Sony DCR-DVD653E

When you pick up the diminutive DCRDVD653E, you realise that the disc itself is the main hindrance to the design. While most of the body is around 7.5cm high, the casing on the right-hand side of the body protrudes past the rest of the casing, due to the need to accommodate the 8cm disc. MiniDV tape and removable flash memory does not present this dilemma to designers. The Sony supports 8cm DVD-R/RW and +RW media.

The DCRDVD653E's ergonomics are very good, with the relevant zoom, record and shutter release buttons comfortably placed for instant, one-handed access while shooting.

Controls can also be accessed using an excellent 2.5" touch panel screen on the back portion of the camcorder. On the left-hand side of the LCD is an additional zoom and record button that you will find yourself using constantly, as it allows a much more stable shooting environment when using the screen to compose your scene. If you feel that the ambient light is too bright to use the LCD, you can always switch to the optical viewfinder, with dioptric adjustment for wearers of glasses.

The DCRDVD653E uses a quality Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens, with an impressive 20X optical zoom. The alleged 800X total zoom figure (optical + digital) plastered on the casing should not be attempted, unless you want a pixilated special effect for your movie.

The camera can take stills, but it would be just as good to capture a screen directly from video footage, since the CCD only supports 640 x 480 stills. The DCRDVD653E excels in sound recording, however, being one of the few consumer video cameras to offer Dolby 5.1 surround sound.

A hot shoe on the DCRDVD653E allows you to add accessories such as an external microphone, flash or light.