Sony DCR-HC26 Mini DV Camcorder
$350

Sony Electronics, Inc.

16765 W. Bernardo Dr.

San Diego, CA 92127

www.sonystyle.com

"E" is for Easy

The DCR-HC26 is by all means an entry-level, mini DV camcorder, with the bare necessities for shooting home video. These types of camcorders are perfect for home use, family vacations or as the "dummy" cam for professional users (i.e. you're going to mount this camcorder on a skateboard).

Size It Up

If you're looking for a camcorder that is rather petite, the DCR-HC26 is perfect, especially for those instances when you're shooting hand held for long periods of time. This camcorder is very light-weight, but is well suited for mounting on a tripod, too. The DCR-HC26 loads the mini DV tape from the side, so changing tapes while mounted on a tripod is a snap. We were especially pleased with this feature, because many entry-level cameras don't value this convenience. More on design, the placement and shear number of buttons on this camcorder make it ideal for point-and-shot operators since they're easy to reach and there's not too many of them. You won't be intimidated to operate this camcorder.

The one trouble you can expect, however, is with the battery slot. Loading the battery on the camera is trickier than normal if you're accustom to sliding a battery into its slot. This system is different, in that you must line that battery up correctly and push in (not slide in) the battery. If you have large hands it can be troublesome working with such a small battery in between the viewfinder and the bottom of the camcorder. It is pretty ridicoluous that loading the battery takes more than fifteen seconds some tries and can be instantaneous in other attempts. But, after studying the unit for a good ten minutes you should be able to perfect your technique. You'll be relieved to know that taking the battery off is much easier.

Shoot for Simple

After working through the battery bug, the camcorder reveals it's true strength, it's ease of use. The 2.5" color viewfinder is easy to see and easy to operate as a touch screen, too. Almost all of your controls are accessed in the touch screen menu. On the edge of the LCD screen are additional zoom and record controls for your left hand to operate. These controls are becoming more of a norm to Sony camcorders in addition to the traditional zoom and record buttons on the right side. Back on the left side again are the Back Light, Display and Easy buttons. The Easy button is Sony's notorious button for throwing the whole unit into automatic mode and increasing the size of lettering on the LCD. Nothing screams "geezer" like the Easy button, but truth be told, it makes a lot of sense for most beginner shooters.

Video Quality

The DCR-HC26 with it 1/6" CCD produces at decent image. We have definitely seen worse and better performance from similar camcorders. This one seems to land right in the middle in terms of Video Quality. In low light situations video noise becomes apparent and greatly affects the image quality. Even in bright light we could see the limits of this small CCD. The color reproduction tends to over saturate the reds to the point were very bright reds will become a nuisance to your eyes upon playback. However, this does help warm up skin tones and make people look very much alive.

Furthermore, the 20x optical zoom lens is a nice feature for a camcorder at this price point. As someone who might be recording a child's performance (plays, recitals, etc.) this is a great feature. You will want to consider a tripod at such long zoom lengths, as the electronic image stabilizer looses its value at that point.

One of the weak points of this camera is the automatic exposure, which tends to move all over the place in tricky lighting conditions. We expect to see this on most point-and-shoot camcorders, but it seemed especially wild with the DCR-HC26. With manual exposure control and spot exposure, however, you can take control of these issues if you're up to the challenge. You'll be glad to know that the exposure controls are quite simple to operate. Judging whether or not you've properly exposed the image is a whole other issue.

Audio Quality

Without a Mic or Headphone jack the audio options simply don't exist. You can choose between 16-bit 2-Channel and 12-bit 4 Channel audio record modes, which is pretty much standard for all mini DV camcorders. There's also no Sony Intelligent Accessory shoe to work with Sony's line of accessories. You also won't find a wind cut filter within the menu, so what you capture with the onboard mic is what you get. With all that said the mic works well, picking up sound fairly well beyond 15 feet to about 25 feet. We also didn't hear any operator noise from the tape or zoom motors.

Summary

All things considered, the Sony DCR-HC26 is a good camera for point-and-shoot users who want a rock-solid mini DV tape format. It's incredibly easy to use and can travel well with its small size and good battery life. If you don't want to break the bank and are not concerned about the crme de la crop video quality, than the DCR-HC26 could be a worthy family companion.

TECH SPECS

Imaging Device: 1/6″ CCD

Pixels: 680K Gross, 340K Effective

Recording Media: MiniDV Cassette

Firewire, USB, Composite, RCA Stereo

Image Stabilization: Yes, Electronic

Accessory Shoe: N/A

White Balance: Manual, Auto, Indoor, Outdoor

Memory Stick: No

Still Image Mode: Tape only

Low Light Capability: NightShot Plus

LANC Terminal: No

Analog Audio/Video Input(s): No

Headphone Jack: No

Microphone Input: No

S-Video Input(s): No

S-Video Output(s): Yes (optional accessory)

LCD: Color 2.5″ (123K Pixels)

Lens Type: Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 48-960mm (4:3), 44-880mm (16:9)

Viewfinder: Color (123K Pixels)

Aperture: f1.8-3.1

Exposure: Touch Panel (24 steps)

Filter Diameter: 25mm

Focal Distance: 2.3-46mm

Focus: Full Range Auto, Manual (Touch Panel)

Progressive Shutter Mode: No

Shutter Speed: Auto, 1/60-1/4000 (AE Mode)

Optical Zoom: 20X

Digital Zoom: 800X

Battery Type: InfoLithium with AccuPower Meter System (NP-FP30)

Remote: No

STRENGTHS

  • Firewire
  • 20x Opical Zoom

WEAKNESSES

  • Awkward battery loading
  • Mediocre Video Resolution
  • Limited Audio Options

SUMMARY

The Sony DCR-HC26 is a small and easy to operate camcorder for the absolute beginner. If you're looking for an inexpensive camcorder in the mini DV tape format that bears the Sony brand name, this is it.

Mark Montgomery is Videomaker's technical editor.

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