Sony Handycam HC32 Full Review
by Brad Soo - August 14th, 2005

The Sony Handycam HC32 is a MiniDV camcorder, priced affordably ($499), with many great features such as 20x optical zoom (Yes, I'm not kidding - 20x optical zoom!), 2.5 inch touch screen LCD, image stabilization (digital) and lots more.

Box Content

Together with the Sony Handycam HC32, you'll find:

  • NP-FP30 InfoLithium rechargeable battery
  • AC adaptor
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • Remote control
  • Handycam Station
  • CD-ROM (Picture Package 1.5)
  • User's manual

The NP-FP30 InfoLithium battery included can be charged when attached to the camcorder by inserting the AC adaptor into the DC-IN port. Using the NP-FP30 InfoLithium battery, the HC32's recording time is 80 minutes (Continuous with LCD) and 40 minutes (Typical with LCD). Its playback time is 85 minutes with the LCD on. It takes 115 minutes to fully charge a NP-FP30 battery pack.

You can increase battery life by using one of these higher capacity P-series battery packs: NP-FP50, NP-FP70 and NP-FP90 (All purchased separately). The NP-FP90 increases recording and playback time by 5 times, compared to the supplied battery (It also doubles the time needed to fully charge the battery).

Then there's the useful Handycam Station. Let's take a little tour of it, shall we? There's the USB on/off switch and the rest are all ports: USB, iLink (Firewire), DC-IN & A/V.

The HC32 uses Memory Stick Duo cards to store still photos. Though you should use a dedicated digital camera, you may want to take still photos when opportunities arise. The HC32 does not include a Memory Stick Duo card.

 

I didn't find the software included (Picture Package) very user friendly. If you want to edit your videos, the included software may not prove useful. As for the user's manual, it was good but a little too basic (For example: For details to connect the camcorder to computer, please refer to the "First Step Guide" on the CD-ROM). That wasn't very helpful!

Accessories

The HC32 is compatible with a fairly broad range of accessories:

  • Conversion lenses (Several wide and telephoto lenses)
  • Microphones
  • Video lights, flashes and infrared lights
  • Sports pack, marine pack (Go up to 75 m underwater) and rain jacket
  • Several filters
  • Carrying cases

Camera Tour

The Sony Handycam HC32 measures 54.7 x 90 x 111.7 mm without protrusions and 400g empty. It's compact but can't fit easily into your pocket. So here is the HC32 held in hand for a feel of how compact, or large, it is (That's my hand of course):

So on we go with the review...

On the front, the HC32 has a F1.8 20x optical zoom Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens with a whole lot of focal lengths; 2.3 - 46 mm equivalent to 44 - 880 mm (Video and camera 4:3) and 48 - 960 mm (16:9 video). While it does not have optical image stabilization, it does have digital image stabilization whose quality you'll find out about later on in this review.

The lens has a built-in barrier (So no crazy dangling covers) but it is operated manually - Remember to close the cover after you're done recording! The switch is on the right side, near the "Sony" logo. The HC32 starts up in 3 seconds.

Next is the stereo microphone, followed by the infrared light emitter and remote control receiver and finally, at the very bottom is a video lamp. On the very right of the HC32 is the Memory Stick Duo slot. And here is the HC32's remote control:

I'm going towards the HC32's left side now. It has a large 2.5 inch touch screen LCD which can flip out 90 degrees and rotate 270 degrees. The LCD is not a 16:9 widescreen unit. You can rotate the LCD to several positions like so:

Beside the LCD are 3 buttons which tag along as the LCD is flipped out and rotated. Two of them are zoom buttons and one is a record start/stop button.

Above the LCD is another 3 buttons: Backlight (For foreground subjects with bright backgrounds), display (Amount of info) and Easy Handycam (Quick and simple operation; great for beginners). There are no buttons behind the LCD.

