Sony DCR-DVD505 DVD Camcorder Review

Spinnin’ on All Fives

If you’re a casual shooter looking to do minimal editing, the Sony DCR-DVD505 may end up in your travel bag. The DVD505 boasts widescreen DVD video recording with its CMOS sensor, while capturing Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound via the built-in mic. Watching your video is as close as the nearest DVD player.

Handling the Spinner

Sony’s new line of DVD-recording camcorders is sleeker and easier to use than before. The DCR-DVD505 is a bit longer, but trimmer overall than last year’s models. It won’t fit into a pants pocket, but it fits nicely into a coat or purse. We quickly noticed the lack of cluttered buttons around a generous 3.5" widescreen LCD. The new design moves the onboard flash from the side to above the lens to minimize protrusions. However, the DVD transport adds a ridge along the top right side of the camcorder. We found it to be a pleasant addition because it makes for a good grip. At the end of the ridge and next to the eyepiece are some of the DVD505’s controls. Here you’ll find the zoom rocker, photo button, and the mode switch. Cleverly hidden under the eyepiece is a MemoryStickDuo Pro slot for shooting still photos, although the flip-up plastic guard seems unnecessary.

Made With Metal Oxide

As a step up from the DVD405, the DVD505 uses a single Complimentary Metal Oxide Sensor (CMOS) instead of a CCD sensor, takes 4 Megapixel photos instead of 3 Megapixel photos, and has a much larger LCD screen. The new CMOS technology allows for more noise-free images and better color, along with more energy efficiency, according to Sony. This equates to longer battery life, and thus more time to shoot video. Sony takes CMOS a step further in the DVD505 by angling the sensor at 45 degrees to produce better images. Sony calls this feature "ClearVid."

Shift it into Manual

Since the DVD505 keeps the exterior simple, you access most features through a graphical menu using the touch panel LCD. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Fewer buttons mean fewer accidentally triggered features, but making useful changes on the fly is impaired. Manual exposure and manual focus controls are both accessed via the touch screen. However, you can’t engage them at the same time. We recommend finding proper exposure first, then zooming in to take focus with the manual control. To adjust the exposure, select the exposure menu setting and simply touch the screen to the right or left. A slider appears on-screen, similar to those found in Photoshop Elements or similar photo adjustment programs.

The DVD505’s overall color reproduction is excellent. We shot bright yellows and deep reds indoors and out, with great results. In "Automatic," the white balance makes for slightly cool blue images. You’ll want to use the "One Push" manual setting though, which makes for the most accurate color. While the CMOS sensor certainly does its job in the color department, the images aren’t as sharp as those shot on Mini DV tape format. This "softness" is simply a trait of recording to DVD.

Just like equipment used for your favorite Hollywood pressed DVDs, the Sony DVD505 uses VBR (Variable Bit Rate) recording, since your video goes through extra compression steps to fit on the disc. This keeps the picture quality high when there’s lots of action in the shot. The result? Your high-action shots will look good but they’ll take up more space on the disc, and you’ll be able to record for longer periods when your subject is stationary. Instead of measuring your recording in the traditional total running time, the DVD505 measures it in bits. The more complex the video, the more bits used, thus allowing action and complex shots to be clean instead of creating the pixelation that can happen from too much information absorbed. You still get an estimated time remaining readout, but it will vary according to the DVD’s needs.

The 5.1 Advantage

The immersive feeling of surround sound is as fun as it is useful. This Sony allows for Dolby 5.1 surround sound recording with the onboard microphone. Aided by the on-screen display, we were able to monitor our soundscape without headphones. We listened to the sound in our 5.1 booth, and we were pleased overall. All five channels showed some separation. For the best audio experience, we recommend using the DVD505 with Sony’s optional Bluetooth mic (see sidebar).

Finalize It

"Finalizing" your movie disc allows you to easily watch it on most DVD players. Do this by selecting "Finalize" from the camcorder’s on-screen menu. If you don’t finalize, you’ll still be able to watch individual movie files on a computer. Also, be aware that these small movie disks should not be used with slot-loading DVD players, only tray-loading players with a designated seat. Our test disc worked fine in all environments: in PC, Mac, and our home theater system.

Navigating by way of touch-screen can take some getting used to, so it’s best to practice before recording anything important. While the menu isn’t the best place for manual controls, this camcorder is really about having fun and not worrying about technicalities.


TECH SPECS

Format: DVD

Imaging Device: CMOS

Size of Sensor: 1/3"

Pixels on Sensor: 2.1 million

Video Effective Pixels: 1.99 million

Focus: Full Auto, Manual w/ touch panel

Shutter Speed: Automatic, AE Mode

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/4 second

Minimum Shutter Speed: 1/4000 second

Lens F-Stop: f1.8- f2.9

Program Exposure Modes: Auto, Spotlight, Portrait, Beach & Ski

Optical Zoom: 10x

Focal Length: 5mm- 51mm

Image Stabilization: digital

Manual White Balance: Auto, Indoor, One-push, Outdoor

Viewfinder: Color, standard aspect, 123,000 pixels

LCD Monitor: Color, 3.5" wide aspect hybrid 211,000 pixels

Progressive Scan: Yes, in Still Image mode

HD Modes: No

Video In: Analog w/ multi A/V, digital w/ USB2.0

Video Out: Analog w/ multi A/V, digital w/USB2.0

iLink Interface: No

Mono/Stereo Recording: 5.1 Dolby Digital

Microphone In: Yes, via hotshoe

VU Meters: Yes, 5.1 surround

Manual Audio Level Controls: No

Headphone Jack: No

Speaker: Mono

Still Shot Media: Sony Memory Stick Duo Pro

Memory Card Included: Yes

Flash: Yes

Wireless Remote: Yes

External Battery Charger Provided: No

Battery Type: Interchangeable

Disk Loading Configuration: Side

Onboard Video Light: No

Accessory Shoe: Yes, Active Interface shoe

STRENGTHS

  • Ease of use
  • Generous wide LCD
  • Visual 5.1 surround sound monitoring

WEAKNESSES

  • No headphone jack
  • Can’t transfer clips directly from disc to edit

SUMMARY

The Sony DCR-DVD505 provides the picture and sound worthy of a President Cleveland (or ten Benjamins.)

Andrew Burke is Videomaker’s Editorial Assistant, a member of AIVF, and has worked in video production worldwide.

Sidebar: Staying Centered

The Sony ECM-HW1R wireless microphone consists of 2 main parts: a small off-camera microphone and an Active Interface Shoe receiver. Using Bluetooth technology, it records one channel (the center) of Dolby 5.1 surround sound. While Bluetooth is convenient, the sound quality is a bit less than a wired or radio mic. We can’t help but like how well it works up to one hundred feet away. We even used it through walls; when we started recording and walked outside the building, it didn’t skip a beat. You can clip the mic to a daypack strap, or wear it around the neck with the included lanyard. An elastic armband and fuzzy windscreen are also included inside the accessory bag. You can’t use this mic on any camera except a Sony camcorder equipped with an Active Interface Shoe (proprietary) and support for surround sound. The Bluetooth receiver attaches easily and offers a locking mechanism around the base. Of special note here is that the receiver includes a headphone jack. So you can monitor sound even if your camcorder doesn’t normally allow for it.

$1,100

Sony Electronics, Inc.

1 Sony Drive

Park Ridge, NJ 07656

(800) 222-SONY

www.sonystyle.com

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