Not perfect... but still worth every penny!
superior video/photo quality, light and compact
Memory Stick Pro/Duo, slow picture taking, high cost
The Bottom Line:
If you care about video quality, especially good quality for indoor shoots, you won't regret spending on this one.
Granted, I'm not a loyal Sony fan. I respect it as a solid brand but don't have the blind trust for it like some of my friends do. So the decision to go with DCR-HC96 was solely based its features. At a time a capable digital camcorder routinely only fetches $400, dishing out $600 for this one wasn't an easy decision. Now I've had it for a while, I'm really happy that I wasn't stingy on this one.
The major factor driving me to it is its 3-CCD setup. The main benefit of that is the remarkable performance under indoor light. I read about it in my research and appreciated it 100% in my own use. Compared to my last Canon ZR70MC, which got really grainy quickly under any indoor light that's less than brilliant, HC96 generates vivid videos for indoors even in a cloudy day with not much additional lighting. In fact all the videos I had with it have good image quality.
Other features are very likable too. The wide LCD and image stablizer make shooting easy. It comes with all the ports you may need to connect to other things. The menu control isn't the best but is still relatively easy to navigate while being quite comprehensive. A word of caution is its wide-screen mode for shooting. While the video looks great, you'll need to make sure your video editing software works with it. Even Sony's own Vegas has problem importing it.
The things I don't like about it include the type of flash media it uses (Memory Stick Duo/Pro, what else?) and the speed of its picture taking. Its 3.2 Megapixel resolution gives pictures good quality, but it's really slow to take them. I mean REALLY slow. I have to wait almost 3 seconds after one shot before I can take another one. So don't rely on it for still images; but occasionally using it for that should be satisfactory.
One controversial design of HC96 is its HandyCam Station, which is a piece of plastic base separated from the camcorder body. All the ports, including the power, are located on it. The good thing about it is that it makes the body clean and compact; the bad thing is you'll have to carry around this fragile and easy-to-lose plastic piece. You can have your own judgment on this feature. To me, I'm not thrilled with it but live with that just fine.
Overall it is a great digital camcorder. It may seem a bit expensive, but the quality shoots you will have with it make the cost worth every bit.