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{Februari 4, 2009}  

Sony Handycam DVD DCR 608E: Review

The Sony Handycam DVD DCR 608 E is a good camcorder for the DVD video junkies. Its ease of use will blow you over, even though the still photos it takes are nothing to write home about.


24 March 2007: Sony’s 2007 camcorder model DVD DCR 608 E is easily one of the best video cameras I have laid my hands on. The 608E impresses with its easy functions and controls.

To begin with, in the DCR 608 E, the recording media is DVD. (Digital Versatile Disc). I am not familiar with the multitude of DVD formats and sizes, being more used to older DV cassette camcorders. My Sony DVD DCR 608E handycam records on to a mini-DVD rewritable disc of 1.4 GB. The shop owner in Vashi, Navi Mumbai where I purchased the handycam gave me a set of three such mini DVDs in a pack which should have five. So, I don’t know if the freebies should have been five, or if whatever I got was just the shopowner’s grace.

The DVDs which came with my camcorder are in the DVD-RW single-layer format. (Pronounced “minus RW” or “dash RW”). I am using this disc to record videos now, but the Sony DVD DCR 608E is also capable of recording on DVD-R, DVD+RW and DVD+R DL formats, says the Sony manual (More about the user-hostile manual later). A bit of research on the Net enlightened me to the fact that in all these formats, the DVD can be either single-layer or double-layer. Double-layer DVDs store more information than single layer ones. Don’t relate this second layer business to the “B” side of an ordinary cassette – DON’T try turning the disc around to record on the second layer.

The Sony DVD DCR 608E can record only on mini DVDs of 8 cm (3 inches). This is because a large DVD will make the handycam unnecessarily cumbersome, defeating its very USP — portability. The flip side is that the mini DVD stores less information than a full-size DVD. The mini-DVD that I use can record videos for half an hour in standard quality. In high-quality recording, the duration will be less and in low-quality recording, the duration will be longer. You can select your recording quality as standard, high-quality or long-playing from the touchscreen LCD menu.

The controls are a breeze. When you start up Sony DVD DCR 608E handycam, you will be asked to set the language, time and location. Before starting to record on the DVD, you should know that whatever rewritable DVD you have, the handycam can record in VIDEO format or VR format. The two formats have their own advantage and disadvantages. If you are unsure, go through the DISC SELECT GUIDE option in the touchscreen menu. In VIDEO recording format, you can delete only the last scene, while in VR, you can delete any of the scenes you have recorded. VIDEO-recorded discs can be played in most of the DVD players and TVs and computers, while VR-recorded discs may not be. Also, VR-recorded discs can be played without “FINALIZING” processin some cases, while VIDEO-recorded discs need to be finalized before playing. Finalizing a DVD is a process where the contents, tables and other information are written on to the DVD so that it can be played in other devices.

So, now I have the handycam, I have the rewritable DVDs and I have set the mode of recording to VIDEO. Like all other Sony handycam models, the DVD DCR 608 E is equipped with an LCD screen and a viewfinder. The LCD screen also incorporates the well-laid out touchscreen menu. The viewfinder can be pulled further towards you while shooting. The LCD screen can be turned sideways and can be rotated to face outward.

The USP of the Sony DVD DCR 608E, in my opinion, is its powerful zoom. The camcorder has a 40X optical zoom, much higher than most of the handycams in the Sony stable. The digital zoom is a huge 2000X, though needless to say, the clarity goes down as you zoom in. Also, unless you have a decent tripod, it is difficult to shoot distant objects without the handycam shaking. The RECORD button, zoom lever and OFF-ON button are conveniently located, just like in all other Sony handycam models.

The handycam’s battery life is as important as the DVD’s recording time. The DVD DCR 608 E has a small button called BATT INFO, which tells you approximately how long the battery will last. But note that this is only indicative – if you use zoom function frequently or start and stop several times in between, the battery will run for shorter than what it tells you.

The Sony DVD DCR 608 E handycam can record with different effects like Beach, Candle, Fireworks, Landscape, Portrait, Snow, Sports, Spotlight, Sunrise & Sunset and Twilight. The zooming can be done manually or automatically. There are also convenient features like night shot plus, backlit shooting and “easy” operation. For this review, I have not used many of these effects for recording; I just watched the effects on the LCD screen.

For those clueless about the recording quality of handycams: Like an ordinary camera where we check the megapixel count to have an understanding of the recording quality, in a handycam, we look for the CCD quality. CCD stands for “charge coupled device”. Bigger the CCD, better the quality. My handycam has a 1/6 inch CCD. I would have liked a bigger CCD like the 1/3 CCD or the 1/2 CCD, but my budget did not allow me to buy one of those expensive broadcast quality camcorders. Some camcorders, used mostly for broadcast video recording, have three CCDs, each recording one colour out of the three primary colours. My Sony DVD DCR 608E has just one. I think most of the Sony handycams available on India are single-CCD camcorders.

The Sony DVD DCR 608E handycam, like all aother camcorders, can shoot still photos as well as videos. The still images are stored in a memory stick, not the DVD. Sony does not give a memory stick as part of the package. You have to purchase it separately, if you want to shoot photos. Since I have not shot any stills, I cannot comment on the quality of photos, but from the speficiations, it is clear that 800K pixels canot shoot any great photos. (The slightly-higher Sony DVD DCR 708E has a 1 megapixel chip) I did not buy the memory stick since I dont expect excellent photographs from the piddly 800K. However, I plan to get it sometime. Any case, I think it bad manners that Sony does not provide the buyer with a memory stick as part of standard package. The standard accessories provided include a battery charger, USB cable, introduction CD, application CD and AV cable. Not having a memory stick is ridiculous. I would have loved it better if there was also a standard carry case. No such mercies.

The Sony DVD DCR 608E manual, as I said at the beginning, is a beginner’s nightmare. Handycam users are typically not techies. They are ordinary people who use the camcorder to shoot their family videos, kids walking and dogs barking. The manual is ideal for techies. There is absolutely no sequence to its content and jumps from page to page. It is ideal for someone who already knows all about handycam operation, DVD technologies and recording formats. I struggled through the manual with a lot of assistance from Wikipedia. The Sony website is even worse. It has the barest minimum details about the product and there is no way you can decide whether to buy it or not from the site.

I encountered a problem with the installation CD too. The USB driver did not install and the Sony India chap who came along could not help either. He has promised to return with a proper CD and I am waiting for it. Until then, I cannot use the video editing functions of my DVD DCR 608 E camcorder software.

Despite these issues, I do love my handycam because of its ease of use. Despite the user-hostile manual, and the unfriendly website, Sony DVD DCR 608E is easy to learn if you have basic understanding of camcorders. It is light-weight and handy, and feels comfy in your palm. The functions are easy to use and well-located. It cost me Rs 24,500. The price for the higher end DVD camcorder (DVD DCR 708 E) is 29,500. It is better for still shooting, but the zoom is smaller. Overall, the Sony Handycam DVD DCR 608E is a loveable camcorder if you want the recording on a DVD. It is a good buy if you want good zoom and ease of use, but if you want good still pics, you should be looking for more.


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