Sony DSR-PD170 Camcorder Review: Expensive but Powerful

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The choice of a quality digital video camera is the most important element of home video production, mainly due to the simple fact that it is the primary tool used in the whole process. All external devices plug into it in some fashion, and all aspects of post-production rely on it. On a consumer level it is mandatory that a certain amount of money will have to be spent anyway, so it is important to get the best bang for your buck.

One of the better cross-over prosumer camcorders is Sony’s upgrade of the DSR-PD150, the newly improved PD170. The camera has all the standard functions, like a quality dual XLR input system, the ability to change lenses, a variety of gain and filter options, and even fairly reliable “auto” settings for its focus and white balance. What does separate the PD170 from many other possible consumer cameras is its balance of versatility with ease to use. Most of the options on it make it ready for professional news or documentary production, but it is very small and lightweight. It is easy to move on a variety of standing apparatus, and handheld use is very easy. This is what separates it from similar cameras like the Canon XL2 or Panasonic DVX100.

All of its major functions are located on the back or side of the camera as their own button, which saves you from the hassle of running through menu systems when trying to alter audio input settings or change the shutter speed. The image quality is good, and difficult color contrasts like mid-day sun are caught relatively clear. Unfortunately the LCD screen attached is both comparatively small and lacks optimum clarity. There will be many times when it will be hard to tell if something is too dark or slightly out of focus. The use of “zebra line” options to see the color temperature of brighter color in the frame helps, but it would be better to simply have a higher resolution LCD. Also, the internal imaging chips are more sensitive to damage than normal and excessive exposure to heat, like being left in a car, can easily damage them. This is the type of sensitivity that can make certain consumers nervous when working with it, and a more durable camera like the Canon XL2 might be a better fit for those who have more strenuous needs.

This does not take away from the excellent resolution of the PD170, whose horizontal resolution exceeds 520 lines. I would recommend it because its versatility, small size, and clear list of options makes it a great home camera. The price may be too high for the beginning hobbyist (MSRP $3,940), but for a multi-purpose video camera there are few competitors that can beat this camera’s features and functionality. This product would best serve a consumer whose needs exceed those of the average videographer who simply wants to capture birthdays and graduation ceremonies. It would best suit an aspiring independent filmmaker or someone who wants to bring extra flair to their family videos, and freelancers.