- Small and attractive design, 30GB hard drive, very user-friendly, 40x optical zoom.
- Only 0.68 megapixels, camera is too light, poor stills mode.
If you are willing to forgive the sub par visuals, the DCR-SR42E is a pretty decent camera; especially for inexperienced users. However, there are plenty of similarly priced non-HDD cameras on the market that will give you a superior performance.
Price$ 899.00 (AUD)
The Sony DCR-SR42E is an affordably priced hard disk-based handycam, offering 30GB of video storage for under $1000. Although budget shoppers are sure to appreciate the user-friendly HDD technology, the camera's image quality leaves a lot to be desired. Simply put, it falls below the high standards we've come to expect from Sony and the unit is noticeably short on additional features too. Nevertheless, it remains a reasonable option for those who want an entry-level HDD camera that will do the basics.
One of the most striking features of the DCR-SR42E is its miniature size. Anyone that prefers their gadgets to be small and cute will fall in love with the ultra-compact design, which manages to house a 2.5in touch-screen display within its 73mm x 72mm x 109 mm frame. Unfortunately, this also proves to be one of the camera's main drawbacks - at less than half a kilogram, the unit is incredibly hard to keep steady whilst shooting, especially at higher zoom magnifications. This renders the powerful 40x optical zoom practically useless without a tripod or similar apparatus to keep the unit steady. On the other hand, it does make the camera a lot easier to carry around, and your arms are unlikely to tire during lengthy shoots. Bear in mind however, that your footage will probably look a little shaky and amateurish until you get used to its flimsy design.
We should also point out that there is no viewfinder on this camera; the only way to monitor your footage while shooting is via the touch screen display. This can occasionally prove frustrating, for example in sunny conditions when the screen is difficult to see, or when running low on battery life (LCD screens drain power a lot quicker than using a viewfinder.) Another notable omission is an external microphone jack, which leaves you stuck with the camera's modestly sized front-mounted microphone. Although it does a fairly good job of capturing clear audio, we experienced some wind interference during outdoor testing.
The DCR-SR42E's 30GB hard drive is capable of capturing between 7hrs 20min and 20 hrs 50 min of MPEG-2 video, depending on the quality selected. However, even at its highest setting of 9MB per second, the results remain average at best. With a resolution of just 680,000 pixels, it is ill-equipped to compete with other handycam formats in this price range which tend to exceed one million (the Canon DC22, for example, has a resolution of 2.0 MP). In our test footage, images weren't particularly crisp and suffered from dull, unsaturated colours. We were even less enthused by the obligatory stills mode. Although camcorders are rarely strong in this department, the DCR-SR42E is especially poor, producing grainy, undefined pictures that fail to impress even on the tiny display. Frankly, the stills mode on this camera is best ignored entirely; your mobile phone is likely to produce better results.
In most other areas, the DCR-SR42E offers a solid experience comparable to the pricier models in Sony's HDD range. The touch screen controls are responsive and user-friendly, allowing first-time users to confidentially cycle through different modes and functions without needing to consult the manual. The inclusion of a prominently marked 'easy' button is especially handy for technically inexperienced people, as you don't need to search through menus to select it. This makes the camera a good choice for children, the elderly, and anyone who prefers to just point and shoot with minimum hassle. More tech savvy people however will appreciate the inclusion of the usual array of handycam features, such as manual focus (via the touch screen), four white balance settings (indoor, outdoor, auto and one push), night mode, 2000x digital zoom and a handful of effects and transitions. While the majority of these features do their job well, we found the night mode to be something of a disappointment, producing flat, monochrome images that are grainy and unevenly lit.
Similar to Sony's other hard disk-based handycams, the DCR-SR42E comes packaged with a docking station which doubles as a battery charger and data transferring device; allowing you to transport your files to a TV or computer for viewing and editing purposes. Making DVDs of your video footage is a simple procedure thanks to the one-touch DVD burning software, which again, had been tailor-made for novice users.
When it comes down to it, the DCR-SR42E is best suited to casual users who are determined to own a hard disk-based handycam despite having a limited budget. Everyone else should either stick to mini DV, or be willing to spend a few hundred dollars more.
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