The Sony Handycam DCR-PC1000 is an odd camera, both in the sense that it has some unusual characteristics and in the more negative sense that it's a bit quirky. It's unusual for a three-chip camera not only because of its small size but also because it uses CMOS sensors rather than the CCDs found in almost all other camcorders. Its blend of advanced capabilities with a clumsy point-and-shoot user interface makes it odd in the second sense. Experienced videographers looking for a compact three-chip MiniDV camera might do better to check out competitors from Panasonic that offer more practical physical controls. However, for the technophile who wants a stylish, cutting-edge camera and will fiddle with the controls only occasionally, this capable Handycam merits a close look. On the outside, the Sony Handycam DCR-PC1000's dark-gray body is streamlined and low-key, with little to distinguish it from the company's small, vertically oriented one-chip MiniDV cameras. The fit and the finish of the camera are very good; weighing just a little more than a pound, it feels solid and well balanced in the hand.
This camcorder's most prominent feature is the silver-ringed 10X Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens, which protrudes slightly out front. There's a tiny flash directly above the lens, which is protected by shutters that open and close automatically when you hit the power button, eliminating the need for a lens cap.
From top to bottom, the back of the DCR-PC1000 is filled with a nonpivoting viewfinder eyepiece, a Memory Stick Duo Pro card slot, a record button, a power switch, and four basic camera-control buttons: display, backlight, flash, and Easy mode. You'll find a stereo microphone on top of the camera; behind it, under a cover, sits a proprietary hotshoe mount for external mics and lights. Finally, the camera bottom incorporates a tripod mount and a special connector that interfaces with the included Handycam Station dock.
Under the hand strap, the right side consists primarily of a tape door. Oddly, the door itself contains the camera battery, which you insert into a slot in the door bottom. The top of the right side provides the zoom control, a still-photo button, and ports for A/V cables and LANC control.
A 2.7-inch fold-out 16:9 LCD dominates the DCR-PC1000's left side, accompanied by only a single control: a user-assignable dial-and-button pair just behind the lens. You'll find four buttons on the lower part of the LCD frame itself--a record button, wide and telephoto zoom controls, and a Wide Select button that toggles between 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios. The LCD itself is a touch screen--the key to this Handycam's complex navigation system.
This camera is easiest to use when running automatically. Even though it offers more advanced functions, you're forced to control them via a clumsy and overcomplicated touch-screen navigation system--one that's better suited to a PDA than a camera. An operation as simple as changing the iris involves navigating through several levels of the menus, which is a thoroughly impractical way to make the kind of adjustments that should be just a fingertip away. You can customize the menus to an extent, but that does little to make them practical.
The user-assignable dial between the lens and the LCD is undoubtedly an attempt to address the shortcomings of the navigation system. You can set it to control focus, iris, white-balance shift, or autoexposure shift. But this control is too small and awkwardly placed to serve as a real solution. Putting a focus ring around the lens would be a great start. The zoom control is also not up to par, making it very difficult to zoom with any finesse.
Finally, I was frustrated by the proprietary nature of the DCR-PC1000's accessories and connections. The hidden battery compartment may look slick, but its fully enclosed battery slot prevents the use of larger, longer-lasting batteries. And without a separately purchased charger, the battery has to charge in-camera--so no shooting while charging.
A/V cables connect to the camcorder through a proprietary port; to connect via S-Video, you have to purchase a special cable separately. The USB and FireWire ports are located on the included cradle instead of the camera itself. Sony made a particularly bad decision for more advanced videomakers by omitting headphone and microphone jacks. The only way to connect an external mic is via the proprietary smart shoe, which will accept only particular Sony-branded microphones and lights. Don't be deceived by the Sony Handycam DCR-PC1000's relative lack of external controls: this is a feature-rich camcorder. Of course, the most unusual feature is its use of three CMOS imaging chips. CMOS sensors are used instead of CCDs in some digital still cameras, but not many camcorders implement them, partly because of problems with visual noise. Each of the 1/6-inch CMOS chips in the DCR-PC1000 has a 670,000-pixel effective resolution for video and 690,000 for stills, which then increases to higher output resolutions for photos via pixel-offset technology. This camcorder's zoom lens is sharp and contrasty but provides a limited 10X range with a short end that's not particularly wide (equivalent to a 44mm on a 35mm-film camera).
