The touch screen is nice and sharp compared with other models in its class, but it was very difficult to see in direct sunlight. Luckily it rotates, so even if you can't see it you can change the angle. On the left edge of the screen there are virtual buttons for controlling the zoom lens and starting and stopping recordings, very helpful if you're shooting at a low angle or on a tripod. The menu system is good for those who don't make a lot of changes. In other words, it's responsive, but because all of the options are in one long row, it can feel like the list goes on forever. At least Sony lets you configure an opening menu screen with six items you frequently adjust.
For those of you attracted to the megazoom lens, be warned: the camcorder is very difficult to hold still when shooting one-handed and only slightly better with two. To get the best results, it really needs to be on a tripod or some other stable support. Also, Sony went with electronic image stabilization, which is better than nothing, but won't come close to keeping your movies from being a shaky mess when the lens is extended. However, Sony also included an Active mode that we found worked remarkably well when shooting while walking.
|Features||Sony Handycam DCR-SX65|
|Inputs/Outputs||DC in/Mini-USB, USB, AV|
|White balance||Auto, Outdoor, Indoor, Manual|
|Scene modes||Intelligent Auto, Twilight, Candle, Sunrise & Sunset, Fireworks, Landscape, Portrait, Spotlight, Sports, Beach, Snow|
|Focus||Auto, Manual, Spot AF, Tele Macro|
|Lens cover (auto or manual)||Auto|
|Video light/flash||LED video light/no|
This camcorder was designed for hassle-free recording and as such doesn't have a lot of extra shooting options. A majority of my field testing was done with the SX65 set to Auto for white balance, scene selection, and focus, and it performed satisfactorily. There are more scene options if you choose to get specific, and the same goes for white balance. Also, should you want to be more hands-on with focus and exposure, you can control both by touching the spot onscreen you'd like the camcorder to draw its information from.
For its low-end status, the SX65 performs reasonably well. It has an instant-on option that gets the camcorder powered up, with lens cover open, and ready to record very fast, triggered simply by opening the LCD (not an uncommon feature, but nice nonetheless). The autofocus is responsive, but when zoomed out it does hunt, trying to focus, particularly in low-light conditions. The rated battery life for the included pack is 105 minutes of continuous shooting; expect less if you're frequently turning it on and off and reviewing clips. Extended-life batteries are available, one of which Sony claims has a life of up to 13 hours of continuous shooting.
Video quality overall is very soft; the only time a somewhat sharp picture was obtained was in Tele Macro mode. Clips also display quite a bit of noise and digital artifacts that are easily seen until you scale down to YouTube-size dimensions. There's a distinct pattern to the noise, too, which is distracting. There's noticeable fringing around subjects as well. If you still live completely in a low-resolution world, your recordings are destined for video-sharing Web sites, or you simply want to capture the moment no matter how it looks, the SX65 will suffice.
Colors look OK, but there's a noticeable red push and other colors are cooler than they should be. Low-light video is loaded with grainy noise and yellow blotches and color banding. The LED lamp can help a bit if your subject is close to the lens, but it does little to improve the video quality and of course won't brighten distant subjects. Lastly, though the camcorder does take still shots, you'll likely get better photos out of a camera phone, and they can't be captured if you're recording video. (However, there is an in-camera option for grabbing individual frames from clips.)
It's true you can get much better video from an HD camcorder that costs $200 to $300 more. However, standard-definition video is less demanding to play and edit on an average desktop or laptop, and SD camcorders are less expensive. With the Sony Handycam DCR-SX65 you're trading off video quality for a low price and a 60x optical zoom lens. Of course, it's small, lightweight, and easy to use, too. Just don't expect HD when you're paying for SD.
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