So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Sony SPK-HCE Sports Pack waterproof camcorder case
A waterproof camcorder case that works with a multitude of Sony handycams
- User-friendly interface, excellent build quality, compatible with most Sony digital handycams
- Expensive, limits camcorder functionality, only waterproof to a depth of five metres
The Sony SPK-HCE Sports Pack is a user-friendly waterproof camcorder case that does the basics incredibly well. What's more, it works with nearly every Sony handycam under the (summer) sun. So long as you're not planning on deep-sea diving, the SPK-HCE Sports Pack will get the job done.
Price$ 499.00 (AUD)
The SPK-HCE Sports Pack is an underwater housing for Sony camcorders. Its main claims to fame are its awesome versatility (over 20 handycam models are supported) and user-friendly interface. On the downside, the Sony SPK-HCE Sports Pack isn’t the most robust case we’ve seen -- it’s only waterproof to a depth of five metres, which rules out deep sea diving (or even the deep end of some public swimming pools). It's also a bit pricey and blocks access to most of your camcorder's modes and features. Nevertheless, the SPK-HCE Sports Pack remains a reliable product for low-grade underwater frolics.
Thanks to some clever engineering (and seven different mounting shoes) the SPK-HCE can house a dizzying array of Sony camcorders. Compatible models include (deep breath): the Sony HDR-UX20, Sony DCR-DVD708, Sony DCR-HC52, Sony DCR-HC38, Sony HDR-CX100, Sony DCR-SR47, Sony DCR-HC38, Sony DCR-DVD810, Sony DCR-DVD610, Sony DCR-SR85, Sony DCR-SR65, Sony DCR-SR45, Sony HDR-XR200, Sony HDR-SR10, Sony DCR-SR220, Sony HDR-XR520, Sony HDR-SR12E and the Sony HDR-SR11.
Many of the above handycams were discontinued by Sony well over a year ago, so it’s nice to see the company throwing existing customers a bone. By contrast, Canon’s $799 WP-V1 waterproof camcorder case only supports a piddling two models. The only current handycam that the SPK-HCE doesn’t support is the Sony HDR-TG5 due to its unconventional pistol-grip shape. So long as you're not packing one of those babies, you should be good to go.
The Sony SPK-HCE Sports Pack is a chunky piece of kit, measuring 159x148x220mm and weighing close to a kilogram (and that's before you add a camcorder). While it's not something you can throw inside a camera bag, its bulk is more-or-less on par with other waterproof cases we've tested. As mentioned, it comes with an array of individually numbered mounting shoes for different handycam models. Equipping a camcorder in the SPK-HCE is a pain-free process: you simply attach the relevant mounting shoe to your camcorder and slide it into the case. Curiously, the Sony SPK-HCE Sports Pack does not provide a clear view of the camcorder's LCD display. Instead, a swing-out mirror mechanism is used to reflect what's on the screen. It works, but it's a little weird. Sony has also included a stereo microphone on the device for underwater recordings.
We're sure you're all wondering how the SPK-HCE Sports Pack manages to house so many different camcorder models in its blocky interior. Well, the key lies in a miniature digital cable that plugs into your handycam’s AV socket. Rather than forcing you to use the physical controls on the camcorder’s body, the SPK-HCE Sports Pack employs its own electronic control panel that communicates with the camcorder via the afore-mentioned cable. Consequently, there’s no need to mirror the camcorder’s control scheme with identically placed buttons — the Sports Pack bypasses them completely. (You can say what you like about Sony, but they sure are clever cats!)
Unfortunately, there is a drawback to this method: the controls are severely limited. While all the basics are covered, such as zoom, record, playback and photos, any advanced features your camcorder sports are completely off-limits. If you want to employ a cool digital effect or correct the white balance (or whatever), you’ll need to pull the camcorder out of the SPK-HCE and make the adjustment manually — preferably while out of the water. This is bound to annoy videophiles, but we doubt the average user will be particularly fussed; most Sony handycams are designed for the point-and-shoot crowd, after all.
To test the SPK-HCE Sports Pack, we fitted it to a Sony HDR-CX520 handycam and braved the icy depths of our next-door neighbour’s swimming pool. (Bear in mind that the SPK-HCE is only water-proof to a depth of 5 metres, which excuses our shallow testing.) Swimming proved somewhat difficult due to the Sports Pack's bulky size, but otherwise we had no issues with its performance. The buttons are large and very well spaced, while the fold-out mirror gives an unobtrusive view of the action (or in this case, an unobtrusive view of our neighbour's hairy legs. The things we do for our readers...)
Naturally, the SPK-HCE’s video performance is entirely dependent on the handycam you're using. For what it's worth, the Sony HDR-CX520 did a fine job in our test-dive (do you see what we did there?), with no reflection issues spoiling the picture quality. All in all, the SPK-HCE Sports Pack is a user-friendly product that should prove a perfect accompaniment for seaside holidays. One thing's for sure, it blows most other waterproof cases clear out of the water. Cough.
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