Sony Handycam DCR-DVD305
There seems to be an abrupt disconnect in the middle of Sony's DVD Handycam line. On one side of the divide is the DCR-DVD305 and its lower-end siblings, with their puny 1-megapixel or lower-res sensors and inferior, plain-old Zeiss lenses. On the other side are the rich relations, starting at the DCR-DVD405, with its 3-megapixel sensor and high-quality Zeiss T* lens, and its even better-equipped brethren. These might seem to be trivial differences, especially in light of the roughly $50 to $75 it takes to span that divide, but they end up making a significant difference in practice.
The DVD305 also appears to be disconnected from the market--in other words, overpriced. For example, it costs as much as the Hitachi DZ-GX3300A, which has a 3-megapixel sensor. And the DVD305 costs more than the Canon DC100, which has a 25X zoom lens compared to the Sony's 12X zoom.
Sony does include some features that the others lack, such as an analog input (for creating DVDs of analog videos), an active accessory shoe for an add-on video light or the bundled surround-sound microphone, Memory Stick Duo Pro support for storing still photos, and built-in Dolby 5.1 surround recording. The last couple of options are pretty much wasted here, though. As you'd guess, the DVD305's photos are low quality. And surround sound is a poor fit for a budget camcorder. Sony might have been better advised to relocate the ill-positioned built-in stereo mic from the front of the camcorder to the top, as well as add some sort of wind filter. In my videos, the sound of the admittedly strong summer breeze occasionally overwhelmed the sound of whatever I was recording.
Normally, sensor resolution becomes an critical issue only if you plan to take still photos with the camcorder. But DVD- and hard drive-based models, which compress the video on the fly, tend to need more headroom on the resolution to deliver decent MPEG-2 encoding quality. Needless to say, the DVD305's 690,000-effective-pixel video looks pretty mediocre--it's soft, with purple fringing, severely blown out highlights, and the occasional motion hiccup. That's for video shot outdoors, in the type of diffuse afternoon light photographers like best. Indoors, the video also becomes visually noisy--even with adequate illumination--and severe edge crawl sets in.
It does better on exposure and white balance, but you have to hit the Backlight button to compensate for backlit subjects; these days, most cameras and camcorders are intelligent enough to recognize and adjust for it automatically. And though it was fairly speedy, the autofocus system had an occasional but annoying propensity to lock on anything but the subject.
On the subject of annoyances, there's the 2.7-inch touch-screen LCD, which is too small for negotiating the menus; the plastic DVD drive cover, which always feels loose; and the weak battery, which seems to last between 20 and 30 minutes. The DVD305 allows you to finalize discs while on battery power, but given its short life, you probably should save that for video emergencies.
Unless this model has some unique, crucial feature that you can't live without--and I can't imagine what that might be--you're better off with almost any other more highly rated model than the Handycam DCR-DVD305.