Sony Electronics Inc.
1 Sony Drive
Park Ridge, NJ 07656
You might think that Sony, with its reputation for innovation, would have been first to market with a mini DVD camcorder. While Hitachi claimed that honor a while ago, Sony has nonetheless come on strong with its first line of DVD camcorders, which include the DCR-DVD100 ($899), the DVD200 ($999) and the top-of-the-line mini DVD camcorder reviewed here, the DVD300 ($1,099). With features like in-camera editing, compact size, clip-by-clip playback, excellent still image capabilities, rock-solid image stabilization, a top-notch Carl Zeiss lens and quality MPEG-2 video and audio recording, the Sony DCR-DVD300 mini DVD camcorder is an impressive product. Moreover, the price is perhaps more affordable than you might think for a top-of-the-line consumer mini DVD camcorder.
Sony and other consumer electronics companies face a significant challenge when trying out a new recording medium. Different modes of operation required for different media can sometimes scare away customers, and in this regard, Sony’s DVD300 is an excellent attempt at bridging the gap between old (tape-based) and new (DVD-based) video technologies.
Discs are Better
A first look at the Sony DCR-DVD300 mini DVD camcorder reveals a stylish, well-designed camera with good ergonomic features and simple, straightforward controls. It is not a small camera. In the hand, the camera has a solid feel, and the controls are all easy to reach. The large 3.5-inch, bright LCD monitor adds to the overall aura of quality that the camera emits.
When you first start using the Sony DCR-DVD300 camcorder, the differences between this and an ordinary, tape-based camera become immediately apparent. You must first format DVD-RW discs before you can record video, a process that takes about 30 seconds to complete. Whenever you remove a disk, you must first push the Eject button, wait about 15 seconds for a little light to turn green and then press the Eject button again to open the drive door. When you place and already formatted disc into the camera, it takes anywhere from 30-45 seconds for the camera to access the disc before you can actually record. In all, you must be prepared for a total disc changing time of around a minute. If you leave the same disc in, however, subsequent power up time for recording is only 4 seconds.
With the disk in the camera and the video mode selected, you’re ready to shoot. Recording video handheld with the DCR-DV300 is simple and straightforward. Point-and-shooters will love the responsiveness and accuracy of the autofocus and autoexposure modes. Manual exposure and focus controls are controlled by a tiny wheel below the left side of the lens. Although we appreciated the microphone jack, it is only partially useful because of a lack of a headphone jack. The on-camera microphone did pick up some noise from the spinning disc in a perfectly quiet room.
Mini DVD Disc Durations
Recording times for the smaller 1.4GB DVD-R and DVD-RW discs vary, but usually comes in at around 20 minutes per mini DVD in HQ mode; an LP mode is available that stretches the record time to about an hour. The camera also records still images as JPEGs to disc as well. At the maximum resolution (1172×768) and quality setting, you can record about 2,000 images. 8cm DVD-R discs are $8, DVD-RW are $12 from Sony (one of each is included). We expect to see more competitive brands of blank media to be available, but right now, the smaller 8cm discs are not nearly as common as the full-sized discs.
In-camera Video Editing
Shots recorded with the Sony DCR-DVD300 mini dvd camcorder appear on the camera’s LCD monitor in playback mode as a series of clip icons, which you can select with the arrow controls located on the left side of the camera. If you use a rewritable DVD-RW disc instead of a DVD-R, and you format the disc in VR mode instead of Video mode, the DVD-300 also allows you to re-arrange the order of clips, split clips, trim clips and delete clips: all of the basics of cuts-only video editing. Note that discs formatted in VR mode will likely only play back on your Sony DVD camcorder, whereas discs formatted in Video mode are more likely to play on any home DVD player. Editing procedures are fairly simple and straightforward, if a little difficult to execute with tiny buttons on a camera body. Within 5 minutes of shooting a handful of clips and still photos, we were adding the clips to a playlist, creating slideshows, re-ordering them, splitting them in two and so on. Once the video playlist was in the proper order, we successfully Finalized our first disc, a process that took 12 minutes to complete.
Video Editing On the Computer
In order to deliver the goods as a full-featured DVD-Video production machine, the Sony DCR-DVD300 mini DVD camcorder comes with a USB 2.0 connection and a simple Windows editing and authoring application called ImageMixer. With ImageMixer and a USB 2.0-compatible computer, you can copy your movies to the computer, create playlists and author simple menus that appear when you play your DVDs in a standard home DVD-Video player. It is nice enough, but disc-based cameras are not the best choice for folks who want to get into serious video editing and DVD authoring.
Aside from the time spent formatting, finalizing and otherwise handling the blank media, the DVD300 is a great little camcorder. Recording with the camera was a joy. Perhaps the best feature of this camera is that you can actually share more video with your friends and family, since the discs you shoot will play back in many (most?) newer DVD players. When the price of the blank media comes down, this will be an ideal point, shoot and share solution.
Format: DVD-R/RW (8cm)
Lens: fl=3.7mm to 37mm, F/1.8, 10:1 optical zoom, 33mm filter diameter
Image sensor: 1/4.7-inch CCD
Gross pixels: 1.07M pixels
Video pixels: 690,000
Still pixels: 1,000,000
Viewfinder: 0.55-inch color
LCD viewscreen: 3.5-inch color (123k pixels)
Focus: auto, manual
Image Stabilization: electronic
Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/500
Exposure: auto, manual
White Balance: auto, manual, presets
Microphone Input: 1/8-inch stereo mini
Headphone Output: none
Inputs: S-video, composite, microphone
Outputs: S-video, composite, RCA audio
Edit Interface: LANC
Other features: NightShot, still shot (1,172 x 768), USB 2.0
Includes: 1 DVD-R, 1 DVD-RW
Dimensions (w x h x d): 71 x 90 x 112 mm (3 1/8 x 3 3/4 x 5 5/8 inch)
Weight: 1 lb. 9 oz. (710g) (sans disc and battery)
A strong entry for Sony in the brand-new DVD camcorder marketplace.