Sony DCR-HC32 Mini DV Camcorder Review
$500

Sony Electronics, Inc.

16765 W. Bernardo Dr.

San Diego, CA 92127

(800) 222-SONY

www.sonystyle.com

The DCR-HC32 has an inviting design and user interface that beginners and intermediate shooters will enjoy. If you're a casual shooter who wants a camcorder with modern day power and conveniences, you'll definitely want to take a closer look.

Ready to Go

This is a compact and lightweight camcorder perfect for a traveler or family shooter. It features a 20x Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens that can get up close and personal from long distances. Although the electronic image stabilization works well, consider using a tripod for the long shots. The effects of camera movement at telephoto lengths become especially apparent in the still photo feature.

As an additional mode to the Mini DV recording, the DCR-HC32 records stills and video to a Memory Stick. It also has a flip-out 2.5-inch LCD screen and convenient Handycam Station. Don't be afraid to put your fingers all over the LCD, either. The menu is driven by the LCD touch-screen. Inside the menu you'll find manual controls for white balance, focus and exposure.

In addition to the standard zoom toggle and thumb accessible Record Start/Stop button, there is a second set of these controls on the LCD. At first, having two of the same controls literally inches away from each other seemed to have no real advantage. But the zoom controls on the LCD are set to crawl slowly in or out. This gives you much more control. Unfortunately, you can't change the speed of the zoom on the LCD.

The auto focus on the camera is reliable. It holds well during pans and tilts. If you need to manually focus the camcorder, it has an option in the menu. The menu driven manual focus lacks the same amount of fine control as a focus ring, but it technically allows for manual- style focus.

Easy Street Camcorder

Feeling confident of this camcorder only takes a few minutes. Ease of use is by far one of the greatest strengths of this camcorder. There's no reason for a beginner to feel overwhelmed by its controls. From the buttons on the surface to the programmable menu inside the camera, it's a user-friendly device. Not one function highlights this characteristic than the oversized "Easy" button near the viewfinder.

Pushing the "Easy" button throws the camcorder into its fully automated mode. So if you're at a family reunion and you hand over you camcorder to Uncle Rico, you know you're going to get results. Pushing the button will also increase the display size on the LCD or viewfinder, making the display text easier to read.

The programmable menu system (accessed through the LCD touch-screen) allows you to arrange the order of menu items. You can save yourself valuable time with this feature. It's especially helpful if you frequently switch in and out of automatic and manual control.

Another ease-of-use feature is the Handycam Station (better known as a dock). Slightly wider than the camcorder, it offers a stable surface to connect USB, DV 1394, DC in and the special A/V cord. It will definitely be one of your favorite accessories, especially if you need to connect to several different devices in one centralized location.

Simple Sound

Your options for audio are simple, if not limiting. You can capture stereo audio using your onboard mic in 12-bit (4 channel) or 16-bit (2 channel). The onboard mic is located at the bottom front of the camcorder. It performed well in our tests, gathering voices and ambient noises in a variety of directions from the camera's point of view. The weakest point is picking up sound from a distance. If you're capturing an on-stage performance you'll want to get a close as possible.

Revved Up Image

Hooking up this camcorder to a TV reveals that there is no S-video connector. Unfortunately, the only analog in/out is a composite connection. If you want a higher quality connection than composite, you'll have to turn to the FireWire connector. Despite this drawback, the results from the 1/6-inch CCD are surprisingly good: decent color reproduction and amazing detail.

The best image qualities are most notable in tight close-ups. The imager can capture an amazing amount of detail. If you are interested in macro shots (i.e. close-ups of wildflowers) this camcorder will deliver astonishing results. The low light performance is also pleasing. It produces less grainy footage than expected in dimly-lit rooms and comes equipped with the NightShot Plus feature.

Around The Block

The DCR-HC32 is ready to be a steady workhorse in the beginner's world. What it lacks in professional manual controls, it makes up with ease-of-use, compact size and good picture quality at a more than reasonable price. Throw in the Handycam Station, wireless remote control and Picture Package software and you will definitely want to take it for a test drive.

Tech Specs
Format: Mini DV

Number of CCDs: 1

Size of CCDs: 1/6 inch

Pixels on CCD: 680k

Video Effective Pixels: 340k

Focus: Auto/manual

Shutter Speed: Auto

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/4000 (AE Mode)

Minimum Shutter Speed: 1/60

Lens f-stop: 1.8-3.1

Program Exposure Modes: 6

Optical Zoom: 20x

Focal Length: 2.3-46mm

Image Stabilization: Electronic

Manual White Balance: Yes

Viewfinder: B&W 123k pixels

LCD Monitor: 2.5" Color, 123k pixels

Progressive Scan: No

HD Modes: No

Video In: Composite

Video Out: Composite

FireWire In/Out: Yes

Mono/Stereo Recording: 12-bit or 16-bit

Mic In: No

VU Meters: No

Manual Audio Level Controls: No

Headphone Jack: No

Speaker: Yes

Still Shot Media: Memory Stick Duo

Memory Card Included: No

Flash: No

Wireless Remote: Yes

External Battery Charger Provided: No

Battery Type: Lithium-Ion

Tape Loading Configuration: Bottom

Onboard Video Light: No

Accessory Shoe: cold

STRENGTHS

  • Easy to use right out of the box
  • Small, lightweight, relatively inexpensive
  • Programmable menu system
  • 20x optical zoom

    WEAKNESSES

  • Manual focus in menu
  • No DV I/O on camera (must have base station to capture)
  • No headphone/microphone ports

    SUMMARY

    An excellent beginner to intermediate camera with the useful Handycam Station (base station) at a very affordable price.

    Mark Montgomery is Videomaker’s editorial assistant and has worked on several nationally televised productions.

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