capsule review

Sony DCR-HC20 MiniDV Handycam

At a Glance
  • Sony Handycam DCR-HC20 Mini DV Digital Camcorder

Sony DCR-HC20 MiniDV Handycam
Photograph: Rick Rizner

Weighing under a pound and measuring 2 by 3.5 by 4.5 inches, the HC20 is the smallest MiniDV camcorder we reviewed.

With a comfortable strap and a curved base, the HC20 quickly became a natural extension of our hands. We especially liked the switch that makes jumping between record and playback modes quick and easy. To start shooting, you nudge up on the dial with your thumb tip to go into video mode. Want to review what you just filmed? Nudge the dial again to revert to playback. (By contrast, many camcorders force you to turn a dial a couple of notches, and then wait while the machine sluggishly responds.) Also, the lens cap, which often gets in the way on other camcorders, is replaced with an internal lens cover that you slide a switch to open and close.

As small as the HC20 is, we had an easy time using the unit's few external controls. The zoom rocker control is tiny but works smoothly. For the other controls, Sony took a different approach--it moved them to a touch-screen menu on the unit's flip-out LCD. We were initially dubious about this arrangement, because the screen is only 2.5 inches across on the diagonal. But the system works very well, largely due to sensible menu trees and widely spaced icons. Navigating the menus was easy using the left hand while holding the camcorder in the right.

At $450, the DCR-HC20 is one of the most affordable units in this roundup, and (no surprise here) its features are mostly entry-level. It lacks a memory card slot, and the optical zoom is limited to 10X--more than adequate for general use, but shorter than the zoom lenses we've seen on more expensive models.

The HC-20's image quality was more than adequate for general use. We did find the low-light mode a little disappointing, though; the video was extremely grainy and colors were very pale. The infrared light casts a narrow beam that doesn't cover the full field of view, and you have to root around in a menu to turn it on and off.

With many camcorders, you can stretch out battery life by keeping the LCD shut and using the viewfinder. But because of the HC20's touch-screen menu system, you have to keep the screen open to access controls. Fortunately, the unit had the second-best battery life--2 hours and 8 minutes in our tests (the Panasonic PV-DV953 outlasted it).

This is a stylish, small, low-cost camcorder that is comfortable to hold and easy to use, although it has fewer features than its more expensive siblings.

Bryan Hastings

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At a Glance
  • Sony Handycam DCR-HC20 Mini DV Digital Camcorder

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