Every company wants to get a taste of YouTube's popularity, and Sony's no exception. In a jarring change from the company's Cyber-shot and Handycam lines of digital cameras and camcorders, Sony released the NSC-GC1, a pocket camera/camcorder designed specifically for YouTube and its myriad Web video analogs. At just $200, the GC1 aims squarely at casual users with more interest in style and simplicity than complex photography or video production. As such, Sony clearly designed its black pocketcam for form more than function.
Closed, the GC1 looks more than a little like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Its rectangular black form features a glossy finish on one side and a matte finish on the other, giving its all-black color scheme a two-tone appearance. It appears quite dapper, especially when held up against its drab white competitors, the RCA Small Wonder EZ201 and the Pure Digital Flip Video. Its 2.4-inch LCD screen flips open, and can pivot around 270 degrees, providing some much-appreciated flexibility when shooting at odd angles, like over crowds.
Besides its flip-out screen, the brick-shaped GC1 offers few ergonomic considerations and feels uncomfortable in the hand. A small plastic ridge on the front of the camera gives you a place to rest your forefinger while shooting, but at the cost of flash photography; if you hold the GC1 with the plastic ridge between your forefinger and middle finger, your forefinger can easily obscure or outright block the camera's tiny flash. If you want to take photos in anything less than direct sunlight, you need to remember to choke your hand down to keep the flash visible.
The GC1's control scheme takes a similar misstep, with an unintuitive, confusing layout. A tiny joystick navigates the camera's sparse menu system, sitting in the middle of a circular grouping of four buttons. The little control nub alone feels awkward enough for large thumbs, and the cluster of buttons surrounding it only further hurt the interface. The two controls together feel like a standard four-way-plus-OK joypad, and you'll probably spend a bit of time training yourself to use the joystick in the center for both confirmation and navigation of the camera's menus, instead of uselessly tapping the buttons around the stick while trying to select menu options. The joystick and buttons also sit too high on the camera, forcing you to shift your hand up and causing your fingers to block the flash, as mentioned before.
Conversely, the photo and video record buttons sit too low on the camera, below both the joystick and zoom rocker. The buttons feel far too small and shallow and can be difficult for large thumbs to press. Their small design and low placement combine to make the cameras' two most oft-used controls doubly awkward to access. Sony should have made the photo/video buttons larger, and set them higher to better rest under the thumb. Likewise, Sony should have turned the joystick into a full-fledged joypad and set it lower on the camera's back.
Though intended for casual and budget users, the GC1 offers a few manual controls and scene presets for still photography. You can't adjust exposure or focus, but a Program mode gives you access to white balance and ISO sensitivity, two settings found increasingly rarely on budget pocket cameras. While the GC1 lacks a dedicated macro mode, a toggle switch next to the lens lets you physically flip between close-up (0.6 to 1 meter) and normal (1 meter or farther) focus modes.