Camera and Camcorder Review:Sony DCR-IP220 MICROMV

$2,000

Sony Electronics Inc.

1 Sony Drive

Park Ridge, NJ, 07656

(201) 930-6972

www.sel.sony.com

Are you in the market for a cool new camera? The Sony IP220 MICROMV camcorder is cool, shooting great video, without treating still image snapshots as an afterthought. For gadget freaks with a camera bag that is full of too many devices, this second-generation MICROMV camera may well be the ultimate replacement.

MegaStills

Not long ago, the still shot feature on camcorders was only marginal, with image quality that was not much better than just grabbing a frame from the video. The IP220 is a serious still camera, snapping 1600×1200 images using a 2.11 megapixel (gross) CCD. While it won’t compete with the resolution of a film camera, the quality far exceeds anything you’ll need for electronic distribution, such as on a Web page or in email. At the highest quality level, the IP220 instantly snapped a picture when we pressed the Photo button, with only a moderate delay as the image saved to memory. The camera has a nice popup flash and comes with an 8MB Memory Stick that you’ll probably want to upgrade to at least 64MB. Fortunately, at the time of this writing, prices on solid-state memory are in freefall, so look for bargains.

Bluetooth Redux

Bluetooth is a short-range wireless networking standard. It theoretically allows the IP220 to send highly compressed postage-stamp sized video and high-quality still images to the Internet and email, directly from your camcorder, without hooking anything up. In fact, Sony Bluetooth equipped cameras allow you to send and receive email or even browse the Web wirelessly. We say "theoretically" because you will need (1) a Bluetooth equipped computer somewhere within 10m of the camera and (2) a special account with So-net or AOL. We love the concept of Bluetooth and applaud Sony for bravely advancing this amazing technology, even if it is of limited use for most people as of this date. (See our July 2002 review of the Sony PC120BT for a more detailed test of this feature, keeping in mind that since the time of the review seven months ago, some aspects have undoubtedly changed.)

Is that a Camcorder?

As you can see from our pictures, the IP220 is a uniquely designed camcorder. The tiny viewfinder extends out of the back of the camera by only a fraction of an inch, making it very difficult to use for big-nosed westerners who shoot with their left eye. This is not really a problem, as we found ourselves using the flexible LCD panel in almost every situation. The design of the camera encourages this use and, like Sharp Viewcams, we found that our natural inclination was to use two hands when shooting. This is a good thing as it improves the stability of the shot. It is not difficult to operate the camera with one hand, but we didn’t really like the positioning of the small zoom switch. When the camera is in auto focus mode, however, the large focus ring on the front of the camera controls the zooming. We really liked the manual-feel this gave the zoom.

Like many newer Sony cameras, the many menus and settings for the camera are accessed using the LCD Touch Screen. While it is merely functional for menus (and adequate for Web browsing and email), we love the Spot Focus and Spot Meter features. By simply pointing at locations in your scene, you can automatically adjust the focus and exposure to that area.

MICROMV

The tiny MICROMV tape features onboard micro Cassette Memory for tape number, tape name, time and date of recording and a recorded area indicator. The MICROMV format is an over 12Mbps 720×480 MPEG-2 video format, which is impressive when compared to DVD video, which has a typical data rate of less than 8Mbps. In terms of quality, it does not compare well with the less-compressed DV video format (25Mbps) found on consumer Mini DV camcorders. Will you notice the difference on your television set? Probably not: in our direct side-by-side blind-comparison tests of identical scenes shot simultaneously, no one could distinguish MICROMV from Mini DV. When we ran the video through our artificial image quality tests, we were able to identify obvious compression artifacts. Professionals will find this unacceptable. For the vast majority of consumers shooting home movies and vacations, the quality is excellent, however, and few will be disappointed. Don’t let your snobby tech friends disparage the MICROMV format for its quality: (to paraphrase Duke Ellington) If it looks good, it is good.

We captured (via FireWire) and edited the MICROMV format video using Sony’s MovieShaker 3.1 editing software. Only Windows 2000, ME and XP are supported. MovieShaker has a conventional storyboard/timeline editor and an automatic movie creation feature that was really fun to use. We liked the real time previews, simple tools, fun effects and extensive ToolTip-style popup help items, but were appalled by the user interface, which has light greenish-blue text on a slightly darker bluish-green background. There isn’t any time code (you can nudge the counter forward on the camera one second at a time without moving the tape) and you cannot edit at the frame level. MovieShaker can export your movie to a number of popular formats, including MPEG-2 for DVD video. It re-renders everything all of the time, so in addition to long waits, there is generation loss, even if you export your video to the MICROMV format (*.mmv). As of this writing, Pinnacle Studio 8 also supports MICROMV editing (although we couldn’t capture in our brief test of the 8.3.18 version in WinXP). We’re sure Sony is working with other developers as well.

Image This

The Sony IP220 is a technologically innovative camera that was enjoyable to use, had great optics, fantastic still image capabilities and solid video performance.

TECH SPECS

Format: MICROMV

Lens: fl=4.5mm to 45mm, f/1.8, 10:1 optical zoom, 37mm filter diameter

Image Sensor: 1/3.6-inch (5mm) CCD

Gross Pixels: 2.11 megapixels

Video Effective: 1.08 megapixels

Viewfinder: color

LCD Viewscreen: 2.5-inch color (211k pixels) Touch Panel

Focus: auto, HOLOGRAM AF, manual

Image Stabilization: electronic

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/4,000

Iris Control: no

Exposure: auto, manual

White Balance: auto, manual, presets

Audio: 48kHz (MPEG-1 Layer 2)

Microphone Input: no

Inputs: FireWire, S-video, composite

Outputs: FireWire, S-video, composite, headphone

Edit Interface: FireWire

Other Features: 8MB Memory Stick, Audio Dubbing, Web Cam Function, MPEG-4 Video, Bluetooth networking, NightShot (w/ IR lamps)

Dimensions: 3-7/8″ (w) x 3″ (h) x 5-3/8″ (d)

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

Performance Times

Pause to Record: 0.69 seconds

Power-up to Record: 4.55 seconds

Fast forward/Rewind (60 min): 1 minute, 22 seconds

Tested Horizontal Resolution: 460 lines

STRENGTHS

  • Superior stills
  • Innovative design
  • Quality video format (MICROMV)
  • High fun factor

    WEAKNESSES

  • Editing limitations of MICROMV

    SUMMARY

  • A fabulous all in one imaging device to replace your old camcorder and aging digital still camera.
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