Sony Handycam DCR-DVD405



Well, the Sony Handycam DCR-DVD405 that I ordered from Amazon has arrived today (ordered the 5th of July, arrived the 11th with the “slow boat” free shipping option.) I’ve had it long enough to charge batteries, set time and do a few still pictures and a few short video clips. So, these will be my initial impressions, and I’ll likely follow up later with further thoughts/experience/etc. This was certainly not a small purchase for us and I spent quite a bit of time narrowing down choices. I really wanted a dvd based recorder. The idea of having it already in a format that we could archive was a real plus there. Yes, I might pull it onto the computer for editing, but life will be much simpler if I don’t HAVE to….


Let’s see, the camera gives ~3 MegaPixels, has optical/digital zoom and here goes. Initial impression, well, I got it setup to charge the battery and waited a couple hours. Then I plugged in the spare battery and again waited. It would really be nice if these devices came standard with an “outboard” battery charger.

Anyway, it was very easy to get going. The only quibble in the clock setup is that I thought I’d have a chance to choose AM/PM, instead I had to go back in and scroll the time around …12 – 1 – 2 – 3 until it made it to PM. The touchscreen navigation seems fine to me. Maybe I have sharp pointed fingers. Many of the reviews I saw complained of the screen being a bit small for the touch navigation, but thus far it hasn’t seemed to be an issue.

I can see why they have an “easy” button. There ARE a lot of configuration options and, in fact, I did read SOME of the manual before my initial recording. Mainly to make sure I knew how to switch on, whether to retrieve the disc with the power on/off/etc… How to switch to Camera mode. Ultimately though, you have to use it to remember some of the details. It took a few moments to discover how to snap a picture once I had switched to camera mode. The “record” button doesn’t serve dual duty – there is a camera button on top near the zoom that does that.

The zoom will take some getting used to. The toggle can give you a “whiplash” zoom if you just press it, but finer control is possible, but it seems a bit difficult to get a smooth fine control over the zoom. I’m not certain where the digital zoom/optical zoom distinction is made. I’m guessing at this point that the zoom toggle blends the two although I’m going to have to read more to find out.

I had a bit of a frustration for a few minutes trying to figure out how to switch the viewfinder screen on (as opposed to the lcd panel on the side.) Finally after failing to find a switch, or a setting in the control panel, I closed the outside door and on came the viewfinder. In theory that viewfinder should save some of the battery power (smaller lcd – lower power use.)

I think with dvd-rw media this is going to suit my “needs” or rather wants in this category quite well. I’ve taken a few video clips and a few pictures and here are the thoughts I’ve had on them. The picture quality looks quite good on both (pictures REALLY impressed me, especially with the zoom. I got some fairly good closeups of some toys that looked quite crisp that were zoomed in from 8 feet away. I was expecting a bit of a blur from an unsteady hand, but they look quite good. I noticed a bit of graininess in lower light levels, which is to be expected really. The picture in higher light looks very good to my eye. Also, in moving from indoor to outdoor light you will see a bit of a reaction time on the color adjustment. For instance, the outside light has a bit of a blue-ish tinge, inside light a bit of a yellow-orange tinge… in moving from one to another the coloration is quite noticable at first and then gradually adjusts and balances.

I like the automatic lense cover. It opens when you move to record mode and closes when you go to playback mode. Very nice. I also like that a dvd-rw can be “unfinalized” so that more can be added to it. Essentially, you need to finalize the dvd-rw to view on a dvd player, but that process would normally prevent further writing on the disc. Unfinalize is a page down in the menu though, so it may take a bit of looking for. The short disc that I did, finalize took about 6 minutes and unfinalize about 1 minute. I’ll be curious to see how long it takes with more on the disc.

Now, for perspective… the last camcorder I used was around a foot or more long (with battery) and was shoulder mounted – looking like something out of a tv studio. It recorded to VHS tape (remember using that?) Anyway, it’s remarkable how far things have come, this recorder is probably ~2 pounds and not MUCH bigger than my old Kodak DX3500 digital camera. No, you won’t put it in most pockets, but it’s really a nice size.

The picture quality is better than the old VHS recorder.

Now, I DID hear in a video clip some of the disc noise that I’ve read people mention in reviews. From what I can tell, this is something that any DVD recorder currently seems susceptible to. The only way I could see to avoid it is with an external (only) microphone and cut off the built in microphones. I don’t know if that’s possible (or if that would ELIMINATE the occasional slight buzz.) It wasn’t a distraction, just something I noticed.

There are TONS of accessories for this. At a minimum, I’d go for a spare battery and carrying case. I’ve never really gotten into photography, but I must say the add-on lenses and filters have me wondering if I might not warm up to looking at these addons.

So basically, the below is what I’ve bought and reviewed.

