- Compression free video footage, lightweight, compact
- Fringing, poor quality stills, lacks manual controls
A good bet for the casual user.
Price$ 1,699.00 (AUD)
Sony has recently quadrupled the size of its hard disk based Handycam series, and the DCRSR80 sits atop the range of new models. With a 60GB hard drive - larger than virtually any other camcorder on the market - a 12x optical zoom and a few unusual extras, this camera is an attractive device. However, more advanced users may find that a few operating quirks and some image problems detract from the overall package.
Sony's previous entry in the hard disk camcorder market, the DCR-SR100 was a mixed bag, so we were curious to see how this new model would measure up against it. For a start, the DCRSR80 is a good deal smaller than its sibling, in fact it bears an uncanny resemblance to JVC's Everio line. This is a good thing, as it means the camcorder is lightweight, easy to hold and compact. One other major difference is the inclusion of a dock, a rarity in the camcorder market. This allows you to leave the power connections and USB attached to the dock, saving you from constantly having to reconnect cables to the camera. This is all well and good, but we were a little irked to find that there's not a USB connection on the camera itself, so there's no option but to use the dock.
For the most part we found the video quality of the DCRSR80 to be on a par or better than the DCR-SR100, which is surprising, given its smaller 1 megapixel CCD sensor. There were few traces of compression artefacts even on rapidly moving objects or fast pans, but images were generally very smooth and crisp, which is an excellent achievement for a camera of this type. Colour balance was good, though a little washed out on bright shades. We did notice a few aberrations on large areas of colour, with pinkish traces evident on red backgrounds for instance. However, the most noticeable image artefact we found was the worst case of purple fringing we have ever seen on a camcorder. This was only evident on particularly bright areas, such as fluorescent lights and brilliant white objects, but was certainly noticeable.
Like all Sony camcorders, the DCRSR80 includes an infrared night shot mode, which is excellent in complete darkness, though does leave video with that "covert army reconnaissance" green tinge. Without this feature turned on, we thought low light images were fairly poor, with very low sensitivity. The slow shutter mode greatly increases brightness, but apart from the expected stuttering, high levels of noise crept in making this feature largely redundant. The on-board image stabilisation function is excellent, making a huge difference at the maximum optical zoom of 12x.
Still images were predictably disappointing, with the 1 megapixel sensor proving inadequate. Shots looked roughly comparable to what we might expect from a camera phone. They might just do for a small print, but certainly can't replace a proper digital camera. In this respect we felt the DCRSR80 was far inferior to the DCR-SR100. There's also no flash, which is rare for a camera in this price range
Using the DCRSR80 is generally a very simple process, though once again we have mixed feelings about Sony's touch screen interface. Using the 2.7in widescreen LCD, most controls are accessed using an on screen touch sensitive menu. This is great, as it means it's easy to change settings while retaining focus on filming. What's not so great is Sony's slightly confusing multi-tiered menu layout. After testing many Sony models we've got used to the system now, but for the first time user it will take a while. For the complete novice Sony includes its "easy" mode, which simplifies the available settings and also makes the interface icons twice as big. There are also preset modes for landscapes, sports, portrait and others.
Unfortunately, the level of manual options on board the DCRSR80 is a little limited. Like many models, there's no microphone jack, though it is possible to add external devices (such as proprietary Sony Microphone) using the on-board active interface shoe. While Sony has included options to modify exposure, white balance and focus manually, there's no sign of shutter and aperture controls. There's also no external viewfinder, again in the vein of JVC's Everio range, which may annoy some users. We found the LCD to be more than capable, however, even in bright sunshine.
Copying videos to a PC for editing is a simple process. Simply place the camcorder in its dock, connect the USB cable and drag the files over in Windows Explorer. It's also possible to directly transfer videos to a PC's DVD recorder with a single button on the dock.
Overall, the DCRSR80 will appeal to the casual user who wants to record a heap of video. The 60GB hard disk will hold nearly 900 minutes of footage at high quality making ideal for vacations. Using the basic controls is simple, and the image quality is generally good. It's also lightweight and moderately affordable. More ambitious users should weigh up this purchase due to the occasional image aberrations and lack of manual control.
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