Sony DCR-PC55

The Sony DCR-PC55 is seductively compact, housed in a stylish metallic body available in silver, black, red, and white. Weighing only 10 ounces, it’s the smallest MiniDV camcorder we’ve tested. Unfortunately, the small size is the big news. Aside from scale, this camcorder just doesn’t measure up.

The DCR-PC55 fits comfortably in the palm of your hand, yet controls are easy to operate, even for someone with big mitts. Unlike other camcorders, which are dotted with buttons, you control almost everything via easy-to-navigate menus on the bright, oversized, three-inch touch panel LCD (there’s no viewfinder).

This is a point-and-shoot camcorder. There are plenty of menu options (which beginning videographers can avoid by pressing the Easy Handycam button, putting the camcorder in auto mode), but almost no manual controls. You can adjust the white balance (including custom white balance) and 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 manual focus also relies on the touch panel, which is considerably more difficult than focusing with a lens ring.

The optical zoom is only 10x, less than most camcorders, and there are no optional lens adapters. A Tele Macro mode lets you shoot close-ups from a distance, keeping your shadow away from your subject (you can focus as close as 10.75 inches). The electronic image stabilization does a good job of steadying the picture, 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, but inside, video is a bit dark and grainy. There’s no night mode for shooting in low light, and choosing a slow shutter results in ghostly, faded images. Sound quality is very good, with minimal camera noise. There’s no microphone jack, but you can attach an optional external microphone to the Active Interface Shoe (hot shoe).

The DCR-PC55 also captures stills and video to a Memory Stick Duo Pro 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 e-mail, but not much else.

You’ll need the included docking station to transfer video, but you can plug the battery charger directly into the camcorder. You can use the camcorder as a Web cam by attaching it to the computer with the included USB cable.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

The Sony DCR-PC55 looks good, but the video quality is only average. Consider shelling out an extra $100 for the Canon Optura 60, which offers much more camcorder for the money.

Jury Tests

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

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

Specifications

Optical/Digital Zoom 10x/120x
LCD Screen Size 3 inches
Still Image Resolution 640x480
Weight 10 ounces
Dimensions (wxhxd) 1.19 x 4 x 2.88 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-PC55

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