Because of the control limitations discussed in the previous section, this camcorder seems optimized for use in its fully automated Easy mode. To get a little more control without fishing for advanced settings in the menus, you can switch to plain programmed automatic shooting and have access to the Backlight mode, automatic scene modes--Spotlight, Portrait, Beach & Ski, Sunset & Moon, Sports Lesson, and Landscape--and a variety of digital effects. Spot Focus lets you use the touch screen to select the part of the frame that should be in focus. The only common consumer-oriented feature missing here is an infrared mode for no-light recording.
One area that Sony thought out well--and that can be very conveniently controlled via an actual button--is aspect ratio. The DCR-PC1000 can not only record both 16:9 and 4:3 images, but it can output either aspect ratio with appropriate letterboxing for any type of television.
More advanced videomakers can control most camera functions manually through the menu system, with the notable exceptions of shutter speed and gain. Two noteworthy aids to manual focusing are a focus-distance display in the viewfinder and an Expanded Focus feature that enlarges the center of the viewfinder to make critical focusing easier.
Surprisingly, several professional-level features are hidden away in the menus, including a spot meter, a histogram, frame and interval recording, and user-settable zebra stripes to aid exposure. The DCR-PC1000 also offers surprisingly sophisticated image-customization controls, such as sharpness, saturation, and white-balance shift. And although it doesn't offer true progressive capture, its progressive shutter system approximates the look of 30-frame footage reasonably well, and Cinematic mode creates a filmlike 24-frame look.
The DCR-PC1000 also offers a useful range of photo functions, including burst and flash modes, PictBridge compatibility for direct printing, special effects, and a variety of output resolutions up to 1,920x1,440. You can record MPEG-1 for online display to the Memory Stick Duo or use the camcorder as a Webcam. Analog-to-digital conversion with pass-through lets you digitize your old analog footage with the PC1000. The Sony Handycam DCR-PC1000 offers superb automation. Autofocus, autoexposure, and automatic white balance operate quickly, subtly, and accurately--and with a minimum of hunting. However, the zoom toggles make controlling focal length somewhat challenging.
For a camera of this size, its LCD is big and bright; it's viewable even in direct sun. We found the viewfinder less impressive, primarily because it is completely fixed in position.
Unusual for a Sony camera, the DCR-PC1000 has mediocre battery life. The stock battery is good for only 1.5 hours at best. Though you can purchase a somewhat longer-lasting battery, runtime is limited by the size of the batteries, which must be small enough to fit into the camera's internal compartment.
The stereo microphone is subject to the usual limitations of built-in mics: it picks up a fair amount of camera and handling noise and is not at all directional. Audio performance can no doubt be improved with one of Sony's optional accessory mikes, which mount on the hotshoe.
Sony's implementation of CMOS chips instead of the usual CCDs has succeeded in producing excellent video quality and decent photo quality from the Handycam DCR-PC1000. The crisp, contrasty, and accurate video looks noticeably superior to that of many similar-size one-chip camcorders, especially in terms of color quality. In addition, you can customize the image's look via menu controls for sharpness, saturation, and color.
One downside to the CMOS technology appears to be low-light performance, which in this camcorder is mediocre by contemporary standards. However, the sensors' high pixel counts allow them to achieve full video resolution in both 4:3 and 16:9 shooting modes.
Although the DCR-PC1000 provides electronic image stabilization instead of an optical system, it effectively eliminated shake without noticeably degrading the image.