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I suspect people may be surpised that I haven't included one of the main USP's (Unique Selling Point) as an advantage.
This camcorder writes to mini-dvd's (-R/-RW) but thats not necessarily an advantage. I'll come back to that in a minute. Lets go through the good stuff first.
The best thing is the widescreen mode. All TV's sold these days are widescreen and to be honest they have been widescreen for a number of years now so why manufactures have waited so long to release a camcorder with a widescreen mode is beyond me. However Sony have finally done it and its great. I now record footage and play it back on my TV in the correct proportions without any of that faffing about with changing the aspect mode on your TV. Also my wife doesn't appear stretched on TV thus removing all talk about 'Does my bum look big on this TV'
Theres a x10 optical zoom which is more than sufficient for the average user. Unless you have a super steady hand or a tripod, anything more more than that would give you video footage reminicent of the 'Blair Witch Project' even with the 'Steady Shot' feature which only really works at smaller zoom levels. Perhaps I just need practice.
Theres a x120 digital zoom but frankly whats the point. I've tried the maximum and you end up zooming into a single blurred pixel. This is a gimmick and nothing more. Don't forget that its the optical zoom that is important as it allows you to zoom without any lose of information. A digital zoom simply makes the individual pixels bigger to the point where they blur. A x20-50 digital zoom is more than plenty.
The view finder is my prefered choice when filming in order to minimise the 'shakes' even though its a little uncomfortable over a long period of use. The LCD display is nice and bright and you can swivel it around a full 180 degrees which is useful if you're trying to film yourself. Theres a remote control provided as well which helps.
There is a 'night mode' facility where colours are enhanced in low light mode. I didn't really find this all that great so prefer to use lighting whenever possible but its better than nothing.
There is a 1.1 megapixel still camera function which unfortunately records to the same mini-dvd as the video footage. Sony should have provided a separate memory card slot for this. Instead it means that when you take snaps you have to connect the camcorder using the usb cable to your computer instead of simply removing a memory card and sticking it into the appropriate memory card slot.
Overall its a compact, well built camera. Very easy to use with nice and logically laid out controls and it produces high quality results.
The editing software thats provided with it is not that great and requires some getting used to but it does the job.
Someone here complained about issues with copying the dvd's but I've not had any. The trick is to copy everything onto you PC first and then use the supplied software to edit the scenes and put them back together again before copying them onto a proper DVD. I think this other user was attempting to do all the editing on a full size -R disk which obviously will not work as they are designed to be written to only once.
Now back to the min-dvd's. Great idea in principle. It means no more fast forwarding/rewinding to get to the next blank bit of tape. A visual index allows you to jump from scene to scene instead of having to seach a whole tape. Sounds good. But wait....
What happens when you first switch on your DVD player. Can you watch your DVD immediately? or do you have to wait a minute whilst the DVD Player reads the DVD and takes you to the menu system. Well this camcorder is exactly the same. Say you want to record some fast moving scene. Well you switch on your camcorder, wait about 60 seconds whilst the 'Accessing DVD' message appears in your view finder and then once the camcorder has decided that enough is enough, it lets you start recording. But by then the moment may have passed. With this restriction you have to think about 60 seconds in advance. You have to know that you'll want to start recording in about one minute and switch on the camcorder early to get it ready. Because the battery lasts 2 hours in continuous use, I keep switching it off . There is a standby mode but in this mode the camcorder is still using power so to conserve power I figure I should keep switching it off because there may be a good 10/15 minutes between scenes. But everytime I switch it back on again I have to wait 60 seconds. You don't have to wait when using the old tape based camcorders.
The second drawback to mini-dvd's is that they really are mini. You get 30 minutes of recording time in standard mode, 20 minutes in high quality mode and 60 minutes in long play. If you're going to record in long play mode then you may as well get a camcorder thats 5 years old because thats the quality of video you will get. Standard mode is the minimum you want.
The third drawback to mini-dvd's is that they will only playback in your dvd player if you 'finalise' them first. Unfortunately this process takes about 10 minutes and you can't use the camcorder when its doing it. In fact you can't even move it around in case the vibrations corrupt the process.
The forth drawback is that you have to format before you can use them them which takes a couple of minutes. You even have to format them to erase the old contents.
The final drawback is that a 30 minute mini-dvd costs about 10 times more than a standard size dvd and you'll need to carry quite a few with you. I have four since the battery lasts 2 hours it makes sense to have the capability of recording for those 2 hours. Oh and don't forget when you're switching between one mini-dvd and the next, you've got to wait 60 seconds again whilst the thing 'boots up' again.
With all these issues with the mini-dvd in mind, now compare that with a standard tape. You take the old one out and stick the new one in and you're ready to go again. Easy.
Copying stuff onto your PC is relatively easy if you have the correct format dvd player. I don't as I have a +R player so I have to use the USB cable. Not a big deal. Its the price we all end up paying due to various incompatible DVD standards out there in the market.
At the end of the day this is a bog-standard camcorder that just happens to record onto a different media. The only outstanding thing about it is the widescreen facility which is why I bought it.
Apart from that it has all the usual stuff e.g stereo sound, composite output, carl zeiss lens. You can add special effects to your recordings (Sepia, Mosaic, Pastel, Monotone, Old Movie, Luminance Key), fade in and out, perform some basic editing on the actual camcorder. Automatic/manual exposure. Auto white balance.
I bought mine for £530 at Christmas 2004. It seems to have gone up in price which is odd though I did get a good deal at the time with Dixon.
There are a few other models by Sony that are very similar to this. The ones that don't have widescreen are simply not worth bothering with because without widescreen theres nothing to compensate for the issues that I found with the mini-dvd's
26/09/2005 Okay quick update, I've just come across double sided mini dvds in the UK. I knew they were available in the states but didn't bother mentioning that. But they are available here now, so one of my grips about the recording time being restricted to 30 mins per disc is obsolete. It seems this camcorder just got slightly better. :)
Really well written, detailed and informative review there, I've very dubious about buying Sony products nowdays, mine have been very unreliable indeed over the last couple of years......Roy
Scarlet_Ribbons 27.09.2005 18:58
Hmmmm I've had my eye on one of these and it was top of my chrimbo list until I read your review. I don't like the sound of all that faffing about turning it on and off to preserve the battery life and even with a double side mini dvd disk it doesn't give much recording time really does it. I best not tell hubby that the lens swivels 180 degrees to allow one to film oneself.......he'll get all sorts of funny ideas. A great review and you covered the pro's and con's thoroughly but I'm still undecided........arrrghhh. Helen