So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Budget HDD-camcorder with good features for the asking price
- Memory stick slot, 40x optical zoom, offers reasonable value for a HDD-based camcorder
- Image quality slightly below par, poor still image mode
The Sony DCR-SR45 is a perfectly serviceable standard-def camcorder provided you only want to do the basics. While budget shoppers are sure to appreciate the user-friendly HDD technology, its image quality unfortunately failed to shine. An adequate effort.
Price$ 729.00 (AUD)
The DCR-SR45 is an affordably priced hard disk based-camcorder that records video in 'trusty' standard-definition. It should prove sufficient for beginners who want something to shoot their home movies on, as well as camcorder owners looking to upgrade their tape-based cameras. More discerning videographers, on the other hand, are going to be disappointed by its lacklustre output.
Its main strengths do not lie in video quality, but rather its user-friendly interface and 40x optical zoom. As budget camcorders go, it's certainly not the worst unit we've seen, but there are plenty of cheaper models on the market that offer comparable results. As such, we can really only recommend this camcorder to budget shoppers who aren't interested in MiniDV.
With its squat, compact design and black-and-silver finish, the DCR-SR45 looks nearly identical to its bigger brother, the DCR-SR65. However, both camcorders are quite different from one another in terms of features and components. Whereas the S65 is equipped with a high quality mega-pixel CCD, the S45 is forced to make do with a rudimentary 1/8in sensor. This works out to an effective pixel count of just 49,000 pixels.
Its hard drive capacity has also been downgraded, from 40GB to 30GB, which reduces recording time to seven hours at the highest quality. On the plus side, the DCR-SR45 benefits from a larger 40x optical zoom (compared to the SR65's 25x zoom), which is sure to please its target audience of novice users. However, bear in mind that this camera lacks an optical stabiliser, which will make it difficult to capture shake-free footage at higher zoom settings. For this, a tripod will almost certainly be required. Nevertheless, it remains an enticing selling point.
In terms of image quality, the DCR-SR45 was never going to blow anybody's socks off, but it does get the job done to reasonable effect. Provided you aren't overly fussed about vibrant colours or razor-sharp detail, the model should prove satisfactory for daytime shooting. Naturally, its performance took a substantial nosedive in dim lighting conditions, with grainy, ill-defined images. The night mode also seemed less capable than other Sony handycams we've looked at, though it remains fairly solid for an entry-level unit.
We were even less enthused by the obligatory still-image mode. Although camcorders are rarely strong in this department, the SR45 is especially poor, producing blurry pictures that failed to impress us even on the LCD display screen. With a maximum image size of 0.3 megapixels, its output fails to match the majority of mobile phone cameras — it's probably best to avoid it altogether.
Like the rest of Sony's handycam range, the SR45 benefits from an intuitive touch-screen interface that does away with fiddly buttons and joysticks. All camera modes and settings are accessed through the LCD in a (mostly) straightforward manner. There are a few curious anomalies however that may occasionally frustrate first-time users (for instance, the sepia-tinged Old Movie mode receives a sub-menu all of its own, as opposed to being in the Picture Effects menu, where you would expect to find it.)
Otherwise, all settings and features are up to the standard we've come to expect from a Sony camcorder. The spot focus tool is particularly noteworthy; it allows you to touch an area of the LCD to bring that section of the frame into focus. This is handy if you're subject is obscured by something in the foreground, which can often confuse the autofocus. The inclusion of a prominently labelled Easy button will be equally appreciated by inexperienced people, as you don't need to cycle through the menu screen to select it.
Naturally enough, the DCR-SR45 lacks an external microphone jack, which leaves you stuck with the camera's modestly sized, two-channel microphone. Although it does a fairly good job of capturing clear audio, we experienced some wind interference during outdoor testing. The microphone is also zoom-mic enabled, which means it will favour distant audio when zooming the camera in that direction.
These days, practically every HDD camcorder on the market has been hit with the 'hybrid' stick: offering a secondary recording option (such as DVD or removable flash memory) in addition to an inbuilt hard drive. The SR45 is no exception, with the included memory stick slot boosting its storage capabilities by up to 16GB. Conveniently, you can also transfer your data from the hard drive to a memory stick, which is a great way to free up memory while on the road or transfer data to a compatible computer with a minimum of fuss.
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