Thanks to a large LCD screen and responsive performance, shooting with the Sony Handycam DCR-DVD505E is a pleasure -- throw in its superior video quality and the camcorder makes an excellent alternative to MiniDV models if you're looking for straight-to-player convenience. And paired with the optional Bluetooth centre-channel microphone, its 5.1-channel sound capture is bound to impress.
At the top of Sony's DVD camcorder line, the DCR-DVD505E shares much with its next sibling down, the DCR-DVD405E -- everything, in fact, except for the 89mm (3.5-inch) LCD and the new 2-megapixel ClearVid CMOS imager. The DCR-DVD405E uses the same 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD and 3.3-megapixel CCD as last year's DCR-DVD403E. The Sony Handycam DCR-DVD505E is longer than typical compact MiniDV cameras such as Sony's DCR-HC96 -- relatively small but large enough to challenge some jacket pockets. Weighing in at 624g, it's hefty but not so much so that you'll have any problems holding it during extended shooting sessions. Its nondescript silver-and-grey chassis is constructed of thick plastic, which gives the camcorder a solid feel that should stand up well to everyday handling.
As is typical for Sony camcorders, the camera sports very few buttons, with most functions accessed using menus on the LCD touch screen. A programmable Quick menu makes it relatively fast and easy to get to your most commonly used settings, but the full menu is so loaded with options that it can take significant time to scroll through the available adjustments to find the one you want. Casual shooters can just press the Easy button to put the camera in fully automatic mode.
The zoom rocker as well as the still-photo and record buttons are all comfortably located for typical one-handed shooting. Additionally, buttons on the LCD's bezel let you start and stop recording and adjust the zoom. These touch-sensitive buttons are handy when holding the camera at unusual angles, where reaching the traditional zoom rocker and start button can be tricky.
The DVD drive sits on the right side of the unit and opens to the side, and the battery clips onto the rear, allowing you to easily swap discs and batteries while the camera is mounted on a tripod.
The Sony Handycam DCR-DVD505E incorporates Sony's new 2-megapixel ClearVid CMOS sensor, the same chip used by the company's DCR-HC3 camcorder. Its Carl Zeiss lens has a mere 10x reach, we'd have liked to have seen 20x on a high-end camera such as this.
Along with the fully automatic Easy mode, the DCR-DVD505E includes a full suite of programmed and manual settings, including manual exposure and focus. Particularly useful are the spot-focus and spot-exposure features, which let you use the touch-screen LCD to select the portion of your image that you want to set as a reference point. While this feature is somewhat difficult to access on Sony camcorders with smaller screens, it works very well with the DCR-DVD505E's generously sized 89mm widescreen display.
The new Smooth Slow Record feature will be of interest to racing, air-show and sports fans, as well as to golfers looking to deconstruct their swings. It grabs 3 seconds of video at four times the normal rate (240fps), resulting in a 12-second slow-motion playback of your subject.
The DCR-DVD505E offers Sony's trademark NightShot and Super NightShot infrared modes for low-light shooting, as well as a colour slow-shutter mode for when you're willing to sacrifice frame rate to maintain the original colours and avoid the greenish cast found in infrared shots. There's no video light, but there is a flash for shooting stills.
As with its predecessors, the DCR-DVD505E records to 80mm write-once DVD-R/+R or rewriteable DVD-RW/+RW discs. With the latter, you gain some basic editing capabilities, including the ability to split, reorder and delete scenes. When you finalise the disc, the DCR-DVD505E can optionally create a DVD menu, complete with customisable title, your choice of four backgrounds, and thumbnails that you can use to navigate your clips on a stand-alone player. It can also create a slide show of any images on the disc.
A proprietary Sony hotshoe allows you to attach lights, microphones and other accessories. One particularly useful adddition is Sony's Bluetooth microphone/receiver combo. Attach the receiver to the DCR-DVD505E and clip the microphone to your subject -- the camera will record that audio as the centre channel of the 5.1 surround sound. This could be extremely handy for, say, recording a child's part in a school play, as long as you're within the 30m range of the Bluetooth transmitter. The Bluetooth receiver also includes a headphone jack, a feature that the DCR-DVD505E lacks.
Unlike its predecessor, the DCR-DVD403, the DCR-DVD505E includes a Memory Stick Duo slot for saving still pictures. The camcorder can shoot still photos at as much as 4 megapixels (interpolated) or grab stills of as much as 3 megapixels while shooting video. The supplied composite/S-Video cable lets you connect to a television for playback or to record video from analogue sources to DVD.