Sony Handycam DCR-SX30E review

£190
Price when reviewed

Standard definition camcorders are fast becoming a commodity item these days. But that hasn’t prevented Sony from including two SD models in its latest range. The HDC-SX30E is the cheapest of the pair, coming in at £165 exc VAT.

Despite this, it’s still expensive in the context of pocket camcorders. The excellent 720p Flip Mino HD is a good £20 cheaper than this, and Kodak’s Zi6, which also does 720p for nearly £100 less – so it needs to offer a good deal of extra features to justify itself.

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Start to examine the specifications and it certainly does that. To make up for its lack of HD, the SX30E boasts a rather bonkers 60x optical zoom, and this is coupled with an effective electronic image stabiliser. It has face recognition too, and the playback mode offers a natty face index view, where selecting a clip brings up a thumbnail index of all the ugly mugs recognised during each clip.

There’s also stereo audio recording and a zoom microphone feature, a remote control and, finally, 4GB of built-in storage, good for around an hour of recording at the maximum bit rate of 9Mbits/sec. The camera also takes Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick cards if you want more recording time than that.

That’s certainly a long features list, and it’s backed up by excellent ease of use. The DCR-SX30E boasts a 2.7in touchscreen (which hinges and swivels), which makes it easy to get at the few settings available. But the burning question remains – is the camera any good? Well, in the context of standard definition camcorders we’ve reviewed recently, we’d have to answer in the affirmative.

Despite the fact that the CCD is pretty small – just 1/8in in size – the camera isn’t too bad in low light. Though a little noisy, colours were rendered reasonably accurately in our test shots, and it’s certainly better than the disappointing Panasonic SDR-SD15 – a similarly-priced SD camcorder. And, likewise, in good light, quality is reasonable. It’s better once again than the Panasonic, and the optical zoom and stabilisation sets it apart from pocket video cameras.

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But it can’t compete, quality-wise with the excellent Flip Mino HD in poorly lit environments. There’s a good deal of barrel distortion in wide-angle shots. Its interlaced, standard definition footage just doesn’t look as crisp as many cheaper HD models, and at full zoom (you’ll need to use a tripod for this) it has trouble focussing successfully. The 1.3-megapixel stills capability is best ignored too – it’s not particularly useful.

The SDR-SX30E camera is, then, a bit of a mixed bag. It’s packed with features, reasonably priced for what you get and boasts generally competent image quality for a standard definition device. It’s not a bad device at all, but alas its lack of even a 720p mode means it’s impossible to wholeheartedly recommend.

Specifications

Camcorder HD standard None
Camcorder maximum video resolution 720 x 576
Camera megapixel rating 1.3mp
Camcorder recording format MPEG-2
Accessory shoe? no
Camera optical zoom range 60.0x
Camera optical image stabilisation no
Electronic image stabilisation? yes
Screen size 2.7in
Touchscreen yes
Viewfinder? no
Built-in flash? no
Light? no
Number of sensors 1

Audio

Internal mic type Stereo
External mic socket? no
Quoted battery life 100mins

Dimensions

Dimensions width 53
Dimensions depth 113
Dimensions height 58
Dimensions 52.6 x 113 x 58.2mm (WDH)
Weight 240g

Storage

Integrated memory 4.0GB
Camcorder internal storage type Flash memory
Memory card support Memory Stick Duo Pro

Outputs

Data connection USB
Composite video output? yes
Component video output? no

Accessories

Remote control? yes
Dock? no

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