UPDATE: Since originally publishing this article, Roxio has come along and created the best tool on the market for editing DVD Camcorder files. The latest version of Roxio Easy Media Creator is a must have solution for anyone who owns a DVD camcorder.
When I first heard Sony was releasing video cameras that record to DVD instead of Mini DV tapes, it sounded like a good idea in theory. No more waiting to transfer tapes in real time for editing. If you didn't like to edit, your video is already in a format that most people can easily play in their home theater. Of course the reality is a little different than expectations.
Yes it's true, if you don't plan on editing the footage recorded with one of these cameras, your video is already on DVD and it's a simple matter to make a copy of the little 3-inch disk to something more standard in size. However, there are very few times when you wouldn't need to edit at least some of the footage. The cameras offer onboard editing, after a fashion, which might work if you don't care about precision. All the controls on current models of Handycam DVD recorders use touch screen controls on the LCD instead of more normal button controls, which makes editing complicated and must be a nightmare for anyone with large fingers.
I bring all this up because I spent some time with Sony's entry- level Handycam DCR-DVD7 this week testing out some of the recording features. Recording works as expected, although I found myself frustrated by needing to smudge up the screen in order to make changes to the camera settings. I actually enjoyed the form factor, which is quite different than the standard video camera layout, although it's distinctly designed for right handed people (which I'm not). Image quality looked great considering the small lens size, even for the entry level unit (I didn't test low-light). I was quite annoyed with the marketing message that recommended I switch from the Memorex disk I purchased to a Sony branded disk. If I spend $400+ dollars on something, I shouldn't be nagged with an upsell everytime I insert a disk - Sony, that's lame.
I simply can't get past the editing limitations. To get your video off the DVD for editing, you need either editing software that supports the hack I describe in a question I answered this week or you need to rip the DVD and convert the file to a format compatible with whatever your editing software happens to be. Your third option is to do an analog capture, which further degrades the image quality and doesn't seem like much of an option. My feeling is it should say right on the box that they don't intend for you to edit your movies if you buy a DVD camera.