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I have always said that dvd cams are great for recording and watching, but if you want to edit, then buy a mini dv cam.
Sony have sent me a DVR-DVD92E to test, so am I going to change my mind?
The box contains half of the rain forest just like normal with all the leaflets they put in.
My first thought is, this cam is small, and it fits into the palm of my not so big hand.
A quick check of the contents and something to bear in mind with this model is, it doesn't come with a dvd disc to record to. At least I'll have plenty of time to charge the battery and read the manual.
Luckily my good friends at WCW Media came to my rescue and as usual for them got some in the post straight away and they arrived the next morning. The battery charges on the cam, and this was completed within a few hours. So let's get testing!
You can't sit the cam on a desk to open the disc cover, because the hand strap once adjusted gets in the way of the disc cover opening! So, it's hold it on it's side, disc cover up, move the strap underneath the cam and then pull the door fully open, which is virtually 90'. It only opens a very small way itself. The disc is easy enough to insert, and requires a reassuringly firm push to click it into place.
My initial thoughts are that the cam is very light and small. I'm used to using larger and heavier models, such as the Canon XM2 and MV10, I'm worried that I'm going to find it uncomfortable or difficult to use well. If you have already used a camcorder though, you'll find your way round this one easy enough, as there are very few buttons to confuse.
First test was in the evening, so light was diminishing and I was shooting indoors, with a couple of 60w lights and my cats for company. I left it in automatic mode, as I guess most people using this type of cam will do. The LCD screen showed a very grainy image, meaning the auto gain had kicked in. This will give a lighter picture, but better quality would be had by adding more light. The auto-focus worked well though, keeping one of my cats in focus while I followed her chasing a moth.
Checking out its facilities was the next job, as light was fading fast and it wasn't worth trying any more. As I said earlier, there are very few buttons or connections to confuse you on this model, so we'll take a trip around the cam and I'll explain what they all are.
Let's start at the rear, looking forward, as if you were using the cam. We have the main on/off switch. You press in the green button and this allows you to turn on the cam. The same button is now spring loaded, for changing the modes. When turned on it defaults to video record, an easy flick downwards moves us on to photo and another flick enables to view our recorded scenes in playback mode. Flick the switch down again and you are back at the start. Just to the left of the on/off switch are four lights. These show up the mode the cam is in, so video record/photo/playback so you can easily see where you are and the bottom light shows you the battery is charge state when it is plugged into the mains. Underneath these is the record/stop button. At the top is the pull out viewfinder. This is better than being fixed, but only just, as it doesn't offer any vertical movement for extra comfort. It's best to mention here as well. The viewfinder offers black and white. Some people don't like this, actually though, it is often easier to focus with this type of viewfinder than a colour one.
Moving around to the left, we have two buttons, one is for selecting easy mode. This is a near idiot proof way of recording. The other button is the back light, which helps when the light source is behind the object you are filming. Most of the rest of the room here is taken up with the 2.5" lcd monitor, which pulls out smoothly and is a fair size for a camcorder so small. A nice feature is the addition of telephoto/wide and record buttons on the lcd surround. Not only are these useful, but if you use them you automatically use a second hand to steady the screen.
On to the front, where the Carl Zeiss lens is. This lens has figures like, 1.8/2.3-46. In practice what this means is, in comparison, my other camcorders offer a wider view. It felt even narrower than it actually is.
Below the lens we have a stereo microphone and a port for connecting the cam to something like a tv with the supplied av lead.
On the right hand side there is the dvd opening, the mains connector and a port labeled remote, which is redundant on this model.
On the top we have the button for releasing the dvd cover, nightshot plus button - which gives you added low light capabilities, but a green, black and white picture, an accessory shoe for mounting things like a light and the wide/telephoto and photograph buttons. The wide/telephoto button on the top has a variable speed setting, so if you move it gently it will slowly zoom in, and if you push the lever to it's limit of movement the zoom will be very fast.
Finally underneath you have a threaded slot for attaching the cam to a tripod and the battery release switch.
So, my first reactions to it's facilities are, this model is very low spec. It doesn't have a microphone input, or headphone output. It doesn't come with a usb lead to connect to your pc or any software to use. It is very much a use it in automatic mode with nothing else camcorder.
Checking out the manual gives some important information on the types of disc you can use and how they work. It is very important to read and ingest this information, as the different discs work differently. For example, when recording to RW discs you have the choice of two recording modes, Video mode which is most compatible with dvd players and VR mode, which will only play on dvd players which support VR playback. VR mode though enables you to edit/delete/divide scenes already recorded to the disc. Only +RW discs will playback on certain dvd players without being finalised, so all record once discs need to be finalised before being able to be watched on a dvd player. This means if you record five minutes on the disc, and then want to watch it on the tv, you finalise the disc and watch it. You can no longer record anything to this disc, so ensure you have filled it up before finalising.
