-channel mode is useful for overdubbing narration or soundtracks later on those MiniDV cameras so capable (although most modern DV editing is done in a fully computerized NLE machine with unlimited soundtracks.) In fact the Canon XL-1 can record 4 audio channels simultaneously.

The first-gen Digital8 models (eg. TRV510) could only record two channels, regardless of 12 or 16-bit modes, but the second-generation (eg. TRV520) can overdub audio on a 12-bit mode Digital8 recording.

Panic! My TR7000 seems to be totally dead. Nothing turns on either with a (freshly charged) battery, or line power, or both. It was working fine, then I disconnected it from line power, SVHS to external monitor, and Firewire input and then when I reattached a battery it was dead.

Solution:I may have disconnected line power first; apparently this caused something to latch up internally. I opened the small panel on the bottom, removed the lithium coin cell battery, waited 5 minutes and reinserted it, then attached the regular battery as well. Voila, everything worked again. Whew! You can probably avoid this kind of unpleasantness yourself by always leaving a battery on the camera, or always disconnecting the power LAST of all external connections (even if the camera isn't on).

-john b. 11/5/99

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