Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
- 40x optical zoom, affordable price, surprisingly decent audio
- Unhelpful menu layout, no stills mode, sub par visuals, boxy design
The Sony DCR-HC38 is a low-end, standard-definition handycam with an assortment of design glitches. Nevertheless, if you're after a cheap camera that can capture adequate looking footage, you'll probably be able to live with its faults.
Price$ 529.00 (AUD)
With all the hullabaloo surrounding high-definition video, it's easy to overlook the abundance of 'regular' Mini DV cameras still on the market - many of which remain perfectly adequate for today's consumer. While they are unable to capture video at a resolution of 1080i, there is still plenty to like about yesterday's generation; not the least of which is its plummeting price range.
At an RRP of just $529, the Sony DCR-HC38 certainly won't break the bank, yet it falls down in a number of key areas, including the holy grail of entry-level camcorders -- ease of use. Simply put, it has one of the most unwieldy and needlessly complicated menu systems we have ever encountered, which is bound to alienate its target audience of novice users. This is especially baffling when you consider how light on features the camera is. We have reviewed other Sony models with twice the functionality, yet their menus remained intuitive and simple to use.
For example, the main menu is hidden inside the Function menu, as opposed to receiving a dedicated button of its own. This is plainly bizarre, and makes even the simplest task an intimidating process for beginners. Similarly, certain functions, such as white balance, are located in completely separate menus, causing needless headaches as you hunt about and backtrack fruitlessly. There seems to be little rhyme or reason for this schizophrenic interface - even experienced users will initially find the layout confusing. On the plus side, those who prefer to simply point-and-shoot with a minimum of fuss will be pleased by a prominently marked Easy button, which takes care of most of the hard stuff for you.
Another area where the DCR-HC38 fails to impress is its stills image mode - there isn't one. This is practically unheard of in today's range of camcorders; including entry-level units such as this. To be fair, it is unlikely the images produced would have been suitable for anything other than an occasional happy snap, yet this fails to justify the omission.
We were also left cold by the build of this camera. While we appreciate the inclusion of a view finder in addition to an LCD screen, it cannot be tilted up or down, which makes shooting at low angles incredibly difficult. The overall design is also boxy and unattractive, exhibiting none of the sleek curves found on its more expensive cousins. Furthermore, Sony's celebrated touch screen interface seemed a little less responsive than previous units we've reviewed, a fact which isn't helped by the tiny icons. If you're afflicted by large and unwieldy man-hands, this camera probably isn't for you.
When it came to audio and image quality, the DCR-HC38 performed about as well as can be expected at this price point. With a single 1/6" CCD sensor at a resolution of just 0.68 megapixels, this is at the lower end of the Mini DV spectrum. Noise was evident in all but the sunniest of shooting conditions, while colour reproduction was slightly dull and muted. Meanwhile, the lack of an external mic jack means you're stuck with the camera's front-mounted microphone. Thankfully, sound quality was slightly above average in our test shots, and there is even a handy mix function for those who want to dub additional audio.
For all its faults, this is still a decent unit for the asking price, especially if you're not too fussed by complicated menus. Plus, the inclusion of a massive 40x optical zoom helps to take the sting out of its assorted shortcomings.
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