At the bottom end of the spectrum in Sony's new range of Mini-DV video cameras sits the DCR-HC26E. The camera is designed to be easy to use and portable, yet still retaining high performance; ideal for the casual user who doesn't need vast numbers of controls and paraphernalia. We are convinced that Sony has achieved on all three fronts.
- Good optical zoom, small, reasonably priced
- Poor battery life
An ideal digital video camera for beginners and casual users
Price$ 699.00 (AUD)
The first thing that strikes you about the DCR-HC26E is its size, even for a budget Mini-DV camera it is tiny. Combined with the relatively light weight of the camera, it is an ideal choice if portability is of importance. One disadvantage of the diminutive proportions is the low battery lifetime. The power pack is barely bigger than a 9V battery and therefore doesn't perform astoundingly well: we only managed about 80 minutes in testing. This isn't a problem if you have easy access to an electrical socket when travelling around, the A/C adaptor is fairly small too, but this will obviously be an issue should you be off in the middle of nowhere. Sony does sell a battery pack with a quoted lifetime of 10 hours but this will inevitably increase the bulkiness of the camera as well as adding about 50% to its cost.
Battery life is really our only major gripe with the camera, however. Virtually every other aspect of the camera is excellent. Firstly, the DCR-HC26E is of a good build quality with nice aesthetics. The lightweight frame means that lugging it around won't be a hassle and holding the camera for long periods of time isn't tiring. The camera feels solid without being bulky. The only aspect of the camera that feels a tad flimsy is the cassette-loading mechanism but it isn't so flimsy as to be a major problem however, it does appear that if you weren't careful it might break. Once you have your digital cassette loaded using the camera is as just as easy Sony claim. A small dial toggles the camera between recording and playback modes with a small array of buttons controlling most of the action. Usefully, Sony have placed the zoom and recording controls on both the main unit and next to the LCD window. This means that no matter which orientation you have the screen in, it is always possible to operate the controls. The LCD also contains the bulk of the cameras controls through touch-screen functionality. All the extra features such as setting the digital zoom or activating colourisation modes (such as sepia) can be found here.
Digital zoom is one of the DCR-HC26E's interesting features. When activated the camera can zoom in up to a maximum factor of 800x. This sounds impressive, but is really just overkill on the part of Sony. Once you've zoomed in this far it is impossible to hold the camera steady enough to actually make out what is on the screen. The camera also struggles to focus correctly. We found the camera's already impressive 20x optical zoom to be more than adequate in most situations. The image quality is also pretty good - colours are displayed accurately and contrast appears nicely balanced. Image playback on a TV screen is good, though the resolution is not so spectacular on a computer screen. Sony do not provide the necessary mini USB cable to connect the camera to a PC with the DCR-HC26E as it is a low end model, though they do include their software package. The software is a little confusing though, we felt basic users will probably find it much easier to use Microsoft's Movie Maker which is bundled with Windows XP anyway.
Other useful features are the stereo microphones, providing better quality audio capture and Nightshot mode, allowing video capture in low light levels. The camera's infrared sensor isn't that powerful, meaning you can't see all that far in total darkness, but Paris Hilton would have found it more than adequate for her home movies. Overall, the DCR-HC26E represents an ideal purchase for digital video beginners and casual users. With a good set of easy to use features and a very reasonable price tag, it's hard to beat.
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