Sony DCR-IP review: Sony DCR-IP

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MSRP: $1,799.99

The Good Stylish and amazingly compact; innovative design; built-in flash and low-power video light; flexible low-light shooting.

The Bad Limited choice in editing apps for MicroMV video format; lens has fairly narrow angle of view; no accessory shoe or external microphone jack.

The Bottom Line This Sony is a tiny, very cool camcorder for the well-heeled video hobbyist who doesn't mind some compatibility limitations.

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7.7 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 7

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 high cool-quotient comes from its small size; stylish contours; handsome, matte-gray finish; and the aforementioned swing-down handle, which also carries the camera's battery. Though it's a tad heavier than you might expect at 1.1 pounds with the battery and a tape installed, the camcorder is smaller than many point-and-shoot still cameras. It also feels solidly constructed, and its controls operate crisply. Tapes, unfortunately, load from the bottom, so you can't change them when the camera is mounted on a tripod.

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 secret to the DCR-IP55's diminutive size is the MicroMV tape, which is tiny but still holds 60 minutes of footage. The tapes also store thumbnail pictures of the first frame of each of your recorded clips, allowing the camera to display an index of your footage on the LCD. This feature, though a bit time-consuming to use, allows direct access to specific scenes on your tape for playback or transfer to your PC.

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.

Input/output ports.
Though its autofocus speed is merely average, the DCR-IP55's overall operation is otherwise quick and responsive. The focal length of the 10X zoom lens is very heavily weighted toward the telephoto end (50mm to 500mm in 35mm camera equivalent terms), but it will accept screw-on wide-angle adapters; Sony makes several. Top zoom speed is very fast--in fact, it's tricky to keep the speed under control. The camcorder's electronic image stabilization does a good job counteracting camera shake without noticeably degrading image quality.

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.

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