Sony Handycam DCR-DVD405
Varying sensors and LCD sizes make a world of difference between the Sony DCR-DVD405 and its uptown sibling, the DCR-DVD505, beyond just the $200 price gap. The top-of-the-line DVD505 uses Sony's new 2-megapixel ClearVid CMOS imager and provides a large 3.5-inch LCD, while the DVD405 makes due with an old-hat 3-megapixel Advanced HAD CCD and an undersize 2.7-inch display. Those two differences are enough for the DVD405 to produce visibly inferior video--though still better than average for a DVD camcorder--and to bump a merely tolerable user interface over the line to annoying. In fact, most of the key aspects of the DVD405 are the same as its predecessor's, last year's
Though it has basically the same design as the DVD505, the 1.5-pound DCR-DVD405 has a smaller LCD that allows Sony to shave a fraction of an inch off its length. It's very comfortable to hold and operate, as long as you don't change any settings. At that point, you have to dive into a touch-screen-based menu system--or, I should say, menu systems. There seem to be two: one straightforward tap-on-the-button type and a 3D-rotating wheel that you ping-pong between in a seemingly random fashion. They're both well organized, but unless you have needlelike fingertips and a lot of patience, you'll get quite frustrated. Don't even attempt to focus manually, also via the touch screen. If you're familiar with and actually like Sony's touch-screen camcorder interface, then go ahead and mentally bump the rating up a couple of decimal points.
The feature set mirrors the DVD505's as well. It records up to 20 minutes of highest-quality video on 3-inch DVD+/-RW or DVD-R discs. A 10X zoom lens, a five-channel built-in microphone, a powered accessory shoe, a flash, various NightShot options, and a one-touch Easy mode are among the hardware highlights. On the downside, the DVD405 lacks a headphone jack, a video light, and an analog input, while additional mics have to be attached via the hotshoe. On top of the essential semimanual and preset exposure options, fully auto Easy mode is just a button press away, as is popping between 16:9 and 4:3 shooting. The record and zoom controls on the LCD's bezel are convenient, as always.
Given that it uses the same Zeiss T* 10X zoom lens and 3-megapixel CCD as last year's DVD403, the DVD405's performance and video quality come out pretty similar as well. The zoom is smooth and responsive, autoexposure and autofocus adjust fairly quickly to changes in subject and environment, and though the LCD is small, it's quite usable in most lighting. The image stabilization works well, too.
Video quality can be very good, although there are occasional glitches. Exposure is correctly set, but like its siblings, the DCR-DVD405 tends to blow out bright highlights. Its colors and white balance are sufficiently accurate--certainly pleasing. However, I also saw stuttering in the video playback--not too serious but noticeable. Furthermore, though the surround-sound mics are sensitive and do a good job, the lack of a wind filter results in extremely noisy outdoor shooting. Finally, the DVD405's still photos don't quite match up to those of the DVD505; they exhibit less noise and less blooming, but the colors are less saturated and images look oversharpened. Still, they get the job done.
Though it's not a stellar example of DVD camcorder technology, the Sony Handycam DCR-DVD405 delivers above-average video and stills, in a compact, comfortable package. Before you commit, though, give the touch screen an in-store tryout; it can make or break your experience with this product.