The Sony DCR-PC55 is seductively compact. Housed in a stylish metallic body (available in silver, black, red and white), it weighs just 290 grams, and is the smallest MiniDV camcorder we’ve tested. Unfortunately, the small size is the big news. Aside from scale, this camcorder just doesn’t measure up.
The DCR-PC55 fits comfortably in the palm of your hand and controls are easy to operate, even for someone with big mitts. Unlike other camcorders, which are dotted with buttons, you control almost everything via easy-to-navigate menus on the bright, oversized, 3-inch touch panel LCD (there’s no viewfinder).
This is a point-&-shoot camcorder. There are plenty of menu options (which beginners can avoid by pressing the Easy Handycam button, putting the camcorder in auto mode), but almost no manual controls. You can adjust the white balance (including custom white balance) and exposure compensation, or choose a slow shutter for shooting in low light. A spot focus lets you select a focal point just by touching your subject on the screen, but manual focus also relies on the touch panel, which is considerably more difficult than focusing with a lens ring.
The optical zoom is only 10x, less than most camcorders, and there are no optional lens adaptors. A Tele Macro mode lets you shoot close-ups from a distance, keeping your shadow away from the subject (you can focus as close as 10.75 inches). The electronic image stabilization does a good job of steadying the picture, but there’s some loss of quality compared to optical image stabilization. The 16:9 widescreen
mode is letterboxed, cropping the top and bottom of the image.
The video quality is very good in daylight, but inside, video is a bit dark and grainy. There’s no night mode for shooting in low light, and choosing a slow shutter results in ghostly, faded images. Sound quality is very good, with minimal camera noise. There’s no microphone jack, but you can attach an optional external microphone to the Active Interface Shoe (hot shoe).
The DCR-PC55 also captures stills and video to a Memory Stick Duo Pro card, but pictures are limited to 640 x 480 and video to 320 x 240. That’s fine for posting to the Web or attaching to an email, but not much else.
You’ll need the included docking station to transfer video, but you can plug the battery charger directly into the camcorder. The camcorder can also be used as a Webcam by attaching it to a computer with the included USB cable.
The Sony DCR-PC55 looks good, but the video quality is only average. Unless portability is your main consideration, you can find better-featured camcorders than this for the money.