Sony DCR-HC32

The 20x optical zoom lens on the Sony DCR-HC32 offers more range than most, but there’s little else to recommend about this mediocre camcorder.

The DCR-HC32 is compact, with well-placed controls, but I found the power switch and eject lever a bit awkward to operate. There are few buttons, with most options selected via easy-to-navigate menus on the 2.5-inch touch panel LCD. For sunny days, there’s an electronic viewfinder, but the display is only black and white. The camera loads from the bottom, a hassle if you use a tripod and need to swap tapes, but the tripod mount is metal.

The DCR-HC32 is a point-and-shoot camcorder, so there are almost no manual controls to trip up a beginner. But if the various menu settings intimidate you just press the Easy Handycam button to hide all but the Beep, Clock Set, and Display Guide (help message) options. You can choose Outdoor, Indoor, or One Push (custom) white balance, adjust the exposure compensation, or choose a slow shutter for shooting in low light. A spot focus lets you select a focal point just by touching your subject on the touch screen, but the manual focus is also adjusted via the touch panel, which is considerably more difficult than focusing with a lens ring.

The 20x optical zoom offers an impressive range, and a Tele Macro mode lets you shoot close-ups from a distance (you can focus as close as 15.38 inches). The electronic image stabilization does a very good job of smoothing the jitters, but there’s some loss of quality compared to optical image stabilization. The 16:9 widescreen mode is letterboxed, cropping the top and bottom of the image.

The video quality is very good in daylight, with vivid, accurate color, but it had a tendency to blow out highlights to white. I also noticed some fringing around high-contrast areas. Inside, video is a bit dark and grainy. Special night modes boost sensitivity and slow the shutter for shooting in low light, resulting in ghostly, faded images. Sound quality is very good, with minimal camera noise. There’s a hot shoe, but without a microphone jack, it isn’t of much use.

The DCR-HC32 also captures stills and video to a Memory Stick Duo card, but pictures are limited to 640 by 480 and video to 320 by 240. That’s fine for posting to the Web or attaching to an email, but not much else.

You’ll need the included docking station to transfer video (or to use the camcorder as a Web cam), but you can plug the battery charger directly into the camcorder.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

The Sony DCR-HC32 is a decent camera, but there really isn’t anything special about it. If you’re going to spend $500 for a camcorder, look elsewhere.

Jury Tests

Video Tests
Color Quality - Accuracy Very Good
Clarity - Detail, Noise Good
Stabilization Very Good
Digital Stills
Color Quality - Accuracy Good
Clarity - Detail, Noise Good

Scale = Excellent, Very Good, Good, Flawed, Unacceptable

Specifications

Optical/Digital Zoom 20x/800x
LCD Screen Size 2.5 inches
Still Image Resolution 640x480
Weight 14.1 ounces
Dimensions (wxhxd) 2.25 x 3.63 x 4.5 inches

[ Robert Ellis is a photography enthusiast with a growing collection of digital cameras. He is a frequent contributor to Macworld and maintains the blog Futurosity.]

Sony DCR-HC32

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