A minor but decidedly worthwhile update of the DCR-HC30, the Sony Handycam DCR-HC32 offers a much more powerful optical zoom, a killer docking station, an accessory shoe and a lower price tag. Plus, this MiniDV model carries over most of the features that made its predecessor a compelling family camcorder, including a compact design, friendly ergonomics and abundant manual adjustments.
Only image quality spoils the party: be prepared for tame colours and some noticeable noise in lower-light settings. If your budget can stretch to it, the next model up, the Handycam DCR-HC42, offers a bigger sensor that should improve image quality and more features, for only around £25 more.
Physically, the Sony Handycam DCR-HC32 hasn't changed much. It's a dead ringer for its predecessor, the DCR-HC30 -- a positive thing, considering that model's svelte, lightweight design. In fact, the DCR-HC32 is a smidgen wider and heavier, but it's still very comfortable to hold and easy to slip into a coat pocket or a travel bag.
Like many of Sony's camcorders, the DCR-HC32 relies on a touch-screen LCD -- a love-it-or-hate-it feature if ever there was one. To its credit, this system keeps control clutter to a minimum. There are just a few buttons on the camera body, and they're clearly and logically labelled. Back Light, for example, adjusts exposure for heavily backlit subjects, such as someone standing in front of a window. The Disp/Batt Info button toggles between display options or, when the camcorder is off, activates a colourful, full-screen battery gauge that tells how much shooting time you have left. Finally, the novice-minded Easy button activates an eponymous mode that automates just about everything.
Save for a convenient NightShot on/off switch, all other controls and settings reside within the touch-screen menu system. The highlight here is P-Menu, a customisable front end that lets you add or remove preferred settings for quick access. It's a bit awkward to configure but a definite asset once you've organised it to your liking. It also lets you steer clear of the main interface, a rather intimidating set of 'rolling' 3D menus and submenus. Novices will undoubtedly need to spend some time with the manual.