It does this by deactivating most of the menu options, which made me think it was just another name for Automatic as opposed to Manual. I could not see any practical difference in operation between Easy Handycam on or off, other than with Easy Handycam turned off, you can run the camera in auto mode but still have quick access to menu functions if you have the need. This would not be a selling point to any other than an absolute newbie who could think it was an advance on the Automatic mode of other brands!
The camera balances nicely, and the controls require no conscious thought to use pretty much from the first encounter. The zoom rate is adjusted by the amount of movement of the zoom lever and, while a bit quick off the mark for my taste, it certainly was no problem. Using the LCD to frame, virtually every shot that I took was comfortable and the menu system made moving around the camera’s more advanced functions very easy. While as a general rule I am not a fan of touchscreen menus, Sony does do this well. It takes no time at all to scroll through the available options and fiddle with what ever parameter takes your fancy.
Not to put too fine a point on it, I hated the PicturePackage (PP) software with a passion. Firstly, it did not work as it was supposed to, telling me that I needed Flashplayer to be able to use the shortcuts in both the Desktop and system tray. This was unsolveable on my system, even though Flashplayer was installed. However I could get PP running from Start/Programs but it was probably more effort than it was worth.
There are two main parts to this software, DVD Viewer and DVD Producer. Strange to relate, it is in the Viewer that you get to use the limited editing abilities of the package after the video has been transferred to your hard drive. After browsing to the folder where the MPG files are kept, double clicking on one of the thumbnails then opens an enlarged viewing window where one of the buttons is ‘Edit’. Clicking this button takes you to the ImageMixer MPEG Cutter, which does what it says in a rather different way.
A series of eight images, relating to GOPs (Groups of Pictures), are displayed below the viewing window, with the largest duplicating the display in the main preview window. On clicking and dragging one of this group to the Start black rectangle and another to the End, you will notice that the Cut/Scissors icon highlights and clicking that trims the section between the two sections on MPEG. Another button will allow this edited file to be compiled as a separate file, retaining your original undamaged. In long edits, you can protect sections by first selecting the option that says ‘Protect Specified Range’.
When all this trimming is done to the point of satisfaction, it is DVD Producer’s turn. All the needed clips are now imported into the program after browsing to the folder where the clips are stored. From this point, the only choices available are to select clips you want in and have them linked together in one of three ‘styles’ that come with the software. These styles determine the type of transitions, music and theme that is imposed on your clips.
Finally, you can now burn your project to a DVD – oh, but only in the camera! In order to burn to a normal DVD, PP Producer has to do the authoring and burn to an 8 cm DVD in the camera, after which you can then import the Video_TS and Audio_TS folders into your favourite burning software and finally get to a ‘normal’ DVD.
If I owned this camera, I would use the software only to get the images onto the PC. (This is essential as it includes the driver for the camera disc, which is not recognised in My Computer as a separate disk) and then look elsewhere to put it all together.
The video, taken on automatic settings, was accurate in colour but lacking in contrast, making it look a bit ‘milky’ when shot under florescent light and a tad dull in good natural light. The interlacing effect was not noticeable on the 4:3 TV and the sound was unremarkable given that it was simple stereo playback. I cannot give an assessment of the 5.1 Dolby, other than to say why would you want it, let alone need it, if you are not going to edit the results properly?
The zoom worked nicely and the electronic Steadyshot seemed to be quite effective. Images taken with the Nightshot switched on were surprisingly good, albeit almost monochrome, but the Supernightshot was as expected, and that means not really worth using if any motion is to be recorded. Both Supernightshot and Colour Slow Shutter would be desperation measures only as both displayed severe movement artifact from the slow shutter speed and wide open aperture. The Smooth Slow Record function, basically a slow motion feature, would have some attraction in analysing golf and tennis swings, but is limited by its short duration and its confusing instructions. The fixed length three-second clip is expanded to 12 seconds in playback.