The discs will also take over 100 photographs, along with about 25 minutes of video.
Once finalised the photographs appear as a chapter on the dvd and when you play the dvd back the photographs play as a slide show automatically for you. A nice feature, I thought. This cam will record to -R , -RW and +RW discs. If you insert a non-sony make it will warn you when you first turn it on. If you don't take any photographs you do not get any extra video on the disc, so you might as well use the facility and get the most from your mini dvd disc.
Apparently the camcorder will switch the bit rate settings to match the type of filming you do, so it will increase the bitrate if you are recording sport and reduce it if you are filming say a landscape setting. This ensures you get the best quality picture coupled with recording length of time.
How did I find it in use?
Well, even with my relatively medium sized hands I found the wide/telephoto, photograph and record buttons uncomfortable to use. They were not quite in the right place for me, which meant I had to twist my hand round slightly, not conducive to holding a cam steady.
The eyepiece was not easy to pull out without concentrating on it.
I found the camcorder easy to use, but difficult to hold steady. Partly due to it's size and low weight, but also I suppose down to not being able to hold it well when trying to use the buttons.
I thought the field of view on the wide part of the zoom was quite narrow.
The zoom on this cam goes to 20x, which is good for getting to film things like birds that would fly away if you tried to get in close, but it's far to long a zoom to hold the camera still and film, so you really need a decent tripod if you are going to use the full length of the zoom. I would have preferred to see a wider field of view at the beginning and a shorter zoom.
When you film in low light the auto gain comes on and you end up with a quite grainy picture.
The automatic focusing was very good in decent light, it worked better than I thought.
The automatic exposure was poor. I was filming in quite bright conditions and the sky, concrete pavement were virtually bleached out. This was perhaps the poorest aspect of this camera.
I have always been a Canon camcorder owner. It is well known that Canon and Sony cams produce different colour's on their recordings. So you generally prefer one or the other. This cam did nothing to alter my mind that I prefer the Canon produced tones. In my opinion the colours were washed out. I filmed a fair amount of wildlife, flora and fauna, and found the colour of grass and leaves was a poor green. A close up of a blackcurrant bush though produced lovely detail to the blackcurrant's and leaves, just poor colour to my eyes.
Manual focus is available on this cam, as are a few other manual modes, but I can't see how anyone would be able to use them well. Manual focus is obtained via the on screen menu. You then need to press buttons on the lcd screen in order to focus...... I found it very difficult to position my finger to focus so that I could actually see what I was focusing on!!
Something that amused me when I finalised my first disc was, at the end of the process, which was very easy to follow using the on screen instructions, when you press the last finalise button, it starts to finalise the disc and throws up a warning for you to ensure the cam does not suffer any vibration. Well when I did my first one I had it in my hand , so held it carefully while it did it's job. I wondered how much vibration might ruin the disc and therefore destroy the memories it contains. The nest time I finalised the disc, I set it down on the table and pressed the buttons so that I could leave it be. You live and learn, perhaps Sony could put this warning up before you press the last finalise button, so you can put the cam down and not worry!!
You can if you wish change the name of the dvd etc, when you are finalising it.
How about the photographs it takes. Well, on full zoom you cannot hold it steady enough to take a still picture without using a tripod. The pictures it takes are pretty good overall, depending on what use you intend to put them to, if care is taken. I printed one out using my photo quality printer, on Epson photo glossy paper using best photo settings and a 6" x 4" picture looked a little pixelated close up, but at a distance of about 2 feet looked reasonable. So. it's not going to make a good still camera replacement, but it's great for tv slideshow or maybe for emailing to people or putting on the web.
My final thoughts on the camcorder
As a camcorder to shoot in automatic mode and play the discs in your dvd player and enjoy, it would make a good choice.
I can't see myself buying one, but I am more into semi professional models, so the type of camera I use is in a different league, but if used as I've suggested I doubt you will be disappointed.
Watching the movies on TV
I was pleasantly suprised at the quality of the movie when played back on my tv set. The camcorder does all the indexing and setting of chapters. When you pop the disc in your dvd player it starts up at the menu page and you can just start it off and watch it all, or pick any chapter you wish, no different to commercial dvds. All the normal commands work, like fast forward, rewind, pause etc.
The bitrate setting used by the cam was good. On playback I couldn't see much in the way of compression artifacts - distortion caused by compressing the file to mpeg2 - and the capture of things like birds flying into and out of feeders produced hardly any movement problems.
The last chapter is the slideshow of stills, which is a nice touch. They all play through, so no intervention is needed.
I enjoyed watching the movie it made, except for the problems of poor filming, they are all still there. The only way to improve this is to edit!!
How about editing then?
I've put this on a different page, see editing video from a dvd camcorder