Sony HDR-XR550 Full HD camcorder

A Full HD Sony camcorder with 240GB hard drive and GPS functionality

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Sony HDR-XR550
  • Sony HDR-XR550
  • Sony HDR-XR550
  • Sony HDR-XR550

Pros

  • Stellar video performance, plenty of storage space for recordings, doesn't skimp on manual features

Cons

  • Expensive, almost identical to the previous model

Bottom Line

The Sony HDR-XR550 is a feature-packed Full HD camcorder with plenty of advanced tools and features. Unfortunately, most consumers will find its price tag to be too steep.

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The Sony HDR-XR550 Full HD camcorder is a hard disk–based Handycam with 240GB of storage. It replaces the HDR-XR520 as the new top dog in Sony’s overcrowded camcorder kennel. (Other models include the HDR-XR350, HDR-XR200, HDR-XR100, HDR-XR150, DCR-SR68, DCR-SR47 and HDR-XR500 — and that’s just Sony’s hard disk–based models.)

Boasting a high-end Exmor R CMOS sensor, a 12-megapixel stills image mode, a manual control dial and an external microphone jack, the Sony HDR-XR550 is amply equipped for discerning videographers. It also comes with a 240GB hard drive capable of storing up to 96 hours of HD video. On the downside, the Sony HDR-XR550 is prohibitively expensive for a consumer-level camcorder, and it offers hardly any improvements over its predecessor. It’s also a bit bulky compared to competing models from other brands — although this may be a plus for some users.

As mentioned, the Sony HDR-XR550 is the successor to last year’s Sony HDR-XR520. We’re not sure what the extra 30 in the model number is supposed to signify, but this is pretty much the same camcorder we reviewed in 2009. Both camcorders share an identical BIONZ processor, 1/2.9in CMOS sensor, 37mm Sony G lens and 6.6-megapixel resolution. In fact, the only discernable difference is the LCD touchscreen, which has grown 0.3in (stone the crows! Etc.) The AVCHD bit rate has also been increased from 16Mbps to 24Mbps, but that's about it.

Without question, this is one of the laziest product refreshes we have ever borne witness to — it doesn’t even come with the obligatory boost in storage space (would an extra 10GB have killed you, Sony?). That said, the HDR-XR520 was pretty damn great to begin with, so the lack of enhancements isn’t that big of a deal. After all, you wouldn’t expect David Beckham or Cristiano Ronaldo to grow an extra leg each year, would you?

Like its Full HD stablemates, the HDR-XR550 comes with an inbuilt GPS receiver. The integrated mapping system lets you view your current location on a 2D map, though there are no navigational options like on a normal GPS. It will also organise your video clips based on the locations where they were shot. To be honest, we’re not 100 per cent sold on the merits of a camcorder GPS, but why look a gift horse in the mouth, eh?

The Sony HDR-XR550 looks appropriately polished for a high-end Sony camcorder. It eschews the hip ‘n’ happening colour schemes of newer camcorder models in favour of a basic black finish. With dimensions of 70x74x143mm and weighing in at half a kilogram, the Sony HDR-XR550 is not the most portable HDD camcorder on the market. On the plus side, the extra bulk helps to anchor the device during handheld shooting and the controls are less crammed together — a plus if you have big hands.

As expected, the Sony HDR-XR550’s video performance was pretty indistinguishable from its HDR-XR520 predecessor. Both camcorders produced exceptionally detailed video and excelled in dim lighting, with image noise only cropping up in the darkest settings. We initially found colours to be slightly muted for our tastes, but this was quickly remedied with the x.v Colour mode. The HDR-XR550 handled very well during testing. We were particularly impressed by its optical image stabiliser, which helped to keep our footage centred and silky smooth.

In addition to taking great video, the Sony HDR-XR550 also comes with an impressive 12-megapixel stills mode. This is achieved via interpolation (which is a fancy word for cheating) but the results speak for themselves. Our test shots remained crisp and vibrant in all but the dimmest environments, while the inclusion of manual controls gives you plenty of photographic freedom. If you’d actually like to make prints using your camcorder (as opposed to just bunging them on Facebook), the Sony HDR-XR550 is a rock solid option.

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Read more on these topics: sony, camcorders, digital video, Sony Handycam

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