Sony HDR-SR8E

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Sony HDR-SR8E
  • Sony HDR-SR8E
  • Sony HDR-SR8E
  • Sony HDR-SR8E

Pros

  • 100GB hard drive, attractive & comfortable design, vibrant picture quality, excellent stills mode

Cons

  • Price, AVCHD format incompatible with most DVD players

Bottom Line

The Sony HDR-SR8E is a stylish and easy to use HDD camera with a gargantuan 100GB hard drive. It might not be the cheapest model out there, but you definitely get what you pay for.

Would you buy this?

The HDR-SR8E is the creme de la creme of Sony's HDD handycam range, offering a massive 100GB of hard disk space to record your high definition videos. With its exceptional picture quality, user-friendly interface and wealth of additional features (including a 6.1 megapixel stills mode), this camera more than justifies its fairly steep asking price. Despite this, some users may prefer the slightly more affordable HDR-SR7, which offers many of the same features.

Like the rest of Sony's current high-def range, the HDR-SR8E records video in the new AVCHD format, as opposed to HDV. AVCHD is an MPEG-4 based video codec that is considered superior to MPEG-2 due to its greater levels of compression efficiency. In other words, it allows you to record large amounts of data on your hard drive with no loss in image quality. This is especially noticeable with the HDR-SR8E thanks to its hefty 100GB HDD, which is capable of storing between 13 and 38 hours of high definition video depending on the quality selected. Clearly, the primary criticism leveled at HDD-based cameras -- limited storage -- no longer applies. (By contrast, you would need to carry around thirty discs or tapes to achieve the same result in the DVD/mini DV formats.)

This not only makes HDD cameras more convenient, but also a lot more cost effective. Naturally, when your hard disk space does begin to fill up, it's just a simple matter of transferring your footage to a computer or burning it to DVD. However, this does create its own set of problems, particularly for those of you who lack high definition disc players, but we'll get to these issues in a moment.

The first thing that leaps out about this video camera is its striking visual design. In place of the more traditional aesthetic found on Sony's other HDD models, the HDR-SR8E sports an eye-catching ergonomic shape and a stylish glossy black finish. In addition to looking suitably attractive, the curved body fits comfortably into the hand, making it an absolute joy to use. At 530g, its weight strikes the right balance between comfortability and stability, ensuring your arms won't easily tire and your footage remains relatively shake-free (this is further remedied by Sony's Super SteadyShot technology, which helps to minimise jerky movements.)

We have recently become spoiled by the exceptional quality of Sony's high definition cameras, and the HDR-SR8E is no exception; offering some of the cleanest, most vibrant video we have seen in quite a while. Anyone with a high definition television is sure to be blown away by the quality of their shots, regardless of their experience level (unlike certain other HD models we've tested, such as the HDC-DX1, it's remarkably easy to attain great results with a minimum of user input.) Fans of extra vibrancy will make good use of the x.v. colour mode, which allegedly doubles the range of colours that can be reproduced in any given image. While we can't attest to the truth in these claims, it will certainly brighten up your footage with an injection of rich, primary tones.

Naturally, the camera fares better when shooting in bright environments -- when we moved to low light, the picture degraded rapidly. Thankfully, the Nightshot mode helps to alleviate this problem, producing crisp, noise-free visuals in universal shades of green. A slow shutter mode is also included for those who prefer to shoot in full colour, though the lethargic strobe effect makes the footage practically unusable.

Once again, Sony has opted to minimise the presence of buttons on the HDR-SR8E in favour of a touch screen interface. This makes for a much more user-friendly experience, especially for novice users, with the majority of advanced functions hidden within the LCD display. Those who prefer a more hands on approach are equally well catered for, with an assortment of adjustable settings which include white balance, shutter speed, exposure, AE modes and digital/picture effects. Handily, a manual button and control dial are also included to the left of the lens; allowing users to quickly adjust focus and brightness levels on the fly. However, we were slightly perplexed by Sony's decision to split the camera settings into two separate categories on the touch screen. Until you get used to the menu's layout, this can prove needlessly time-consuming, forcing you to hunt about and backtrack in a fruitless search for a particular feature. Nevertheless, it remains a preferable option to the legion of dials, directional sticks and buttons that clutter other cameras.

Special mention needs to go to the HDR-SR8E's excellent stills mode. Capturing at a maximum resolution of 6.1 megapixels, it is capable of competing with many dedicated compact cameras; making it a decent option for those on the lookout for a hybrid device. We were also impressed by the presence of external microphone and headphone jacks, which will compliment the camera's ability to capture 5.1 surround sound quite nicely.

Like Sony's other hard disk-based handycams, the HDR-SR8E 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 PC 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'll need to purchase editing software that supports high definition video.

Another thing to bear in mind is that to play DVDs in the AVCHD format, you'll 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. Alternatively, you can bypass the disc burning process entirely and view your movies on a high definition TV via a mini HDMI cable (unfortunately, this isn't included in the sales package and will have to be bought separately).

All up, this is an unmistakably professional product that combines the user-friendly interface, flawless picture quality and bevy of useful features that have become Sony's hallmarks. For those who can afford it, it comes highly recommended.

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