Checking your Handycam

If you have a Sony Handycam you may be confused over Sony's modification and how it was done.

There are three "flavours" of Handycam - Original, semi-modified and fully modified (new).

It seems that the late 1998 models in and after August 1998 were semi-modified whilst the new models were fully modified. The difference is quite important.

Since most people wish to capture infrared x-rays during the day, the modifications were made simply to make Nightshot mode increase the exposure too much to film in daylight whilst preserving its usefulness for filming in the dark. 



The camera has full control of exposure in NightShot mode as demonstrated here:

Firstly, switch on the camera and make sure no special modes, such as manual exposure, sports mode or special effects are engaged. Switch into NightShot mode and you should be able to see what your camera is pointing at:

(Different models may vary in status display but the principal is the same).

Notice that the camera is in NightShot mode but the picture (taken in daylight) is still perfectly visible.

Now press the manual exposure button labelled simply "EXPOSURE" on most models. 

You should see an exposure meter appear as above (different models may vary in display).

This shows control of manual exposure in NightShot mode.

You should be able to manually turn down the exposure to give a totally dark picture, even though the camera is filming in daylight as shown below.

The picture here is totally black, showing full control of exposure. If you cannot turn the exposure down this far, your camera may be semi-modified.



This less common type of camera is normally identical in appearance to its unmodified counter-part. This is because Sony modified the current range in late 1998 prior to the new 1999 models appearing. It is rumoured that they recalled models from some suppliers but this seems unlikely.

There has been much confusion over this modification so I have provided as much information as I can here.

The semi-modified (sometimes called "fixed" or "re-engineered") versions have partial control of exposure during Nightshot mode but normally the picture is too bright as shown here:

This shows a daylight scene filmed in Nightshot mode with auto exposure on. As you can see, it is far too bright to make out any detail at all.

However, the camera does offer manual exposure and displays the exposure meter as shown here.

The picture above shows that even though the exposure meter is not at maximum, the picture is still far too bright.

The manual exposure wheel allows you to turn down the brightness but this has almost no effect:

Minimum exposure on the meter, but still far too bright.

The easiest way around this problem is to use Sports Mode if your camera has it:

Sports Mode engaged (note the little figure swinging a golf club). The exposure is much lower now giving a clear picture. This is because Sports Mode has a higher shutter speed which reduces the amount of light processed by the CCD.

This should be adequate for most light levels including sunny weather. Note that even in Sports Mode, manual exposure turned down to the minimum does not turn the picture dark as shown here:

You can, however, increase the exposure if you need to:

In summary, a semi-modified camera is the next best thing to an original. Sony have made it a little awkward, but by no means have they prevented it completely.

If you are searching for a camera and you can only find one like this, it is worth considering. 


Fully Modified (New)

The new (1999) models of Handycam and some 1998 models suffer from the full modification. This means you get no manual control of exposure at all in Nightshot mode. The tests shown above produce a white-out as shown here:

No visible detail. This makes it completely impossible to film in bright daylight using NightShot mode. Pressing the exposure button or turning the exposure knob has no effect whatsoever.

Notice that the exposure meter doesn't even appear. 

On these newer cameras, the aperture is fully open and the camera controls the exposure levels by altering the shutter speed only. This gives far fewer levels of exposure than aperture control and may decrease the camera's depth of field sometimes causing focus problems such as auto-focus hunting (usually in lower light conditions). Unfortunately, it also leads to the deliberate over-exposure in daylight.

Infrared x-ray can be filmed with all Handycams that are equipped with Nightshot regardless of their state of modification, so if your camera is semi or fully modified, don't panic - check out The Work-Arounds.

If you conclude from this page that your camera is original then you only need an infrared filter to start filming!