Sony DCR-HC40E

17 Jun 2004

Product: Mini DV camcorder
Price: €1,049

The Japanese electronics industry has long led the way in miniaturisation, a big factor for consumers who shy away from overgrown chunks of technology. The DCR-HC40E is a fine example and reminds us that Japan is the only country in the world that is able to mass produce camcorders, leaving Sony, JVC, Panasonic, Sharp and Canon with a market to themselves. And it’s hard not to admire their slick ergonomics.

With the HC40E – a camcorder that you can place in the palm of your hand and comfortably wrap your fingers around – the biggest achievement is to be so small yet still facilitate most of what you would want from a state-of-the-art camcorder. With your right hand inside the adjustable grip, all key shooting controls are well within reach.

Other buttons on the body include three tabs along the left side: one for battery status info; another for easy mode – a one-stop automated override option for those who don’t want to worry about manual intervention when shooting – and a backlight button to compensate for difficult lighting conditions. The only other significant control is a button for Sony’s NightShot feature for capturing reasonable quality video in low light, using a built in infrared system.

A memory stick storage option is also onboard for taking still pictures and using a USB connection to transfer them over to a desktop. However, the lack of a Firewire port (for the ultimate in PC connectivity as far as video is concerned) is a sad omission.

Most of the rest of the controls are accessed via the 2.5in. colour LCD. This is good and bad. Good, because it’s essentially what makes it possible for the HC40E to be so tiny. The other factor is, of course, the size of the cassette. Mini DV is the best format for matching small size with optimum quality. The bad side of the LCD is that the touch-screen menus are a bit clumsy to access on such a tiny screen.

The dependence on the LCD screen is furthered by the unremarkable viewfinder. It’s very small and fixed in a horizontal position. You are actively encouraged to do most of your shooting with the LCD as the monitor. Sony has even put a second record button and backlight control on the edge of the screen.

But where it really matters, Sony gets it right. The f1.8 Carl Zeiss lens, coupled with the1/5in. CCD chip at the heart of the camera, delivers stunning images. All told, for €1,049 including Vat, this is an excellent entry-level purchase for anyone looking for a convenient and highly portable camera that can deliver top-notch DV quality movies.

By Ian Campbell