It's been a fair old while since we've seen a budget Sony camcorder. Despite having checked out the latest in the high-def AVCHD range, the outstanding UX1 and the even more remarkable SR1, Sony, like its leading rivals, is still keen to present a line-up of budget mini DV camcorders.
And, with prices plummeting, the latest mini DV models offer a great way into home moviemaking at an affordable price.
The HC27 is a neat, compact package, with the focus on simplicity. The rear of the cam plays host to the record functions, and the left flank of the lens barrel the Easy mode, battery data display and the backlight compensation. But that's your lot. Lift open the LCD and you're greeted with an empty panel with only a speaker fitted.
Of course, the reason for the HC27's apparent nakedness is the LCD touchscreen. Higher-end models in the Handycam range adopt a more illustrative user interface, but that doesn't make the rather basic menu layout found on the HC27 any less intuitive.
Divided into two pages, the first gives you all the necessary access to the manual and automatic modes, digital effects and the standard-settings functions. The second adjusts the White Balance and the LCD display settings, and it is a great way of navigating the functions of the cam.
The features are restricted to the basics and, in keeping with the entry-level price tag, the list reads like something geared towards the beginner.
Most important to the newbie will be the Easy mode, a mainstay of Sony's range, but probably seeing the most action of this type of camcorder. Hitting the Easy mode will instantly put the fate of your footage in the hands of the camcorder, with the machine taking responsibility for all adjustments in terms of focus and exposure.
Of course, Sony's touchscreen system makes using setting controls an absolute doddle, and users should get involved. The white balance function offers Indoors, Outdoors, Auto and One Push settings, which can be set by finding a suitable 'white' in your shooting environment so the cam can measure it.
There is also the spot focus and spot meter setting which, at the touch of the screen, deftly adjusts the focal point, or balances the brightness in a heavily contrasted shot.
The most remarkable facet of the HC27's performance is its indoor capability. Even in the darkest of settings it's possible to shoot great footage. If you use the straightforward shooting settings you can capture detailed, well-contrasted movies. A rich colour palette is on offer and, while there is a lack of punch and vibrancy about the images, the natural, realistic tones more than make up for it.
Outdoors, in unnaturally bright sunshine for the season, detail is pin-sharp. Even complicated subjects, like the random complexities of a water fountain, or the variety of colour and texture of a cat's fur are rendered with accuracy.
Grain and bleed are kept to a bare minimum, and despite a drop-off of light, images refrain from deteriorating to an unacceptable level. Audio is as impressive as the picture, with an extensive dynamic range, well-rounded bass and mid-range, and an unaggressive top-end.
The HC27 offers a great combo of ease of use and performance. Yes, you will find cheaper cams on the market but this one is still a bargain. Its ability to deliver home movies, and the control you can administer over them, is hugely impressive. As well as convincing at the top end of consumer moviemaking, Sony is still catering for more modest budgets.