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How camcorders have changed in the last 20 years... I still remember my first trip to the Caribbean back in 1990, and my girlfriends father took his camcorder. This was a full sized VHS, rest on your shoulder job, and it all fit snugly into a rather large suitcase. A couple of years earlier I had experimented with the school camcorder on residential trip to Plymouth. This was an even larger affair with seperate battery and tape packs, which didn't seem to last very long until you had to recharge. Further back still, I remember one of my more well off cousins chasing me around with a huge piece of electronics. So with the rapid advances in technlogy, it's all changed, it's all got smaller, and the camcorder is now in most peoples financial reach.
In the past, we've mostly had JVC models, but this time - in preparation for a trip to Grenada in 2007, we opted for a Sony. When it first arrived I almost thought it was missing, but there it was...tiny little thing hiding in amongst the packaging and cables. It fits in the palm of your hand. This is a first for me. It takes tiny little "Mini-DV" tapes. The battery is tiny. The buttons are tiny. It's almost as if it was designed by a midget. Still even being so tiny, it's pretty easy to use - it doesn't feel that fiddly as you might expect. If you are a guy, this will slip into your pocket . might look like you have a bit of a bulge though. If you are a girl, it'll slide into your handbag amongst your makeup and other womanly junk. Physcially it is about 11x8x6 cm - yes small enough to lose. At 350g it's not going to cause you too much of a weight problem.
Despite it's smallness, it feels quite robust, still a lot of plastic but
I liked the flip out screen, (2.5 inches) it's the first time I have had one of these too - it's also a touchscreen which works pretty well, and reduces the number of buttons you need, as it's all done on the screen. The screen can be flipped right around so your video yourself or show other people what you are videoing. There's a traditional colour viewfinder as well for those who still use them - it only works when you have the touchscreen closed. Personally I don't know why we still need them on camcorders.
Picture quality is great, thanks to the Carl Zeiss lens - both on the screen and when you connect it up to a big screen. It will shoot and playback in normal or 16:9 widescreen.
Sound is good too, stereo of course. Most camcorders suffer from wind noise, and this one is no different. There's no socket for an external microphone either. You can listen to the sound via the built in speaker, however it's best to connect up to a proper TV, or transfer to your computer to get the best playback sound.
The zoom is great, at 20x optical and 640x digital. You have a choice of using either the touchscreen or the small zoom button.
The "Nightshot Plus" mode is useful and uses infrared technology, and no lights are needed - it works down to zero lux. We used this sucessfully when filming leatherback turtles on an almost pitch black beach, the results were pretty good.
Battery capacity is generally good. It uses L-ion technology. I actually purchased a longer life battery - cheap from ebay - which gives a good 4 hours from a full charge. The original one was less than 2 hours.
It does take stills, but I can't imagine many people wanting to use this feature - compared to a decent camera the pics will only be useful for web use.
Amongst the other features and options are manual focus, white balance, backlight compensation, effects such as B&W, sepia etc, image stabilization, different modes such as moonlight, beach and more..... I tend not to use much of these however.
It comes with Sony Picture Package, which allows you to transfer and edit your masterpieces on your computer, then burn to a DVD for playback on a standard DVD player. I'm hopeless when it comes to learning how to use these packages, so most of my tapes remain on tape unedited, so I cannot really comment on the software.
Like all electronics, after a year or so you'll find it hard to find the same model, but on the 2nd hand market it might become a bargain. It's never going to win prizes for the professional, but for general home movies you can't go wrong for a simple, compact and budget camcorder.