You can easily imagine James Bond using the DCR-IP55 to film Dr. No's secret island fortress. Sony's innovative camcorder is amazingly small, and its swing-down handle, reminiscent of the kind found on old-school 8mm movie cameras, gives it a retro-cool aura. With a 1-megapixel resolution for still photos and a 10X zoom lens, the IP55 is pretty average for a camcorder, though. And, unfortunately, the camera uses Sony's tiny, proprietary MicroMV videotapes, which are incompatible with nearly all video-editing programs--a big drawback. Serious filmmakers should skip the DCR-IP55, but if you have a license to kill and money to burn, this Sony is one nifty gadget.
Sony clumps most of the camera controls above the handle's hinge.
The DCR-IP55's zoom, record, and still-capture buttons are located on the camera body above the handle's hinge. Reaching and controlling all of them with just your forefinger takes some getting used to. You manage nearly all of this camcorder's features and functions by using the touch-screen LCD to access the menu system. The menus are easy to learn and use, but some important settings are too hard to access--most notably, program autoexposure mode and exposure compensation.
|This modest switch has a lot of labels.||The cassette loads from the bottom; plus, you must swing down the handle to eject it.|
|The remote is as long as the entire camera.||MicroMV tapes are 70 percent smaller than MiniDV tapes.|
Now for the inevitable downside: the MicroMV system uses its own proprietary video file format, which is based on MPEG-2 but is not exactly the same. (Why, Sony, why?) As of this writing, only one major video-editing program--Pinnacle Studio 8.0--supports the MicroMV format. Sony's own video editor, MovieShaker 3.1, ships free with the camera. It's a decent entry-level editor but will disappoint serious videographers.
The DCR-IP55's basic camcorder features are also best suited to gadget-loving video hobbyists. The 1.1-megapixel CCD has an effective video resolution of 690,000 pixels. Sony pairs a 24-step exposure-compensation function with seven programmed exposure modes, but there are no manual exposure settings. And though this Sony has a built-in flash, there's no accessory shoe for video lights or microphones.
The DCR-IP55 sports a pop-up flash and can capture still photos at 1,152x864 pixel-resolution and save them to a Memory Stick. It can also record MPEG-1 video to the Memory Stick or send it to your computer for live videoconferencing or storing on your hard drive. As if that weren't enough, the DCR-IP55 is also a Bluetooth-compatible network device. With an optional modem adapter, you can use this camcorder to upload video clips to Sony's ImageStation photo-/video-sharing Web site, surf the Internet, or send and receive e-mail. But we're holding out for a toaster that gets satellite TV.
The DCR-IP55's sharp, 2.5-inch LCD works fairly well in general, especially in outdoor light. The color viewfinder also gives a crisp, bright image. Both the LCD and the viewfinder are sharp enough for effective manual focusing, which you control via a smoothly operating ring on the lens.
We recorded clear audio with the DCR-IP55's front-mounted omnidirectional stereo microphone. Keep in mind that the mike sits directly above the NightShot control, so it picks up the sound of the switch being flipped. There's no external microphone jack or accessory shoe for more sophisticated sound-recording strategies. Our test footage from the DCR-IP55 came out sharp and colorful, comparable to results from other single-chip digital video cameras. We did see a tad more noise and video artifacts than usual but not significantly so. Exposures were generally accurate, though we noticed an occasional tendency to slightly underexpose.
|Automatic white balance under tungsten lights tends to produce a pinkish cast.|
With three different low-light modes, the DCR-IP55 does well in near or total darkness. We got noisy but still decent footage in very low light levels, and Super NightShot can handle total darkness, though the video has a heavy greenish cast.
|Still photos are relatively saturated, but they're noisy and prone to edge artifacts (shown at 100 percent).|
The DCR-IP55's still photos are about average for a 1-megapixel camcorder--that is, more or less usable for e-mail or Web posting but noisy and not very sharp.