The Sony Handycam DCR-SX30E is a small and light camcorder that shoots standard-definition video. It can be picked up for around £180 online, which isn't much more expensive than high-definition models like the Flip Video UltraHD. But the DCR-SX30E attempts to make up for its lack of pixels with its excellent 60x optical zoom and added configurability.
Small, light and cute
The DCR-SX30E is very small and light, which is perhaps no surprise, given that it shoots straight to memory rather than relying on bulky tapes or discs. You can pick it up in three colours: blue, red or silver. We had the blue model. Combined with the stylish chrome trim, this bold colour made for a rather cute package.
Most of the settings menus are configured using the touchscreen LCD, but Sony has provided physical buttons for the shooting controls. The record button is positioned so that it's within easy reach of your thumb when you're holding the camcorder in your palm. There's also a comfortable, top-mounted zoom rocker that sits next to the photo button for shooting stills. You flip open the integrated lens cover via a slider control on the front of the camcorder.
The DCR-SX30E has 4GB of on-board memory, so you can start shooting immediately, without having to add any additional storage. This gives you enough space for just under 1 hour of recording time at the highest quality setting. You can also add extra memory if you want to extend the shooting time. As this is a Sony device, it uses Memory Stick Pro Duo cards, which are more expensive than the plain old SD cards used by most competing models.
The DCR-SX30E has three shooting modes that all capture video at a 720x576-pixel resolution at 25 frames per second. Each mode varies in its date rate and, hence, quality. The highest setting is the 'HQ' mode, which uses a 9Mbps data rate. Next is the 'SP' mode, which comes in at 6Mbps, and then there's 'LP', which shoots at 3Mbps. The camcorder can also be used to shoot stills, but, as these are captured at a resolution of just 640x480 pixels, this functionality isn't very useful. On the plus side, the camcorder has an extremely powerful 60x optical zoom that's useable even towards the end of its range, thanks to the excellent image stabilisation.
Sony's camcorders have a reputation for delivering good colour reproduction, and the DCR-SX30E keeps true to tradition. In good lighting conditions, colours really do look impressive. While it's not quite as good as some more expensive rivals at dealing with low lighting conditions, such as you might encounter at birthday parties or weddings, it's not too shabby either. Colours become much more muted, but it manages to hold onto a decent amount of shadow detail. At the higher quality settings, the camcorder also does a good job of retaining image detail even when dealing with fast-moving objects or speedy pans. That's something that cheaper camcorders, with their more aggressive compression, often struggle with.
It's rather disappointing, however, that there's no socket to let you hook up a pair of headphones for monitoring audio. Also, as there's no way of connecting external microphones either, you're totally reliant on the built-in stereo mics, although their performance is quite good.
While we like Sony's 'one touch' system, which lets you set up focus and metering, for example, just by touching a point on the screen, it's a shame that there's no direct control over shutter speed. You can only influence it via the 10 scene modes.
At the Sony Handycam DCR-SX30E's current price point, comparable high-definition camcorders, like the Flip Video UltraHD, don't offer anywhere near as much configurability. If you really don't want to make the change to HD yet, the DCR-SX30E offers a good range of features and decent video quality for the price.
Edited by Charles Kloet