 

As I mentioned above, the LCD is not a widescreen. The LCD view on the left is 4:3 and the one on the right is 16:9. Instead of stuff becoming more wide in angle, things actually get more zoomed in using the 16:9 wide mode. This doesn't impress me much but I guess it's better than stretched low-quality viewing.

 

Let's now go to the back of the HC32... where all you'll find is a place for you to stick that large battery on. Put it against the back, slide it down and the battery will be locked into place. Press down the "PUSH" button, move the battery upwards and you can swap battery packs. A very small port covered by a rubber cover labeled "DC-IN" is the place to insert the AC adaptor and start charging the battery.

The viewfinder may be in black and white, but it has dioptric correction. You can only pull the viewfinder further back but you cannot push it up/down. The side view in the photo above shows the diopter correction slider. The "REC START/STOP" button is self explanatory - Press it to start or stop a video. Under that is a slider which you pull down and move the right (Darker gray) part of the HC32 to change tapes.

On the right side of the Sony Handycam HC32, you'll find a mode switch. Press down the little green button (Shown in the back view photo) and push the mode switch downwards to turn the HC32 on and push it again to change to still photo shooting and playback. You cannot directly access playback without turning on the HC32 in video recording mode first.

The Sony Handycam HC32 has Sony's Nightshot Plus feature which turns on the infrared lamp in front, makes everything monochrome but it effectively makes low-light (Or no light) areas much brighter without sacrificing video frame rate. So just switch that slider to "ON" and a white light makes everything brighter.

 

There is a plastic piece below the Nightshot Plus slider and behind it, you'll find...

...the A/V and LANC port.

At the top of the HC32, you'll find a hot shoe, zoom controller and photo button. The zoom controller moves the 20x optical zoom lens from wide-angle to telephoto in a fast 3 seconds. You can choose to make fine and precise or fast-paced movements with the amount of pressure put on the controller. The photo button can take a still photo in photo mode, video mode or even while recording a movie. The HC32 has 2 digital zoom options: 40x or 800x. If you must use digital zoom, choose the 40x option. Using the full 800x option, well, things get quite awful.

At the bottom of the HC32, you'll find a dock connector and 2 tripod mounts. By opening the tape compartment cover, the compartment mechanically pops up and slides outwards. Do note that you'll need a battery attached in order for it to work. You cannot change MiniDV tapes when you use a tripod.

Performance

The Sony Handycam HC32 performed quite well in the image stabilization test, despite having digital (Electronic) image stabilization. Going through our audio test software, the HC32 didn't do very well. Here are the results:


Zoom motor noise test


Tape system noise test

Well, thankfully the HC32 passed the miscellaneous noise test with the result being absolute silence. As for video quality, it was quite good and sharp though there was a little noise.

When it comes to stills, the HC32 produces sharp stills, though not as good as a real and dedicated digital camera.

Conclusion

The Sony Handycam HC32 is a great and affordable camcorder which has some superb features such as 20x optical zoom and a touch screen LCD, both normally found on more expensive models. Despite having that and more, there were still several things that did not impress me, including the excessive noise coming from the tape system. So here are the final results:

Pros:

  • 20x optical zoom
  • A variety of accessories
  • Compact and stylish
  • Remote control included
  • Touch screen LCD
  • Non-stretched 16:9 mode (Just zoomed in)
  • Ability to swap batteries while having tripod attached
  • Fast zooming (For a 20x lens)
  • Great video quality
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Easy to lose grip at times
  • Black and white viewfinder
  • Requires battery in order to swap tapes
  • Cannot swap tapes while on tripod
  • Fairly loud tape system (I don't even need to use software or an amplifier to hear it)
  • Not very user friendly camcorder-to-PC transferring
  • Software required for transferring
  • No USB 2.0 high-speed

Recommended accessories:

  • Extra battery pack
  • 64 MB or 128 MB Memory Stick Duo
  • Carrying case
  • A conversion lens or two

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