Sick of fumbling with your FireWire, USB, RCA, S-Video, and AC cables? Sony's ultracompact Handycam DCR-PC109 comes with a Handycam Station dock that will keep your wires tidy and easy to access. It's a nice idea, but unless you're a certifiable neat freak, you may not want to pay an extra $200 for a model that has essentially the same innards as the Sony DCR-HC40.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more. The Sony Handycam DCR-PC109 is one of the few camcorders that requires a trip to the manual just to figure out how to hold it. However, once you realize that you can wrap your fingers around the front without worrying that you're covering the dark plastic window below the lens--it's only the remote-control sensor--we bet you'll like the design.
True to Sony form, the camera has a solid, precision feel. Though an extremely compact camcorder, the DCR-PC109 has a control layout that's intelligent without being crowded or clunky.
We particularly like the novel hand-strap belt release, which converts the hand strap into to a wrist strap. The addition of a record start/stop button on the LCD bezel is another very nice touch--not only elegant but truly practical when you use the LCD to shoot. Ditto for the internal lens cap, which makes for one fewer item dangling from the camera or swimming around in your pocket.
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|Two of our perpetual design gripes: The cassette loads from the bottom, making it impossible to change tapes on a tripod, and though the viewfinder pulls out, it doesn't tilt to provide more shooting flexibility.|
Newbies and low-tech shooters will like the Easy button, which throws the camera into the simplest, most idiot-proof point-and-shoot mode available. This is great when you have multiple users with various levels of sophistication, allowing Mr. or Ms. Nontechnical to quickly grab the camera and achieve good results without having to worry about manual control and custom settings.
Unfortunately, Sony leaves off a headphone jack. If you want to monitor your audio while recording, you're out of luck. On a camera that has so many bells and whistles--interval recording, a dual-function hand strap, an intelligent accessory shoe, a LANC connector, and optional accessories that include more directional mikes--why did Sony omit such a basic component? We're nitpickers when it comes to the feel of the zoom control. Often it's touchy and hypersensitive, which makes it nearly impossible to do a slow, controlled zoom without stalling out or speeding up. The zoom control on the Sony DCR-PC109 is a small slider that we assumed wouldn't provide the necessary sensitivity, but we achieved the desired zoom speed consistently in 9 out of 10 tries. It helps that the autofocus is quick and decisive, without excessive hunt time or erratic pulsing, except occasionally in no-light NightShot situations.
Like many of the cameras in Sony's latest lineup, the PC109 sports a Hybrid LCD that delivers good visibility, even in bright sunlight. You can turn off the LCD backlight, which will extend battery life by about 10 percent. That can be a lifesaver, but you can only do that in bright conditions, such as outdoors midday. We prefer to leave it on unless battery power becomes an issue.
As is usual with most camcorders that come our way, the supplied battery doesn't last the length of a single tape. To its credit, Sony gives the PC109 two ways to stretch that life a bit: either by dimming or turning off the LCD backlight completely. Still, we'd like to see battery life move up to a full hour. The Sony DCR-PC109's 1/5-inch CCD produces the sharp, crisp video that typifies the company's camcorders. In daylight, it produces pleasing, accurate skin tones and rich, vibrant colors. Overall, the camera handles limited lighting well, maintaining details without adding lot of fuzziness to the image--typical of the clean gain that Sony has achieved in recent years.
However, even under good lighting indoors, skin tones tend to flatten monochromatically, losing warmth and subtleties. The colors also generally skew toward the cool and desaturate a bit more than we'd like.
For very dim light, Sony has upgraded its NightShot to NightShot Plus, which is supposed to add more natural color to the typical monochrome infrared experience. While we appreciate the enhancement, we find that NightShot Plus just occasionally picks up the slightest hint of natural color and only when there is already considerable external light on the subject.