The £360 inc VAT Sony DCR-HC96 MiniDV Handycam, Sony's high-end MiniDV camcorder, offers step-up features such as a higher-capacity battery, a charging dock and the ability to capture higher-resolution video than can other HC series models.

Although the Sony DCR-HC96 MiniDV Handycam scored points with our jury in still-image performance, the Sony DCR-HC96 MiniDV Handycam's low-light video quality and battery life were merely average.

With a body composed of plastic and metal, the Sony DCR-HC96 MiniDV Handycam fits nicely in your palm. The 2.7in widescreen LCD has touch-screen controls and play, record and stop buttons sit just below the Sony DCR-HC96 MiniDV Handycam's screen, enabling you to keep your eye on the action while controlling the camera.

A built-in lens cap and a top-loading cassette mechanism are other subtle design pluses. The Sony DCR-HC96 MiniDV Handycam includes Sony's proprietary AIS accessory shoe for attaching an AIS-compatible microphone or flash. The camcorder comes with a dock that supports FireWire and USB transfers and provides connectors for AV cables and power (the latter ports are included on the camcorder as well).

The Sony DCR-HC96 MiniDV Handycam delivered impressive still images. Our panel of experts judged the test shots we took with the 3Mp unit as Superior, thanks to high marks for colour accuracy, sharpness and exposure.

The Sony DCR-HC96 MiniDV Handycam's video quality was impressive, too. High marks for audio clarity and for video taken in standard light, along with middling scores for low-light video, yielded an overall video quality score of Very Good.

The Sony DCR-HC96 MiniDV Handycam's night vision feature allows you to record video in low-light conditions that would otherwise make capturing viewable video impossible. Nevertheless, the results have a strange, otherworldly look to them, so it's probably best to use this feature only as a last resort. The Sony DCR-HC96 MiniDV Handycam's electronic image stabilisation feature worked well, steadying our hand-held shots with no detectable degradation in video quality.

When fully charged, the Sony DCR-HC96 MiniDV Handycam permitted about 85 minutes of video recording before shutting down. That's about average for the MiniDV camcorders we've tested.

Sony's DCR-HC96 Handycam performed well and provided impressive still-image quality. Nice features like a touch-screen LCD and an accessory shoe increase its attractiveness, but you can find camcorders with better low-light video quality - and some of these, such as the Panasonic PV-GS320, cost less.

Sony DCR-HC96: Specs

  • 1/3in CCD
  • Widescreen Video Capture
  • 72x120x91mm, 0.5kg
  • Mini DV, NTSC
  • 3.3Mp sensor
  • effective sensor resolution - video: 2.1Mp, still: 3Mp
  • F/1.8-2.9 lens aperture
  • automatic, manual focus
  • 5.1mm - 51mm range
  • 10x optical zoom, 120x digital zoom
  • electronic (Super Steady Shot) image stabilisation
  • built-in microphone
  • electronic colour viewfinder, 2.7in TFT active matrix
  • 1 x Li-ion rechargeable battery included
  • 1 year warranty
  • 1/3in CCD
  • Widescreen Video Capture
  • 72x120x91mm, 0.5kg
  • Mini DV, NTSC
  • 3.3Mp sensor
  • effective sensor resolution - video: 2.1Mp, still: 3Mp
  • F/1.8-2.9 lens aperture
  • automatic, manual focus
  • 5.1mm - 51mm range
  • 10x optical zoom, 120x digital zoom
  • electronic (Super Steady Shot) image stabilisation
  • built-in microphone
  • electronic colour viewfinder, 2.7in TFT active matrix
  • 1 x Li-ion rechargeable battery included
  • 1 year warranty

OUR VERDICT

The Sony DCR-HC96 performs well and provides impressive still-image quality. Nice features such as a touchscreen LCD and an accessory shoe make it more attractive, but camcorders with better low-light video quality are available for less.

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