Camcorder Review:Sony DCR-SR100 Hard Drive Camcorder

Putting Video in Drive

Talk about the whole package, the Sony DCR-SR100 Handycam Camcorder not only captures sharp digital video directly to a 30-gigabyte hard drive, but it also serves as a decent digital still camera as well.

Don’t let the small size of this camcorder fool you. With a 1/3", 3.3 megapixel advanced HAD CCD imager, the DCR-SR100 packs quite a punch when it comes to image quality.

The Body

The Sony DCR-SR100 is small and compact (weighing in at 1 pound, 6 ounces) with a smooth gray body. It fits nicely in the palm of the hand and feels quite comfortable in the hand strap.

On the back of the camcorder is a mode dial not only turning the power off and on, but also allows the user to switch from memory card record, hard disk record, or playback. To the left and slightly below the dial are 3 LEDs indicating which mode you are in. Slightly to the right is the on-camera-light button. Below and to the right is the small record button.

The left side of the camcorder features a 2.7" wide LCD touch panel screen. Below the screen are the camcorder’s A/V, USB, and DC hookups. To the left is the Nightshot button as well as the backlight button. Noticeably absent is a headphone jack. The camcorder does, however, offer use of an external microphone that users can connect via the active hotshoe. This brings us to the top of the camcorder. Mounted directly in the center is a built-in 5.1 surround sound microphone. The lens, a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens, offers 10x Optical/120X digital zoom. Mounted just above the lens is a small built-in flash for still photos.

Underneath the viewfinder reveals a number of buttons, including Easy Handycam mode, Wide Select, Display Battery Info, and DVD Burn which allows the user to quickly burn video from the camcorder’s hard drive directly to a DVD using the supplied software.

The Controls

Like most camcorders, a toggle switch on top of the camera body controls the zoom. The Toggle feels very solid and produces smooth zooms. The camcorder’s touch screen operates other controls such as manual focus. This can be quite difficult to maneuver while on the go. You have to adjust the manual focus using the focus adjustment controls on-screen, and we recommend setting the focus before starting the shot.

You also access manual white balance through the touch screen. However, other manual features aren’t included, such as shutter speed, gain, or iris control. Instead we get exposure control which is a sliding meter adjusted using the touch screen.

How Does it Sound?

Playing back the video from our various tests, we found the audio to be crisp and clear. The AGC is quite smooth and does a good job of keeping the sound balanced. We tested the SR100 in both quiet and noisy environments, and the audio functions performed equally well in both. Also there is no manual gain control present, another drawback for those wanting more control over their projects.

How Does it Look?

The image quality captured from the 1/3″ Advanced HAD (Hole Accumulation Diode) CCD is quite impressive. Sony boasts 2.048 million pixels on the 3.3 megapixel imager and up to 530 lines of horizontal resolution.

Using the camcorder outdoors, the images come across crisp and clear, and the auto exposure is quick and smooth. Even going from outdoors to indoors, we noticed the change in white balance to be quite impressive. The CCD operates quite well in medium light conditions, requiring at least 5 lux to operate.

Moving into complete darkness the Super NightShot is engaged quickly, illuminating subjects using Infrared technology, producing that familiar "dull green with glowing eyes" effect. Not a bad tool to have when shooting in complete darkness, just don’t use this for your next wedding video.

The still image capture, or digital camera portion works quite well allowing the user to take still photographs with 3.048 megapixels of resolution. The clarity of the images is good but not great. We’re not sure that this will replace a digital camera completely. But again, for the serious traveler this is a perfect solution to cutting down on equipment for the long trips.


The Drive

The internal (non-removable) 30 gigabyte hard drive is capable of holding up to 440 minutes (more than 7 hours) of high quality video, a very nice feature for those doing a lot of traveling. There are 3 recording modes, HQ (high quality), SP (standard play) and LP (long play).

The video playback is quickly accessed through the touch screen and allows you to view a thumbnail of each clip making it very simple to locate and watch your desired clips with instant access, thanks to the hard drive storage medium.

The still image viewing is accessed the same way, again showing users thumbnails, making it easy to quickly get around.

Conclusion

The Sony DCR-SR100 is an excellent solution for hobbyists, or travelers who want to capture great video and still images without having to bother with a lot of buttons. Being able to store large amounts of video to the 30-gigabyte hard drive is also an attractive feature, especially for those going on long trips that don’t want to be lugging Mini DV tapes across the country. The lack of manual controls however, may leave some video enthusiasts a bit frustrated.

TECH SPECS

Model: DCR-SR100

Number of CCDs: 1

Pixels on CCD: 3.31 million

Video Effective Pixels: 2.048 million

Hard Drive Size: 30 GB

Video Format: MPEG 2

Still Format: JPEG

Focus: Auto/Manual

Shutter Speed: Auto

Lens f Stop: f/1.8

Optical Zoom: 10x

Focal Length: 5.1-51mm

Image Stabilization: Electronic

Manual White Balance: Yes

Viewfinder: Color

LCD Monitor 2.7″: 123k pixels

Progressive Scan: Yes

Video In: Yes, Multi A/V

Video Out: Yes, Multi A/V

Microphone In: Yes (through Active Interface Shoe)

Manual Audio Level Controls: No

Headphone Jack: No

Speaker: Yes

Still Shot Media: Hard Drive

Flash: Yes

External Battery Charger Included : No

Battery Type: InfoLithium

On-Camer-Light: Yes

Accessory Shoe: Yes

STRENGTHS

  • Crisp, clear picture
  • Versatile
  • Large Storage
  • Compact design

WEAKNESSES

  • No headphone jack
  • Limited manual controls
  • Small record button

SUMMARY

The SR100 is a great all-in-one, video and stills solution with 5.1 surround sound though it lacks greater manual control.

Brent Holland is a wedding/event video producer, and owner of a video production company.

$999

Sony Electronics Inc.

16530 Via Esprillo, MZ 7104

San Diego, CA 92127

www.sonystyle.com

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