Sony HDR-XR200 high-definition handycam

A Full HD Sony camcorder with a 120GB hard drive and built-in GPS

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Sony HDR-XR200
  • Sony HDR-XR200
  • Sony HDR-XR200
  • Sony HDR-XR200

Pros

  • Stunning Full HD picture quality, 120GB hard drive, inbuilt GPS and geo-tagging, plenty of modes and features

Cons

  • No 3.5mm microphone jack, too expensive

Bottom Line

The Sony HDR-XR200 is a gadget-laden show-stopper of a camcorder. It provides more functionality than any entry-level HD camcorder on the market — but it's also a bit more expensive.

Would you buy this?

The Sony HDR-XR200 is the entry-level model in the company’s new star line-up of GPS-equipped handycams. In addition to built-in GPS and geo-tagging, it has all the trimmings you’d expect from a flagship Sony camcorder, including (deep breath) Full HD (1920x1080) recording, a 120GB hard drive, a 15x optical zoom lens, a Memory Stick slot for additional storage, 5.1-channel surround sound, an LCD touch screen, a 4-megapixel still image mode and optical image stabilisation. It also comes with more manual options than you can shake a clapperboard at, along with plenty of consumer-friendly features. In terms of performance, it’s on par with last year’s excellent Sony HDR-SR10, which offered similar specifications.

The Sony HDR-XR200 can be viewed as a replacement model for the HDR-SR10, which explains their marked similarity. Both models share the same 1/5in ClearVid CMOS sensor and effective pixel count of 1490k. What separates this AVCHD camcorder from its predecessor is the afore-mentioned GPS functionality, along with an additional 80GB of memory (the new hard drive will net you around 15 hours of video at the highest quality setting, compared to 4.8 hours with the Sony HDR-SR10).

Some pre-existing features have also been refined by Sony, including smile shutter, face detection and optical image stabilisation. To be honest, we never had any issues with the previous iteration of this technology, so any purported improvements are difficult to gauge. While the Sony HDR-XR200 might not represent a revolutionary step forward, it’s unquestionably a better product than the HDR-SR10 — which was pretty darn good to begin with. Our only reservations have to do with the asking price and the lack of external audio, which we'll get to in a moment.

The HDR-XR200’s main claim to fame is its inbuilt Navteq GPS map. This is a brand new feature that all of Sony’s high-def handycams are now sporting (with other vendors bound to follow suit). It’s essentially a 2D map that shows your current location, along with options to zoom in and out. You can’t use it for voice-guided navigation or anything, but if you’re lost in the bush it could come in handy. Rather coolly, it will also geo-tag your footage based on the location it was shot at, which makes browsing and playback a lot easier. It’s possible that future software updates will incorporate proper GPS navigation, which could be added via the camcorder’s Memory Stick slot. Only time will tell.

The Sony HDR-XR200 sticks to the same design template as the company's previous generation of HD camcorders. Its traditional oblong shape and glossy black finish are virtually indistinguishable from the Sony HDR-SR12, Sony HDR-SR11 and Sony HDR-SR9. This is not a criticism, however — Sony’s handycam range is among the best-looking on the market, so why fix what isn’t broken? (For what it’s worth, you do get a dinky 'GPS' logo this time around.)

In terms of handling, the HDR-XR200 acquits itself well, although we would have liked to see a cam-control dial for manual adjustments — this is something Sony refuses to bring to its lower-end units, despite sharing most of the same modes and features. It also lacks a 3.5mm external microphone jack, which is a bit rubbish for a $1999 camera.

The Sony HDR-XR200’s video performance exhibited no noticeable improvements over its SR10 predecessor. Luckily, the past year has done nothing to dull that camcorder’s rock-solid performance — it still produces some of the best video around and the XR200 offers the same benefits. We were particularly impressed by its low-light performance. (Sony’s obligatory infrared Night Shot mode is also present, allowing you to shoot in complete darkness). All in all, the Sony HDR-XR200 will give the average videographer no qualms when it comes to imaging performance.

The only thing we can fault the Sony HDRXR-200 for is its over-inflated price tag. At $1999, it is substantially more expensive than the average entry-level HD camcorder. (Indeed, you could buy two Sanyo Xacti HD1010s for the same price, and still have money left over for a bag of crisps.) It also costs $600 more than the Sony HDR-SR11 — which, ironically, we thought was too expensive last year. If you’re not a prodigious shooter and aren’t particularly interested in GPS functionality, we’d advise plumping for the Sony HDR-SR11. Otherwise, this is one of the best camcorders on the market.

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