capsule review

Sony DCR-HC42

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At first glance, the Sony DCR-HC42 looks promising enough. It’s compact, sports a 2.7-inch widescreen LCD, and shoots colorful, vibrant video outdoors. Unfortunately, it suffers from very noticeable purple fringing, a distracting purple glow that appears around high-contrast areas in an image.

The DCR-HC42 is virtually identical in appearance with the DCR-HC32, with well-placed controls, and the same slightly awkward power switch and eject lever. There are only a few buttons and controls on the body of the camcorder, with most options selected via easy-to-navigate menus on the touch panel LCD. In 16:9 widescreen mode, the LCD displays the full image without letterboxing (showing black bands at the top and bottom of the image), and you can switch between widescreen and standard 4:3 modes at the touch of a button. There’s also an electronic viewfinder with color display and a lens adjustment lever (so you can adjust it to your vision, but the lever is very difficult to move). The camera loads from the bottom, a hassle if you use a tripod and need to swap tapes, but the tripod mount is metal.

Like the DCR-HC32, the DCR-HC42 is a point-and-shoot camcorder, and an Easy Handycam button hides most menu options so it’s difficult for beginners to muck things up. Manual controls are limited to white balance, exposure compensation, and 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. You can also focus manually by tapping the touch panel, which makes fine-tuning a struggle.

The 12x optical zoom is a step down from the 20x optical zoom on the DCR-HC32, but the Tele Macro mode on the DCR-HC42 can focus to 13.88 inches, versus 15.38 inches on the DCR-HC32. 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 video quality is very good in daylight, with vivid, accurate color, but both video and still images suffered from very noticeable purple fringing. Indoors, video is slightly dark and grainy. Special night modes boost sensitivity and slow the shutter for shooting in low light, resulting in ghostly, faded images. I noticed minimal camera noise, but an optional external microphone is available for use with the Active Interface Shoe (hot shoe).

The DCR-HC42 also captures stills and video to a Memory Stick Duo card, but pictures are limited to 1152 by 864 (compared to 640 by 480 for the DCR-HC32) and video to 320 x 240. Image quality is mediocre, with noticeable noise and fringing.

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-HC42 captures respectable video, and it’s a better choice than the DCR-HC32, but the fringing will annoy those with discriminating eyes.

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


Optical/Digital Zoom 12x/480x
LCD Screen Size 2.7 inches
Still Image Resolution 1152x864
Weight 14.5 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-HC42
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