- 60GB hard drive, decent specs for the asking price, memory stick slot, beginner-friendly touch screen interface
- Poor stills mode, struggles under low lighting
The Sony DCR-SR85 is a good quality mid-range camcorder that easily matches any standard-def model in its price range. If you're determined to ignore the HD boom, you could certainly do a lot worse than this.
Price$ 1,149.00 (AUD)
The DCR-SR85 is yet another addition to Sony's exhaustive HDD handycam range. Its main features include a 60GB hard drive, a 25x optical zoom and a memory stick slot for additional hybrid recording. Falling into the upper echelon of standard-definition camcorders, it will provide a satisfactory performance for those who aren't ready to make the leap to HD. However, if you have an extra $200 to play around with, we'd recommend opting for the DCR-SR220; another SD model with superior specifications.
The DCR-SR85 is a hard disk-based model, which means you don't need to muck about with discs or tapes while recording. Instead, all footage is stored on the camera's built-in 60GB hard drive, which can hold up to 41 hours of data. This is boosted by an additional five-and-a-half hours when combined with an 8GB memory stick. Conveniently, you can also transfer your video files from the hard drive to a memory stick, which is a great way to store or backup your data.
For a change of pace, Sony has decked out the DCR-SR85 with a 1/6in CCD sensor (as opposed to the CMOS sensors found on most of its previous handycams). The technical difference between CCD and CMOS has largely blurred over the years, though it could be argued that CCD technology offers superior colour reproduction (personally, we can't tell the difference). Unfortunately, consumer-level CCD sensors sometimes struggle in low light conditions; a fact demonstrated by the DCR-SR85's patchy indoors performance. When shooting in dim environments, we found noise levels to be painfully obvious; even on the 2.7-inch display screen. Basically, if you're shooting without the assistance of the sun or bright florescent lights, your footage is going to look noticeably grainy, particularly in black or shadowed areas of an image.
On the plus side, Sony's excellent Nightshot Plus mode has made a triumphant return. This allows you to shoot crystal clear footage in almost complete darkness; albeit in a green-tinged 'thermal goggle' style (fans of a certain hotel heiress' private home movie will know what this looks like). While the lack of colour is bound to annoy some, we think it's a reasonable compromise that will allow you to get some great nocturnal use out of your camera. Otherwise, the SR85's video performance was about on par with other camcorders in this price range; offering sharp and reasonably vibrant images when used in sunny environments.
The same cannot be said for its stills mode however, which offers a piddling resolution of just one-megapixel. This would be considered unacceptably low for a mobile camera phone, let alone a $1149 camcorder. As such, those who are looking for a two-in-one device will definitely need to look elsewhere.
Sony's HDD camcorder range has always been a little bit cooler than its competitors, and the DCR-SR85 is no exception. With its user-friendly touch screen display and handy docking station, it has obviously been designed with the entry-level user in mind. Superfluous little touches, like the embossed handgrip and component sliders, ramp up the quality of the product. As always, we found the touch screen interface to be a joy to use; with responsive icons and an intuitive menu layout. Although some people may occasionally struggle with the interface, it's certainly no more cumbersome than the directional sticks found on most other cameras.
Weighing in at a barely-there 360g and with overall dimensions of 76x77x113mm, the DCR-SR85 is certainly very portable. This can occasionally prove problematic if you have trouble holding a camera steady, though a little hands-on practice will swiftly eliminate this problem.
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