Sony DCR-DVD201E

Sony's DCRDVD201E uses either 1.4GB, 8cm DVD-R or DVD-RW. When recording in standard play mode, you'll get between 23 and 26 minutes of footage on one disc. You can get more on a disc by using long play mode but at the cost of image quality. The most cost effective way to use the 8cm discs is to invest in reusable DVD-RWs and then transfer your movies to a PC and burn them to standard 4.7GB DVD-R discs, which cost as little as 50c.

Working with the DVD discs is certainly very user friendly. The absence of fluffing about with rewinding tape makes the whole shooting process more productive, since you can preview your progress to date quickly.

The 201E's 1.07 megapixel sensor will capture still images at up to 1152 x 864 pixels. The Carl Zeiss lens has a 10X optical zoom--there's also up to 120X digital zoom, but the usual provisos on the usefulness of digital zoom apply.

The DCRDVD201E captures good quality video, sharp and colourful, although not as vibrant as that shot by Canon's MVX25i. One criticism of DVD camcorders has been that the time for the disc to spin up means you don't have instant-on recording, but in practice I found this not much of an issue with the DCRDVD201E--it seemed to respond quickly.

Sony has placed a second record button on the corner of the LCD screen, so you can activate it with your thumb while holding the edge of the screen, but you need to be careful not to press too hard--it's easy to shake the camera when doing so.

The low profile of the DVD enclosure compared to a mini DV camcorder means the 201E is feels good in your hand and it's easy to reach the essential buttons. I didn't much like the power switch, which requires you to press and hold down the power button to turn on and off; a flick switch would be better. The 201E uses USB 2.0 to connect to a PC.

Apart from the issues surrounding the media, there were only two areas that really annoyed me about the camera. First up was the built-in microphone, which appears to pick up a hum from the DVD mechanism. I didn't notice it when previewing files on the camera, but when playing the disc back in a DVD player the hum became noticeable during quiet patches in my films. The only way to solve this particular problem would be to buy an external microphone to use with the camera. The second area of disappointment was in the software supplied with the camera. ImageMixer is not intuitive to use.