Although tape-based MiniDV camcorders offer a superior image clarity and longer record times than DVD camcorders, there is something uniquely pleasurable about popping a DVD straight out of the Sony Handycam DCR-DVD7E and into your home player. While DVD camcorders have yet to breach the walls of MiniDV's stronghold, they still represent the quickest way to get your footage onto today's most popular home format.
Anyone who enjoys editing footage will balk at the idea of committing what they shoot straight to DVD in a relatively linear fashion, but if you're looking for a hassle-free system and have little interest in becoming the next Tarantino, a DVD camcorder like this 7E makes a viable choice. What you lose in features you more than make back in convenience.
The 7E is essentially a small DVD burner with a lens, CCD and LCD ingeniously bolted on. Its form is almost completely defined by the need to accommodate half-size 80mm DVDs as a storage medium. As a result, the camcorder is shaped roughly like a hamburger: you effectively pop open the two halves of the bun and insert a DVD like the meat.
For quite a bulky device, it's surprisingly elegant. The front panel uses the same glossy black plastic we're familiar with from Sony's PSP and some of the VAIO range. This is a luxurious-looking finish, but it collects fingerprints like Sherlock Holmes. After shooting with the 7E for a few minutes, you'll be disgusted by the amount of grease that's built up on the front panel -- keep a cloth handy.
Being burger-shaped, the 7E is comfortable to hold in the hand. Long shoots may have you begging for a wrap-around hand grip, but the body of this camcorder is relatively light, so only the truly weak will succumb completely. The record button is placed in the centre of a jog wheel which controls zoom -- the position of both these controls seem natural and we didn't have any problems with them.
The battery on the 7E is like a small chocolate bar which slots into the side of the burger through a hatch (don't worry, that's our last food metaphor for this review). This is a proprietary battery specially designed for the 7E's shape. The battery is removed by pulling with some degree of force on the exposed end. You're likely to charge it while it's still in the camera, so unless you're swapping batteries in the field, you can probably forget it's there.
The 7E's DVD drive has an electronic hatch, which uses small motors to unclip one half of the camcorder so that you can insert a disc. The disc clips into place on a plastic spindle like the ones in portable CD players. The remainder of the 7E's chassis is relatively clean and uncluttered. This is because most of the camcorder's control buttons are presented as touch-screen options on the built-in LCD.
Although footage shot by the 7E is inevitably degraded by the compression methods used by the camcorder to write video to DVD, the 7E's hardware is fairly impressive. The obligatory Carl Zeiss-endorsed F1.7-2.2 lens is coupled with a single 1/6-inch CCD. Exposure metering can be set to either spot, for difficult exposures where the central part of the frame defines the exposure of the whole, or matrix, where an exposure is set based on a dynamic range estimated for the whole frame.