DVD camcorders took off a little late and now, despite the popularity of the disc format, appear to have been left behind. Although 2006 saw the format make a considerably more noticeable dent in mini DV's share of the camcorder market, before DVD cam manufacturers had a chance to enjoy their success a new breed of camcorder turned up.

HDD is fast becoming the format of choice and there seems to be increasingly less room in the market for disc-based cams, despite the online savings you can make on slightly older models such as the DVD505, Sony's flagship DVD camcorder of 2006.

In recent months we've been treated to all manner of lightweight, slimline card and HDD camcorders so returning to the bulk of a DVD camcorder comes as quite a shock. That said, it's no bad thing. The additional weight keeps the camcorder sturdy in the hand and although the disc transport sits on the right flank, it makes a suitable rest around which to wrap your fingers, giving you a firm grip on the cam.

All controls are easily accessible, with the forefinger resting on the zoom rocker and the thumb finding a home just above the record start/stop button. The 3.5-inch LCD gives you a good idea of what is being committed to disc and also houses additional controls to give that added ease-of-use to your shoots. Alternatively, there is a viewfinder which will prove less taxing on the battery and can be angled upwards to accommodate trickier shooting angles.

As a top-of-the range DVD cam the 505 is well kitted out for all manner of shooting scenarios. Using 8cm discs, the cam is compatible with DVD-R, a record-once format that offers best compatibility with household DVD players, as well as the rewritable formats -RW and RW, which offer extra functions such as deleting scenes and creating playlists.

The complete solution

To offer the complete home-entertainment experience from your homemade DVDs, the 505 offers true widescreen recording (monitored through the huge 16:9 LCD) and built-in 5.1 audio recording capability, a feature that's becoming commonplace on DVD camcorders.

In keeping with the latest Sony developments the 505 uses a single CMOS imaging chip for video and stills, capable of 4-megapixel still images saved to Memory Stick.

The ClearVid sensor is allied with a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens, offering a standard 10x optical zoom and 120x digital magnification (but, as always, we don't recommend that you use this).The rest of the features list resembles a well-specced mini DV machine, with a good selection of manual overrides and preprogrammed settings to cater for a variety of video scenarios.

Firing up the cam in Auto mode results are mixed. While Sony has done a great job of eradicating the problem DVD camcorders experience with digital blocking during fast pans, there are still issues with grain.

Edges look fizzy even on footage shot in good, natural light, and colours lack weight and punch. Indoors footage fares little better, with grain coming to the fore and again, a washed-out look pervades the footage.

Digital stills, despite the promise of 4MP resolution, lack vibrancy and detail - in the images we took, the shots looked disappointingly muted. The cam's audio performance is adequate and the 5.1 surround function is a fun addition. After time, though, you may question its usefulness as it has limited applications.

The size of the camera and compatibility strips the 505 of any real convenience. The video performance, although not a disaster, is little better than average and a heavier feature-laden, better-performing cam can be had for less money.

If you have to have a DVD camcorder, this wouldn't be a bad option, but judging by what's on offer here one has to ask if anyone has to have a DVD camcorder. Tom Roberts