Panasonic VDR-D300 vs Sony Handycam DCR-DVD605E

Panasonic VDRPanasonic VDR-D300
Price: $1,979

Sony Handycam DCR-DVD605E
Price: $949

With the digital revolution in full swing, the shortest distance between two technologies is the seamlessness of moving from one to another, and as we all know that journey rarely makes our life easier as it’s supposed to.

Back in the day you videoed your kids on the VHS camcorder, plugged it in to the TV and played it back. With the advent of digital video the workflow was muddied, bringing your PC, software codecs, disc formats, digital editing software and more into the mix.

One of the challenges of the DVD era became a way of returning to those old ways – of recording on a camera and putting the media straight into another player to enjoy. In modern terms, that means taking a data disc straight out of camera and putting it into your DVD player.

It’s only in the last 6-12 months we’ve seen consumer camcorders put that power in our hands and they’re a dime a dozen now, but there are still some sleights of hand to be found.

The Sony and Panasonic models differ little in appearance and behaviour, purely because of the conventions in the technology and the way it has to interact with the human body. They have virtually the same width, height and mass although the Sony has a more compact feel by a whisper.

They’re similarly coloured and have much the same array of ports and slots, both with the now-familiar flip-out LCD screen as well as a traditional viewfinder.

Part of the process of taking a disc straight from the camera to the DVD player or computer is preparing for viewing or ‘finalising’ it. If you’re an amateur filmmaker but don’t have a head for computers you’re in luck. The methods to prepare a DVD involve burning the data, building the architecture of the contents and stopping more data being written.

They’re all fairly involved processes that take a lot of time, skill and money in a commercial DVD workflow, but both camcorders do it all with the touch of a button and a short wait depending on how much footage you’ve shot.

When the disc is finalised for viewing, just put it in your PC or DVD player and it’ll open a simple yet easy menu to find your way around the footage or photos you’ve taken. On a PC, you can also navigate into the disc file structure and grab individual video or image files for later use as well. Then — as with a PC, rewriteable discs (DVD+RW) can be put back in the camera and ‘unfinalised’ to use again.

As most camcorders do, each model doubles as a still camera, and considering the amount of money you can spend on digital still cameras, it’s a wise investment to spend extra and buy them both in the one device — particularly if you’re not in the pro leagues and you don’t need a separate tool for each.

The Sony DCR-DVD605E however saves your images to the DVD as well whereas the Panasonic takes a separate memory card, much like that in a still camera. If you shell out for it thinking you’re all set up for still photography the added expense of a card could be galling.

The other major difference in usability is that the Sony’s LCD display is a very user-friendly touchscreen. The Panasonic has a little controller you manipulate with your thumb to move around the onscreen menus, and the Sony model will spoil you for every other camera you try.

Despite looking the same, the image acquisition technology inside is quite different, accounting for the $1000 price difference. First, the Panasonic has three megapixels, where the Sony has less than half a megapixel.

More importantly, the Panasonic will theoretically give you a richer image as it has three CCDs – the chip that acquires the image. With one for each of the three screen colours (red, blue, green), it gives you a result that’s closer to cinema quality than the Sony, but it’s a degree of overkill in a camcorder for the consumer market. If you’re filming anything bigger than baby’s first steps, the Sony’s image acquisition is more than enough.

For that reason alone the Sony is far better value for money if you’re a beginner or if you wouldn’t know a screen transition from a clapperboard, but both devices bridge the elusive gap across a widening digital divide in self-produced entertainment.