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The Tech Report: Big Shot

Analog tape’s finest hour (before digital video takes over the world).

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The year was 1975 and coast-to-coast, Jacuzzi-to-Jacuzzi, Camaro Z-28-to-Camaro Z-28, the 8-track tape ruled the earth. It was a swan-song moment marked by tribute after tribute to the seventies audio staples -- Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, ELO -- and then the 8-track was gone, swallowed whole by the cassette tape and a Walkman-in-every-pocket future.

And now here we are again, indulging in one last fling with a fading medium: Hi-8 videotape, the highest-resolution analog consumer format. In case you haven't heard, the digital-video revolution has finally come to the handheld market, its minuscule circuitry poised to render the bulky analog camcorder obsolete once the final kinks are worked out. (It'll be at least a few years before DV camcorders go mass-market; right now a good one will run you at least two grand, and recording time currently tops out at a wimpy 60 minutes.) Until then, you can deliver one final 8-mm. salute at a bas mitzvah, Little League game, or rogue police beating near you. Brought to you by the people at Sony, the Handycam Vision Series of camcorders may be the last dance for analog tape, but what a number it is. In a standard camcorder body, they've managed to cram every feature you'd ever need for properly memorializing little Johnny's first tooth or pierced nipple. In the model I tested, the CCD-TRV85, there's a 72x zoom lens, color LCD screen, "Steady Shot" shake-proofing, twelve -- hour battery life, wireless infrared connection to your TV, and, for the auteur in you, nifty visual effects like wide-screen cinema mode and Guy Madden-worthy sepia-tone coloring.

Plus, in an innovation guaranteed to revolutionize the world of handheld cinematography -- or at least the portion of interest to Pam, Tommy, and Tonya -- Sony has introduced a new feature called "Nightshot." Just as the name implies, Nightshot allows you to roll tape in total darkness. Really. After locking myself in a windowless bathroom with the lights off -- long story -- I was actually able to peer into the viewfinder and see, in perfect green-tint-monochrome clarity, everything from my jar of Kiehl's shaving cream to the life-size Alyssa Milano mural in my shower (longer story). The possibilities are, of course, endless, especially if you often find yourself in a position to capture fleeting nocturnal memories -- say, on a poorly lit East Village dance floor or underneath the shrubbery at Madonna's Malibu estate -- but don't want to ruin the mood with a flash. The cost: just $1,099 for the full-featured TRV85 model (bail not included).


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