- Simple interface, instinctive operation, impressive outdoor performance
- Indoor and low light performance inadequate, slow autofocus, lack of features
A great handycam for a day at the beach, or a simple series of home videos, the Sony DCR-PC55 isn’t for the serious camera enthusiast.
Price$ 1,099.00 (AUD)
Much like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N1, the Handycam DCR-PC55 is one of the first digital cameras to utilise a touch-screen LCD. The blending of these two technologies has created a camera that ultimately sacrifices functionality and performance for flashiness and aesthetics. We say ultimately because there are situations where the camera performs very well, but its overall viability, especially for video enthusiasts is seriously limited.
The 3" LCD itself is quite well designed. It's big and bright, its surface is very resistant to glare, and the screen itself can be rotated 270 degrees, and folded to suit almost any shooting angle. The touch-screen interface is highly responsive, lag free, and the buttons are big enough for even the largest of fingers to deftly navigate. A cramped row of buttons is clustered just below the screen, but thanks to the nature of their functions, generally don't need to be used on any regular basis. Fingerprints are the bane of touch-screens everywhere, and in the case of digital photography, a smudged image viewer is less than desirable. It took nothing more than our initial setup to cover the screen with prints, something which may irritate image conscious users.
The rest of the camera is impressive too. A tall, sleek form factor makes the camera quite comfortable to hold, even for extended periods. A pistol-like grip, with the forefinger holding the top of the camera steady, and the pinky supporting the base places the minimal number of controls within easy reach of the thumb or forefinger. Record, zoom, and the on/off/mode toggle switch are all located right where the thumb rests, while the snapshot button sits readily accessible, next to the forefinger.
Generally, the PC55's design is excellent, but the highpoint is without a doubt the level of integration between the various shooting modes on the camera. Flicking the on/off switch down a notch from "on" toggles these modes, from DV Cassette, to Memory Stick, to Play/Edit mode. What's really nifty though is how infrequently this needs to be done. Images captured in either of the recording modes will always be saved to the Memory Stick Duo, while video footage will be saved to whichever medium is currently active. This makes operating the Sony incredibly easy, and very instinctive. Having to switch between still image and video modes was always a hassle on other models, but the PC55 manages to deliver a very high level of versatility, and makes snapping off a quick still while recording, or quickly starting a movie after taking a series of photos, a cinch.
The big let down with this camera (and at its relatively cheap RRP, there had to be one), unfortunately was performance. Images on the Sony were below average, even considering the 1.3 megapixel sensor. Colours were faded and largely inaccurate (reds looked distinctly orange), edges were blurred and precise detail was almost nonexistent. A very limited range of options for still imaging (two resolutions, 640x480 the highest, and 'normal' or 'fine' quality) go a long way towards explaining this, however movie recording suffered from the same problems, in addition to extensive ghosting and very slow autofocus and light adjustment times. Fast panning and action photography are not the strong points of this camera, and in fact we found its indoor and low-light performance in general to be quite inadequate.
Image stabilisation also proved to be rather useless, even at the lowest levels of zoom. Maintaining a steady image without a tripod at even 10x zoom (maximum optical) became impossible. This exacerbated the problems with autofocusing, and it often took up to ten seconds to achieve a clear image after zooming, due mostly to constant shaking. The PC55 generally reacted poorly to sudden changes in the image, even something as simple as somebody walking through the shot.
Outdoor photography was the real strong point of this model, and we were able to obtain decent, and even above average snaps of foliage and pedestrians. The camera responded well to bright sunlight, and we were able to shoot several quality videos during the outdoor phase of our testing. The natural greens and browns of trees were represented well, as were fleshtones.
Finally, a limited feature set hindered many of the adjustments we attempted to make in an effort to improve image quality. Still image capture was, for the most part, fully automated, with an almost total lack of advanced options. Focus and exposure were able to be manually set, while white balance could be change to one a number of preset options. The same features were present for video capture, and while this uncomplicated nature might appeal to beginners, even casual users might find it to be a little lacking, settings-wise.
Battery life was adequate on the Sony; it lasted for just under two hours in our tests, a respectable number considering the power draining touch-screen. The DCR-PC55 comes in red, black, white or silver.
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