Sony DCR-HC96 MiniDV Handycam camcorder

The DCR-HC96 is Sony’s high-end MiniDV Handycam camcorder, and this is reflected in its price. It offers step-up features like a higher capacity battery, a charging dock, and the ability to capture higher resolution video than other HC family members. Although it scored points with our jury in still-image performance, its low-light video quality and battery life proved to be just average.

A mix of plastic and metal, the DCR-HC96 fits well in the palm. It features a 2.7-inch wide-screen LCD with touch-screen controls. Play, record, and stop buttons are also conveniently located just below the screen, allowing you to keep your eye on the action while controlling the camera. Other subtle design niceties include a built-in lens cap and top-loading cassette mechanism. The DCR-HC96 has Sony’s proprietary AIS accessory shoe for attaching an AIS-compatible microphone or flash. The camcorder comes with a dock, which is required for FireWire and USB transfers. The dock also has connectors for AV cables and power, but those ports are found on the camcorder as well, in case your dock isn’t at hand.

The DCR-HC96 offers impressive still-camera quality. Our panel of experts judged the test shots taken with the three-megapixel Sony as being Superior for the camera’s class, getting high marks for color accuracy, sharpness, and exposure.

The Sony’s video quality was also impressive. Our jury took into account standard- and low-light scenes filmed with the camcorder; they also rated audio. These scores were combined into an overall Video Quality score, in which the camcorder earned a rating of Very Good. It received high marks both for the clear audio it was able to capture with its built-in microphone and for standard-light video quality. Low-light video received middling scores.

The DCR-HC96 has a night vision feature that makes it possible to record video in low-light conditions that would otherwise be impossible. However, the results have a strange, otherworldly look to them, along with a color cast; it’s probably best to use this feature only when absolutely necessary. The camcorder also has an electronic image stabilization feature, which worked well. Even after I’d had a few cups of coffee, it did a very good job of steadying my hand-held shots, without any noticeable degradation of quality.

Our battery tests showed that the Sony, when fully charged, was able to capture about 85 minutes of video before shutting down. That’s about average for camcorders we’ve tested.

performance

Still-image quality Superior
Video quality Very Good
Battery life Good

Scale: Superior, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor

How We Tested: The image-quality rating of the camera is based upon a panel of judges’ opinions in five categories: exposure, color, sharpness, distortion, and overall quality. Battery life testers follow a precise script, including shots with and without flash, until the battery dies.—Tested in conjunction with the PC World Test Center

specifications

LCD size 2.7-inch
Optical zoom 12X
Still-image resolution 3 Megapixel
Size (w x h x d) 3.6 x 2.9 x 4.8
Weight (oz.) 18.4

Macworld’s buying advice

The Sony DCR-HC96 Handycam is a MiniDV camcorder that performs well and provides impressive still-image quality. Nice features like a touch-screen LCD and an accessory shoe make it more attractive, but camcorders with better low-light video quality are available—some of which, such as the Panasonic PV-GS320 (   ), cost less.

[ James Galbraith is Macworld ’s lab director. ]

Sony DCR-HC96 MiniDV Handycam

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