Sony Mini DV Camcorder Review
$1,599

Sony Electronics

1 Sony Drive

Park Ridge, NJ 07656

(800) 222-SONY

www.sel.sony.com

It’s amazing how small consumer electronics have become. But spatial reduction comes at a price. For manufacturers to fit the obligatory features onto these small bodies, compromises are made and some elements are left out, especially advanced features. We knew it was just a matter of time, but there’s finally a camcorder that doesn’t sacrifice user friendliness, functionality or advanced features in the name of miniaturization. The PC5, though small in size, is big on features and ease of use. The features are here manual controls, audio and video dub, still camera with Memory Stick, flip-out viewscreen, headphone jack and external mike plug all inside a body that really does fit in a shirt pocket.


PC5 Packs a Compact Punch

The PC5 is one of the smallest camcorders on the market. Because of its small size, the PC5 is a bit of a challenge to hold and may be difficult for larger hands to coordinate. The flip-down grip arm seems to be an afterthought in this line of cameras to ease the awkward nature of its small but thick design.

The PC5 has a 2.5-inch flip-out color LCD viewscreen and .44-inch color viewfinder. It also sports a Carl Zeiss lens with 10:1 optical zoom and 120:1 digital zoom. The image looked great with excellent natural color representation and sharpness, especially within the optical zoom range. By accessing the menu, we could also opt for variable digital zoom settings of up to 20:1 or up to 120:1. We were pleasantly surprised with how good the digital zooms looked. Even at approximately 70:1, the image remained stable (with the electronic image stabilization on) and looked pretty clear. We could easily read a license plate from about 50 yards at that setting. At 120:1 resolution suffered and the image appeared bouncy and pixelated.

Most of the controls are accessed through the menu system, but there are several key controls on the body. A button on the right side of the body let us quickly switch between manual and automatic focus. The automatic focus worked very well. Even when we panned and zoomed simultaneously, the lens kept pace.

Sony’s Super SteadyShot electronic stabilizer also worked very well and was especially noticeable with the lower ratio digital zoom turned on and maxed out at 20:1.

This tiny camcorder also doubles as a still camera with 640×480 VGA still image resolution and a 4MB Memory Stick storage device. With the Memory Stick, still images are saved as JPEGs for later transfer to your computer. You can also use the still images as transitions when you fade in or out of shots.


Intuitive Menus and Touchscreen

Another innovation in minimizing body space is the touchscreen menu system. Opening the 2.5-inch color LCD viewscreen, we simply used the touchscreen menu to access the many options. Choices included preset exposure settings like Auto, Spotlight, Portrait, Sports, Beach & Ski, Sunset/Moon, Landscape and Low Lux. Digital effects included Negative, Art, Sepia, B&W, Solarize, Pastel and Mosaic. We could also switch to manual white balance and exposure control, although display of actual shutter settings in numerical values of per/second is not present.

In the Camera setting menu, we could scroll through our choices to set the maximum digital zoom length, choose 16:9 mode, turn the electronic image stabilizer on or off and activate the NightShot light. Using the menu system, we could choose between more digital effects like Slow Shutter Speed, Old Movie, Still, Flash, Luminance and Trail.

The PC5 offers the Spot Meter, a new feature for Sony cams, similar to Canon’s FlexiZone. Activating the Spot Meter put a moveable white rectangle on the screen. The camcorder then adjusted the exposure for whatever appeared in the rectangular frame.

Other controls accessed through the menu system included a titler for preset or custom titles. It was here where we also adjusted LCD screen brightness and speaker volume. When we were set to review our footage, we switched to VCR mode and used the touchscreen buttons to control playback. We were pleased with how well the touchscreen system worked. The menu was well-designed and there was no needless scrolling.


Audio Satisfaction

The PC5’s on-camera condenser mike sits on the top of the camcorder. This poses a problem with some units, because it can occasionally cause inadvertent pickup of the zoom motor, hand movements and other unwanted sounds. We didn’t detect any of these potential audio problems upon playback. We were pleased with the mike’s pickup. It was clear for ambient sounds within about 10 feet of the mike and when we spoke as we recorded, our narration overrode the ambient sounds without drowning them out completely.


Advanced Features

Though it’s easy to use in the all-automatic, point-and-shoot mode, the PC5’s real strength lies in its advanced features. Serious shooters will enjoy its manual controls: focus, white balance, exposure and a number of preset shutter speeds. It has a headphone jack to monitor audio and an external mike input for more advanced audio applications. Sony also included audio and video dub. This is a fantastic feature that enables quick, in-camera editing.

We had no trouble dialing in a crisp focus with the manual focus ring, and were pleased to find it on the lens itself, right where it should be. We did find, however, that the small focus ring took several twists to adjust, and we had trouble holding the camera steady while we focused. This made recording a rack focus difficult without shaking our shot. Again, large-handed shooters should take note.

There are S-video, FireWire (IEEE 1394) and composite video in/out jacks so you can import or export audio and video. You can import scenes and sounds from your computer, from a VCR or from another camcorder.

The Sony DCR-PC5 Mini DV camcorder has combined the best intermediate and advanced features in a tiny package without sacrificing performance or ease of use. Its manual controls, user friendliness, in-camera editing ability and image quality make this camcorder well worth its price tag.


TECH SPECS

Format: Mini DV

Lens: 10:1 optical zoom, 120:1 digital zoom, 30mm filter diameter

Image sensor: 1/4-inch CCD, 680,000 pixels (340,000 effective)

Viewfinder: 2.5-inch color LCD viewscreen, 0.44-inch color viewfinder

Focus: manual, auto

Exposure: manual, auto

White balance: auto, manual

Digital effects: Negative, Art, Sepia, B&W, Solarize, Pastel, Mosaic Slow Shutter Speed, Old Movie, Still, Flash, Luminance, Trail

Audio: PCM 4×12-bit and 2×16-bit

Inputs: FireWire (IEEE 1394), S-video,

composite, external microphone

Outputs: FireWire (IEEE 1394), S-video,

composite, headphone

Other features: NightShot (0 Lux), touchscreen, Memory Stick

Dimensions: 2-1/8 (W) x 4 (H) x 3-7/8(D)

Weight (sans tape and battery): 15 oz.

STRENGTHS

  • External mike & headphone jacks
  • Manual controls
  • Digital still capability with Memory Stick

    WEAKNESSES

  • No numeric manual shutter speed
  • Uncomfortable for large hands

    PERFORMANCE TIMES

  • Pause to Record: 1.5 seconds
  • Power-up to Record: 4.5 seconds
  • Fast-forward/Rewind: 2 minutes, 45 seconds (30-min. tape)
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