Sony DCR-DVD405 3MP DVD Handycam Camcorder with 10x Optical ZoomSony ACCDVDP2 Accessory Kit for DCR-DVD 203, 403, 105, 205, 305, 405 & 505 Camcorders

Updates to come…

–Update 7/12/06–

I have a few updates/clarifications here…. 1 Digital zoom is not enabled by default. So, by default you’re using the 10x optical zoom. The HQ mode (20 minutes to a disc) is VERY impressive from what I can see. It’s very crisp on our TV and compares favorably to other video sources. (It seems crisper than most of the cable tv content.) Of course, high motion content is not quite as crisp.

The built in microphone picks up the camera-person VERY well. In thinking that most of our recording will likely be of our 4 year-old… I’m thinking a microphone add-on still might be a good thought.

I’m impressed by the clever idea of the time and date stamp on the video. Unlike the old videos the time and date doesn’t get superimposed (embedded) in the video itself, but in the first subtitle channel. (Nice.) That way, of course, you’ve got that information, but it isn’t irreperably stamped into the image.

I’m still getting the hang of some of the more advanced features (and likely will be for some time.) I did some quick adjusting to get some better pictures in a lower light setting around dusk in the woods. The results were pretty good. My impression is that with ALL the features of the camera it might be possible to improve on the results I got. I’ll have to do more in the way of experimenting with still images. So far, their performance hasn’t quite seemed to be on par with the HQ video performance.

Super nightshot and nightshot modes are interesting. I’ll have to test the nightshot mode out a bit more. The biggest limitation of the super nightshot mode is the (extremely slow shutter speed?) which makes motion VERY blurry.

At this point, I’m still thinking that I can improve my recording techniques quite a bit and this camera may push me to do that. The antishake feature does NOT eliminate camera shake entirely, but it does seem to make a difference. *(I can’t imagine how shakey the shots would be with that off. I may do a test run with those off.) The only other critique at this point is that I miss having a stand-alone button for wipes/fade outs. Using the panel is a bit…. awkward. It would be nice to see a set of programmable push buttons (3-4) that the user could configure with their own favorites. (Of course, that’s what the on-screen menu is for.)

–UPDATE–

Things are still going well with the camcorder. I’m still learning some of the more detailed features. Among other things, I thought I would revisit for a couple critiques…. It is disappointing that the default package doesn’t include a dvd-rw…. you would think they could spring for at least one rewritable disc in the package (but not even a dvd-r was shipped with the default.) I did know this before purchase and bought several discs to go with it, but I think they could greatly improve the experience of the initial pack. Also, the initial pack includes an AV cable with composite Video and stereo audio, if you want svid, order it seperately…. At ~$900 retail suggested, do you think they could have included a high quality video cable? OK – maybe it’s nit-picking, but it frustrates me to see corners cut in those places.

Of course, I did know all the contents of what I was purchasing at the time of purchase.

Another note, I wanted a DC charger for the camera and saw a price of around $60 for a simple dc charger from sony (the AC adapter costs around $40). But, I have an iGO adapter that I bought some time back for a cellphone. Since it uses exchangable tips I did a bit of researching and found a tip that works with this camera (tested once)…. B19 is the iGo Tip number. (you can find them at Radio Shack or www.igo.com) Mileage may vary on “in-stock” status at Radio Shack outlets.

The iGo tips are usually ~$10 each which is (in my opinion) a ridiculous price for what it is… I would say 2-4 dollars would be “reasonable”, however, considering the alternative is a $60 adapter…. $10 seems more reasonable.

Here’s to the day when an electronics product bundles AC AND DC adapters, sample media and all appropriate cables.

–Update 8/4/06–

After taking a short vacation with the camera there are a couple comments I should add….

1) The car charger (whether it’s the Radio Shack iGo setup or the original OEM car adapter) is a MUST for vacation use I think. The battery capacity of the one that comes with the camera was about 80 minutes and with a lot of photo use it seems to go down more quickly. I found myself charging the unit in the car between sites on one day of use and just having enough power to get through the day. Having a spare battery is good too.

2) Flash on/off button. There is a convenient button on the back of the unit to switch between the auto/on/off modes for the flash. The first day we visited an aquarium and I was experimenting with flash/no flash and somehow forgot the easy flash button on the back and went through the menu-ing to “burst mode”) for different exposure settings which was the only other way I could find to disable the flash in the menu. After a bit of this… I had a “doh” moment when I was thinking – “boy it would be nice if there was a button just to turn off the flash…” “uhm…. like that one?” “oh, yeah….”

3) I can’t say how much I love the zoom. My previous camera *(kodak dx3500) has a lot of things to like, but no zoom. The 10x optical on this camera is VERY good and useful, even (especially?) in the context of still images.

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