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This top-of-the-line, full-featured camcorder produces excellent video and takes decent digital stills.
It's not cheap, but the Sony Handycam DCR-PC330, with its 3-megapixel CCD, can produce both excellent video and decent digital stills. As a camcorder, its video quality and feature set rival the best of Sony's single-chip offerings. As a camera, it takes photos that are occasionally good enough to enlarge up to 8x10 inches. While it has a few minor flaws, the PC330 can sometimes replace your camcorder and digital still camera when you're not up to carrying both.
The vertically oriented Sony Handycam DCR-PC330 fits comfortably in the hand and has a solid, rugged feel. At 540g sans tape and battery, this solidly constructed camcorder, though relatively compact, is no lightweight.
We're not crazy about the PC330's bottom-loading cassette design, which is common among this class of camcorders.
You use the PC330's power switch to cycle through the capture and playback modes.
We like the flip-down finger rest, which lets you use your pinky and ring finger to stabilise the camcorder. The Start/Stop button falls comfortably under your thumb, as does the zoom control under your index finger. Controls are intelligently laid out and clearly marked.
You can focus manually via the ring on the PC330's lens.
Compared to earlier incarnations, the PC330's touch-screen menu system has additional animation and sleeker graphics. You can customise the menus, and the system is largely straightforward to understand and use. But the debate continues over the merits of the camcorder touch screen. Some love its intuitive interface; some hate having to open the LCD to get to the menus.
The Sony Handycam DCR-PC330's standout feature is its 3-megapixel CCD, which can capture photos at its full resolution. Its 2.1-megapixel video resolution isn't shabby either. Combine those numbers with an excellent Leica lens, a built-in flash, and features such as laser-holographic focusing and NightFraming, which provides an infrared preview for framing in low light, and you have the potential for a very acceptable digital still camera living inside your camcorder.
Spot metering and spot focusing, features unique to Sony's camcorders, are both novel and useful applications for the touch screen. Manual exposure control, however, doesn't lend itself to touch-screen operation; we'd prefer to have a physical control on the camera body. Some Sony models won't let you use the progressive (noninterlaced) mode and image stabilisation at the same time, but that's not the case with the PC330. To record time-lapse video, such as flowers opening, use the Interval mode. The NightShot mode records infrared night vision, even in total darkness, though your images will look monochrome green--think Paris Hilton. Unfortunately, this model doesn't have zebra stripes, which indicate overexposed, out-of-gamut areas. Another feature serious amateurs will miss: You can't control the audio level manually, as you can with the Canon Optura 300 and the Canon Optura Xi.
With the DCR-PC330, Sony seems to have mellowed out the hypersensitive zoom controls of the earlier models. It is now possible to perform slow, controlled zooms without inadvertently stalling or speeding up. We'd love to see variable zoom speed, especially slow speeds, on the remote's zoom-control switch as well. The autofocus is quite speedy and decisive, as we've found to be the case on all of Sony's camcorders. The tape transport and the zoom are quiet and well isolated from the mike. The microphone does a good job at capturing vocal tones in typical situations and isn't bad for a built-in unit.
The Hologram Autofocus system works very well for focusing stills in low- or no-light situations, and the NightFraming function is extremely useful for finding your shot in the same types of limited-light scenarios.
As is typical of so many camcorder batteries, the one that comes with the Sony Handycam DCR-PC330 has an average use per charge that's shorter than the length of a standard tape. We'd like to see it creep up to a full hour.
The Sony Handycam DCR-PC330's video-image performance is very similar to that of the company's older prosumer models such as the DCR-TRV39 and the DCR-TRV80. The PC330's images are sharp and crisp, with very clean edges. As is typical of Sony camcorders, the automatic colour temperature on the PC330 skews a bit toward cool, producing more-vivid hues than a neutral white balance would in typical interior-lighting scenarios but not so severely that the effect is displeasing. The camcorder's standard-operation lower-light video performance is quite decent; the PC330 uses a very clean gain--which you can't control manually--to pump up the available light. When light levels drop beyond the camera's standard-mode capability, using the NightShot or Colour Slow Shutter functions will allow you to keep filming, albeit with special-effect visuals of one sort or another. (NightShot produces monochrome night-vision images; Colour Slow Shutter creates motion streaks and somewhat artistic blurs.)
This scaled-down frame grab from the PC330 shows pleasingly saturated colours and good exposure.
Still photos that we printed on photographic paper at a local lab came out excellent (using a photo process that created a negative from the file) and held their own even when we blew them up to 8x10 inches. However, in low-light situations, our still images didn't fare as well as the PC330's video. Our photos, which we printed on an Epson Stylus Photo 2200, came out fuzzy and noisy; we don't recommend enlarging and printing those. Overall, the PC330's stills look much better than those taken with your average camcorder, but despite their lower resolutions, the Canon Optura 300 and the Canon Optura Xi still produce a better final photo.
Under indoor lighting, the PC330's stills looked far noisier than we expected and showed some noticeable compression artefacts.
Sony DCR-PC330 Company:Sony Australia Price: AU$2,999
Distributor: Selected resellers
Phone: 1300 720 071