Sony HDR-SR5E

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Sony HDR-SR5E
  • Sony HDR-SR5E
  • Sony HDR-SR5E
  • Sony HDR-SR5E

Pros

  • Vibrant picture quality, decent stills mode, 40GB hard drive.

Cons

  • AVCHD format incompatible with most DVD players

Bottom Line

The Sony HDR-SR5E is an excellent HD HDD camera that offers great value for money. Simply put, it is one of the best models in this price range that we've seen.

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When high definition video first entered the marketplace, it was considered an exclusive luxury that only the rich and privileged could afford. Nowadays, with the price of 1080i technology constantly sliding, practically anyone can shoot footage in glittering HD - even if you're not a member of the glitterati.

Among the various competing HD formats, hard disk-based cameras have become increasingly popular due to their exceptional ease-of-use. Unlike DVD and HDV cameras, no external media is required to store your high-definition footage; negating the need for discs or tapes. This naturally makes for an easier and less costly experience for the consumer, with all data being stored directly inside the camera. The Sony HDR-SR5E handycam continues this tradition, combining excellent picture quality and some nice additional features in an affordable, user-friendly package.

The HDR-SR5E is a 40GB HDD handycam that records footage in the AVCHD format. AVCHD is an MPEG-4 based video codec that is considered superior to MPEG-2 due to its greater levels of compression efficiency. Basically, what this means is that you can record large amounts of data with no loss in image quality. As a result, the HDR-SR5E can store up to 15 hours of footage on its hard drive in stunning 1920×1080 resolution. Bear in mind however, that to play DVDs in the AVCHD format, you will need a Blu-ray player or other compatible device. While this will limit many people's ability to burn high-definition DVDs, the option to record in standard definition has also been included.

We were left highly impressed by the test footage we shot, which produced exceptionally sharp detail and faithful colour reproduction in a variety of settings. Those who prefer realism over splashy vibrancy will be particularly pleased by the camera's ability to capture accurate, lifelike tones. This is especially noticeable when viewing footage on high definition televisions via HDMI - simply put, the colours are tantalisingly close to perfect. Like the rest of Sony's handycam range, the HDR-SR5E uses a ClearVid CMOS sensor in place of the arguably superior 3CCD technology, though we were unable to detect any noticeable drop in quality.

The same cannot be said for footage shot in low light levels, however. Like most video cameras, the HDR-SR5E suffered from considerable amounts of noise when used in poorly lit environments, producing grainy and unattractive results. We were therefore quite pleased by the effectiveness of the camera's night shot mode, which sacrifices colour reproduction in favour of sharpness and clarity. Even in complete darkness it continued to function well.

It has become customary to include a still photography mode on digital camcorders, and the Sony HDR-SR5E's is one of the better attempts we've seen. With an included flash, and a resolution of 4MP, the camera's image quality is considerably better than most of the competition, although it naturally falls short of a dedicated stills model. Nevertheless, this is one of the few handycams in this price range that will produce images of a printable quality.

At first glance, the unit's overall design doesn't look particularly noteworthy, but closer inspection reveals a classy exterior. A tough plastic slider protects the unit's component jacks rather than the cheap rubber flap you would normally expect to find. In terms of weight, the HDR-SR5E comes in at over half a kilogram, which is enough to keep your footage reasonably steady without burdening your arms.

We found the touch screen controls to be responsive and user-friendly, with the majority of features easy to locate in the menu. For those who prefer to just point and shoot however, the included 'easy' button makes things even simpler; with the camera automatically adjusting modes and settings to suit your environment. We would therefore recommend this model to novices and older/younger users who find camera menus difficult to navigate.

More adventurous users will find plenty of adjustable settings on this unit, including the excellent Smooth Slow Record function which records footage at a quarter of its usual speed. This is a very handy mode for athletes who want to study their technique, such as tennis serves, without any motion blur. Another noteworthy playback feature is Face Index, which automatically detects faces in a moving image and displays them on the touch screen as thumbnail images. In addition to these helpful features, the HDR-SR5E also has adjustable shutter speeds, white balance modes, a selection of digital effects and manual focus.

Like Sony's other hard disk-based handycams, the HDR-SR5E attaches to an included docking station which doubles as a battery charger and data transferring device. This allows you to transport your files to a TV or computer for viewing and editing purposes. Making DVDs of your video footage is a simple one-step procedure thanks to the handy 'disc burn' button located on the docking station. However, if you plan to extensively edit your footage, you will need to purchase editing software that supports high definition video. (e.g. - see Vegas Movie Studio + DVD 7 (Platinum Edition))

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