For more manual controls, you will need to call up the Function menu, which lists categories down the left-hand side of the LCD with options ranging out along the bottom for the selected category. You can choose between P (Program Auto-Exposure), Tv (Shutter Priority), Av (Aperture Priority), and Scene modes. The latter provides a sub-menu with a healthy selection of presets, including Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Spotlight and Fireworks. In Tv mode you can vary the shutter speed from 1/8th to 1/2,000th, and in Av mode the aperture from F1.8 to F8.
Although you can’t configure shutter and aperture independently, setting either one manually changes the function of the joystick exposure control. For example, setting a manual aperture means the joystick exposure operates shutter speed, but in tandem with gain. So it’s not quite the same as having fully independent control of both shutter and aperture, and there is no direct control over video gain at all.
The DC50 offers a comprehensive set of white balance presets, alongside the usual automatic and manual options. These include Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent and Fluorescent H. The Function menu also provides access to Image Effects, which optimise the image processing in different ways. Vivid mode bumps up colour saturation, whilst Neutral has the opposite effect. Low Sharpening unsurprisingly reduces the amount of edge sharpening, and Soft Skin Detail smoothes skin tones. The Custom option lets you tweak image processing settings directly, including Colour Depth, Sharpness, Brightness and Contrast, although only three positions are available for each. Another useful option is the auto slow shutter, which drops the minimum to 1/25th in low light, rather than 1/50th.
As with all DVD camcorders, however, the convenience of the recording format has to be weighed against its limited storage. The 8cm DVD’s 1.4GB capacity is only enough for around 20 minutes of video at the top XP recording mode, which uses a data rate of 9Mbits/sec. You can fit 30 minutes in SP mode and a whole hour in LP, although the latter uses one third the data rate of XP, with concomitant loss of quality. However, the DC50 also supports dual-layer 8cm DVD-Rs, which ups the capacity to a slightly more respectable 36 minutes in XP mode. This is still rather meagre next to DV’s 60-minute tape capacity, and the hours you can now store on most hard disk-based models.