Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.At some point, camcorder downsizing will run smack into the law of diminishing returns. Your fingers will no longer fall naturally onto the places they need to be, casually placed fingertips will cover sensors and microphones, and media and batteries will fight for real estate. Sony's Handycam DCR-PC350 hasn't quite reached that point, but it's close--very close.
Successor to the DCR-PC330, the Sony Handycam DCR-PC350 tilts the scales at just more than a pound with tape and battery, has a diminutive 4.3-by-4.3-inch palm print, and barely tops 2 inches in width. The hand strap dominates the view of the camera, but you can unclip it for use as a wrist strap. Sony includes a shoulder strap, but you could carry this lightweight model around all day in the palm of your hand with little effort.
Even if your fingers are too short to play the piano well, you'll still need to claw-handedly rest your forefinger and thumb tips on the zoom and record buttons. Your middle and ring fingers tend to wrap around the front; larger hands will often partially block the side-mounted flash. It takes a conscious effort to remember where those fingers should go and to leave your pinkie flapping in the breeze. We managed about 15 minutes of shooting before it started to feel uncomfortable.
Rather than pepper the case with microsize buttons, the majority of the DCR-PC350's features are accessed via a long and structured hierarchical menu system on the LCD. The panel itself is a touch screen, so there are no additional buttons needed for navigating or selecting options. The downside is that fingertip smudges are very noticeable. The tragedy is that the menu system is very long and complex, with some options not available under some modes. We suggest that you keep the manual handy as you scale the learning curve.
As with other Handycam models, Sony has duplicated the zoom and record start/stop controls on the 2.5-inch swing-out LCD panel. We found them much easier to use for both panoramic and tight shots. That also means employing the LCD screen, and even if you're a viewfinder traditionalist (this model's neither extends nor tilts), the display proves more comfortable to handle.The Sony Handycam DCR-PC350 is loaded. The 1/3-inch, 3.3-megapixel CCD captures a 2-megapixel video image (which it subsequently downsamples to MiniDV resolution) and 3-megapixel stills. Its 10X zoom lens covers a relatively average range, but it can accept add-on 30mm-diameter lenses.
This model includes all of the features that typify Sony's camcorder line: various infrared NightShot modes for shooting in the dark, Super SteadyShot electronic image stabilization, touch-screen-based spot focus, and a Zeiss lens. More-advanced options include 16:9 wide-screen mode and Zebra Stripes, which overlays diagonal stripes on those places where the camera feels the image will be overexposed (a useful tool that's trickling down from high-end camcorders). There's a jack for an external microphone, but it's a dual-function version, so it doubles as the power connector but not both simultaneously. You may complain about carrying around the included docking station, but it's relatively small; the camera won't fall during charging; and the station brings the USB, FireWire, and A/V ports to one place--without needing to pry open a multitude of rubber covers.
But don't worry about blowing the bankroll on a high-end video camera without having the skills to use it properly. Just press the Easy button on the back of the DCR-PC350. Essentially, it becomes a point-and-shoot camera for those on the upward path of video skills.