Sony Video Camcorder Review: DCR-DVD201

With the release of the DCR-DVD201, Sony is attempting to move the Digital DVD camcorder away from the fringes of brand-new technology where only first adopters and gadget-geeks live, and into the mainstream of affordability, ease of use and portable convenience. Small and relatively inexpensive, yet packed with high-end features and manual controls, the DCR-DVD201 represents a serious step forward in the evolution of DVD camcorders.

A Digital DVD Camcorder that fits right in your Pocket

One of Sony’s primary aims in the design of the DCR-DVD201 is portability–more specifically, the ability to stuff the camera into a jacket pocket between shots. The designers have succeeded in this, yet some of the design features they’ve come up with to achieve such miniaturization are a little suspect. The camera’s On/Off switch is a little green button in the middle of a dial used to select Video, Still and Playback modes. With your hand inserted into the camera’s strap, it’s difficult to press and hold this button to turn the camera on and off, especially if you have long fingers or large hands. Also, the small joystick that is used to control focus and other key features is a little difficult to get used to. Aside from these two minor problems, the DCR-DVD201 is well designed and easy to operate. The addition of a Record button beside the 2.5-inch LCD monitor is a nice touch that makes the design slightly more ergonomic, especially for those who do self-recording with a tripod.

To begin using the DCR-DVD201, you first must insert an 80mm DVD-R (write-once) or DVD-RW (rewriteable) disc. Finding these discs will probably not be difficult at electronic superstores and you can get them online fairly easily, but they are still much harder to find than full-sized blank DVDs. Official Sony discs might run $7 each, but we found cheap generics for $2 each in hundred-count spindles. DVD-RW discs were still harder to find with Sony’s coming in at $12 each.

We’ve previously criticized disc-based cameras for the long time it took them to access the disc before you could record. This camera, while slower that most conventional tape-based machines is much better than its ancestors. Once you insert a disc, you must wait for about 23 seconds before you can record. Pause to Record times are as fast as tape. If you don’t remove the disc, but merely power down, the time from Off to Record is only 4.5 seconds, which is completely acceptable. When you do remove a disc, it’ll take 14.5 seconds, so "changing the tape" on this camera will take a total of about 45 seconds before you can begin recording again. The disc loads from the right, under the hand strap, which can get in the way a bit, but this is still the best place on this tiny camera for the disc door (as opposed to the bottom). The disc needs to be finalized before it’ll play in a living room DVD player, but this is not a great inconvenience.

Shooting With The DCR-DVD201 Digital DVD Camcorder

Shooting with the DCR-DVD201 is a pleasure, aided in no small part by the excellent Super SteadyShot image stabilization system of the camera. Also very helpful is the LCD monitor’s excellent backlighting system, which almost succeeds in providing a clear, sharp picture in bright sunlight.

The DCR-DVD201 aims to be a true hybrid of the dual worlds of video and
still image capture, yet its main drawback in still image capture is resolution: most serious digital camera enthusiasts would scoff at the idea of shooting with a one-megapixel camera. On the plus side, the high-quality Carl Zeiss lens and the manual exposure and white balance controls allow more control over images than many camcorders in its price range.

The quality of the video and audio that the DCR-DVD201 records is good, with one major qualification: the digital artifacting, even in the highest quality recording mode, becomes quite noticeable when there is a lot of bright light or movement in the shot. Bright lights in particular have a tendency to leave a ghost trail that’s somewhat reminiscent of old tube-based cameras.

Playback

One of the great advantages of digital DVD camcorders is random access to each scene on the disc. Once shot, it’s a simple matter to navigate to a clip or still photo on the disc using the camera’s Visual Index system, which intuitively presents clips and photos as a series of thumbnails laid out, six at a time, on the screen. This is a great feature for anybody who has ever shuttled back and forth looking for a particular shot in the middle of the tape. Also very handy is the ability, when using DVD-RW discs, to trim, delete, and re-arrange your shots, which amounts to a simple in-camera, cuts-only editing system.

The camera connects to the computer via a USB 2.0 connection, which is plenty fast. In fact, we could transfer a minute of high-quality video in about 26 seconds, which is twice as fast as DV over FireWire. The editing software (ImageMixer 1.5) could be better, though. Still, this is more of a point-shoot-share camera that really isn’t for those of you into hard-core editing. We do have very nice things to say about the DVD authoring application, where you can create simple-but-attractive DVD menus.


Best Digital DVD Camcorder Yet

In spite of its flaws, the DCR-DVD201 comes through as a great camcorder for the home videographer. Many will like its compact size, manual controls, random access playback and still-camera features. If you think you can get used to the quirks inherent in the DVD format, you owe it to yourself to give this camcorder a closer look.

Joe McCleskey is an instructional media specialist.

Performance

Horizontal Resolution: 490 lines

Field of View (4:3): 35-degrees

Field of View (16:9): 40-degrees

TECH SPECS

Format: DVD-R, DVD-RW (8cm)

Lens: f/1.8-2.3, 3.2-32mm, 10:1 optical zoom, 25mm filter diameter

Image sensor: 1/5-inch CCD

Gross pixels: 1,070,000 pixels

Video effective: 690,000 pixels

Still effective: 1,000,000 pixels (1 megapixel)

Viewfinder: color LCD (123,000 pixels)

LCD viewscreen: 2.5-inch color LCD (123,000 pixels)

Focus: auto, manual

Anamorphic 16:9: yes

Image stabilization: electronic

Exposure: auto, manual, presets

Minimum shutter speed: 1/4 (automatic)

Maximum shutter speed: 1/4,000 (automatic)

Iris Control: automatic

Electronic Gain: yes

Zebra Stripes: no

Night Mode: IR illuminated

White balance: auto, outdoor, indoor, hold

Audio: Dolby Digital AC-3, 2-channel

Manual Audio Levels: no

Audio Meters: no

Microphone input: 1/8-inch mini

Headphone output: none

Inputs: S-video, composite video, stereo audio, USB 2.0

Outputs: S-video, composite video, stereo audio, USB 2.0

Edit interface: USB 2.0

Other features: progressive shutter, visual index, Super Nightshot plus, ImageMixer authoring/editing software

Dimensions (w x h x d): 2 1/4 by 3 1/2 by 5 3/8 inches

Weight: 1 lb. 2 oz. (sans tape/battery)

STRENGTHS

  • In-camera editing
  • Compact design
  • DVD shareability

WEAKNESSES

  • No headphone jack
  • Weak computer editing

SUMMARY

The DCR-DVD201 is a positive step forward in the evolution of DVD camcorders.

$1,000

Sony Electronics, Inc.

1 Sony Dr.

Park Ridge, NJ 07656

(800) 222-SONY

www.sonystyle.com

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