The Sony Handycam DCR-TRV480 lacks the compact size and more advanced features found in MiniDV and DVD camcorders, but its ability to play back and digitize 8mm and Hi8 tapes will be appealing if you have a large collection of analog footage. Though it lacks advanced features, its low price, 20X zoom lens, and decent recording quality make it an attractive choice for budget-minded 8mm-video owners who are ready to transition to digital video.
Though it's roughly the same size as earlier Digital8 camcorders, compared to the entry-level MiniDV camcorders it competes with, the Sony Handycam DCR-TRV480 is gargantuan. Its bulky design (necessary because of the large tapes it uses) makes it difficult to fit in even the largest jacket pockets; plan on using the included shoulder strap to carry it. At 1 pound, 15 ounces with tape and battery, it's on the heavy side, but it's still light enough for one-handed shooting. It has a very solid feel, and its thick silver-and-gray plastic case should stand up well to typical shooting conditions.
In contrast to the camera's retro size, the DCR-TRV480 uses Sony's latest touch-screen LCD control scheme. This is a mixed blessing. On the upside, it keeps the buttons to a minimum--there are only five on the camera, along with the zoom rocker, the start/stop triggers, and the mode switch. While this makes getting familiar with the camera easier, you may grow frustrated with the need to navigate through the touch-screen menus to make even the most basic settings changes. At least the menu is customizable, so you can put your most commonly used functions on the first couple of pages. When you do need to go deeper into the menu system, you'll find menu items clearly labeled and navigation straightforward. An Easy mode puts all camera operations on automatic and removes almost all the menu items from view.
The Sony Handycam DCR-TRV480 is geared toward a point-and-shoot-video audience, with a decent assortment of special effects but little in the way of manual control options. The camera has a 290,000-effective-pixel CCD and a 20X zoom lens with digital image stabilization. Recording in Digital8 format, a close cousin of DV, the TRV480 uses inexpensive 8mm, Hi8, and Digital8 tapes. It doesn't record to them in analog format, but it can play back and convert analog tapes, making it an excellent choice if you want to hang onto your 8mm video library.
Press the Easy button on the side of the camera, and the Sony Handycam DCR-TRV480 will attempt to automatically choose the best exposure and other settings for the current scene. Those who want more control will find six programmed autoexposure modes but little in the way of manual settings. You can adjust exposure, but there are no manual options for settings such as shutter speed and white balance. The lens allows manual focus, however. The small assortment of picture effects includes Sepia, Solarize, and Mosaic, as well as some built-in faders. You'll also find eight preset and two customizable titles. For shooting in the dark, the DCR-TRV480 includes a built-in LED video light and supports Sony's infrared Super NightShot Plus system.
The camera's USB connection lets you use the DCR-TRV480 as a Webcam, and its versatile FireWire connection lets you transfer not only your Digital8 footage to your PC for editing or burning to DVD but your old analog 8mm and Hi8 tapes as well. You can also connect an analog video source, such as a VCR or another camcorder, and transfer footage to digital tape or your PC. The back of the camera includes a Memory Stick Pro slot for storing VGA-resolution photos or postage-stamp-size MPEG-1 movies on an optional card.
Other than a tripod mount, the Sony Handycam DCR-TRV480 lacks provisions for external accessories. It has neither an accessory shoe nor jacks for external microphones or headphones.
For an inexpensive camera, the Sony Handycam DCR-TRV480 performs well. It's quick to adjust exposure when panning to a differently lit scene. Autofocus is also fast and accurate in all but the dimmest situations. The manual focus lets you make fine adjustments, but precise focus is difficult to achieve with the relatively small 2.5-inch LCD and touch-screen focus-adjustment buttons.