Sony DCR PC110e DV Camera in review by R.I.Axford  


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On to the stills image quality

1.x mega pixels was the norm for good quality digital still cameras only 18-24 months ago and I have used a few cameras with similar or larger CCDs. 

Images captured by the mega pixel device in the PC110 suffer two flaws. 

Firstly, the lens aberrations already mentioned above are going to be present in every shot. This means curved lines where straight ones should be and smeared detail toward the edge of the frame not to mention colour fringing etc.
Second, the CCD has a habit of covering the entire image with tri-coloured smudges. You can see this in every part of any picture captured. Once you see it, it's hard to ignore, but does not make the camera unusable. In fact, it looks much like the way video is captured on this and many other cameras. As the light drops off, the shadow areas fill up with noise and the patchiness becomes even more obvious. Dark areas are not rendered as black in low light conditions. More on this later in the review.

I have purchased a generic 37mm circular polarizer and also a matching 37mm UV filter for my camera. The latter is always in place unless I am using the polarizer. I also keep the lens hood attached, though it does (very oddly) cut off just the right hand top and bottom corners when used for 1152x864 stills with the polarizer at the lens' widest focal length. 
Is the CCD not accurately centered behind the barrel? I'd expect to see an equal amount of vignetting on each of the four corners, not just on two.


Snapshots-a-plenty

The built-in flash is small but effective and with the large CCD makes the Sony 100% usable as a snapshot camera, something that most similar cameras are not. There are 4 flash modes, auto, red-eye, on and off. I tend to have it either on or off rather than on auto as I generally disagree with the behaviour of the latter.

Auto white balance generally works well, however, I find I quite often have to override it when shooting landscapes that contain a lot of blue sky and sea. This has been occurring often enough that I have now set this to daylight permanently and will only change back manually if I need to.

Auto exposure is easily, and often disabled. I would prefer if it did not adjust in such large steps as it makes it unusable as a real-time control during DV use. 
I'm also not entirely certain at this point whether this control actually alters the exposure to the CCD or merely shifts the output values much like a brightness control does if you adjust your screen when viewing the image after it has been captured.  In the latter case, there is a loss of tonal range when this control is used and it looks to me as if this is what is happening.  You can't add tone where there was none in the first place which is why the results may be looking a bit off.

Viewing system inaccurate

One serious flaw of the entire LCD viewing system is that it does not give an accurate representation of the final image. The LCD image is generally brighter then what you will get when the image is viewed on an average, but calibrated monitor.  I was using manual exposure to alter levels downwards feeling that the results were mostly overly bright, but once viewed on a CRT, they turned out far too dark over all.  I should note that this is a feature of LCD screens in general and the images looked much the same on my laptop as on the Sony.  In future I will be more trusting of the camera's own exposure settings and just ignore the on-screen appearance.
Further, both displays do not show the entire image, though this was pretty much expected.

Shoot from the hip with a super-tele.

The effective shutter speed of the camera in stills mode is generally very high. The snapshot of water going over a waterfall indicates that it was using less than 1/1000 of a second. The one advantage of this very short exposure is that hand-held snaps are possible at even the longest focal length... and that means around 450mm or so when compared to a 35mm camera. 

It makes for an entirely different situation when you're out and about taking snaps. It is no effort to zoom in to just a few degrees and take a snap in situations where you normally wouldn't even bother with a 35mm camera. I've had a lot of fun exploring subjects in great detail with this, looking for small abstract images. I visited a classic car show last week and hardly took a single recognizable pic of an automobile, instead, I ended up with a couple of dozen small graphic images that I am very pleased with and would never have bothered to take with my Nikons even though I would still have 'seen' them. 
The lack of any proper adjustable slow to medium speeds is a real disadvantage to any photographer though and I will be making certain that any other digital cameras I buy in future have these facilities.  You can change to another program which should emphasize different shutter and aperture values, but who knows? There is no real info on the programmed value tables or anything.
 

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