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Sony Handycam DCR review: Sony Handycam DCR

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The Handycam DCR-SX series is Sony's flash-memory-based standard-definition ultracompact camcorder. It's made up of three models that differ only by storage amounts: the SX45 has no internal memory; the SX65 has 4GB built in; and the SX85 has 16GB of internal storage. This review covers the SX65, however the SX85 is the best value. All of them have a 3-inch touch-screen LCD, a 60x optical zoom lens, and few cool features like a built-in USB connector for quick uploads and easy charging by computer. However, none of the features do much to improve video quality.

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6.2

Sony Handycam DCR

The Good

The <b>Sony Handycam DCR-SX45, SX65, and SX85</b> are easy-to-use ultracompact camcorders with good active electronic image stabilization and a built-in USB cable for quick uploads.

The Bad

The DCR-SX45, SX65, and SX85 produce very soft and noisy video with noticeable fringing on subjects even at small sizes. There are no mic or headphone jacks, and the electronic image stabilization won't help you with the lens fully extended.

The Bottom Line

Sony's Handycam DCR-SX45, SX65, and SX85 standard-definition camcorders pack a megazoom lens at a reasonable price; one look at the standard-definition video, though, and you might regret not spending a bit more for an HD model.

No, unfortunately, there's apparently no reason to make an excellent standard-def camcorder these days; the SX65's movies are mediocre at best--especially if you're watching them full-screen on a large TV or are used to the sharpness and clear details of high-definition content.

For Web use at small sizes the results are OK, though, and if you're not terribly concerned with video quality in the first place and want a reasonably priced camcorder that's easy to use, has a megazoom lens, and can fit in a coat pocket, this Sony is worth checking out.

Key specs Sony Handycam DCR-SX65
Price (MSRP) $249.99
Dimensions (HWD) 2.1x2.3x3.9 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 9.5 ounces
Storage capacity, type 4GB flash memory (3.8GB available); Memory Stick Pro Duo, SD/SDHC/SDXC cards
Resolution, sensor size, type 680K pixels, 1/8-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution 3-inch LCD, 230K pixels (touch screen)
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 60x, f1.8-6.0, 39-2,340mm (16:9), 44-2,640mm (4:3) (35mm equivalent)
Minimum illumination 3 lux (1/30-second shutter speed)
File format (video, audio) MPEG-2 (.MPG), Dolby Digital 2-channel stereo
Resolution (video/photo) 720x480 pixels (9Mbps)/640x480 pixels
Recording time at highest quality 55 minutes
Image stabilization type Electronic
Battery type, rated life (typical) Li-ion rechargeable, 60 minutes
Included software Sony Picture Motion Browser, PMB Portable (Windows)

Available in blue, black, silver, and red versions, the SX65 is an attractive little camcorder. Its physical controls are textbook camcorder design with a start/stop button comfortably under the thumb at the back and a zoom rocker up top in front of a shutter release for snapshots in Photo mode. The whole package is roughly the size of a soda can. The hand strap is comfortable if a little low. Interestingly, it also acts as a cap for a full-size USB connector that's attached by a cable to the camcorder's body. This allows you to connect it directly to a computer to offload photos and video and charge the battery. Just above the strap is a small door hiding a power/charging input and AV output (a composite cable is included).

The battery juts out from the back, and above it is a button for changing between photo and video modes. Below the battery on the bottom of the camcorder is a card slot that supports both Memory Stick Pro Duo and SD/SDHC/SDXC cards.

Flip open the touch-screen display (there is no viewfinder) and you'll find four buttons in the body cavity, for power; entering Sony's Intelligent Auto mode; turning on and off an LED lamp under the lens; and changing over to Playback mode. The last of the I/O ports is in this cavity, too: an uncovered Mini-USB port. An optional cable can be used with this port to connect directly to an external USB storage device for quick saves without a computer. You can also copy content from the internal storage to Memory Stick or SD cards.

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
Color effects None
Lens cover (auto or manual) Auto
Video light/flash LED video light/no
Accessory shoe 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.

Sony SX65 fringing
Fringing around subjects in high-contrast scenes plagues the SX65's video. It's especially bad when the lens is extended.

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.)

Conclusion
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.

Find out more about how we test camcorders.

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6.2

Sony Handycam DCR

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 6Image quality 5