We used to think that hard drive models would take over the camcorder market as miniDV slowly faded into the horizon. We've since changed our tune after using flash-based models, especially those that include some onboard memory. However, if you shoot a lot of video -- or just don't bother to back it up very often -- then a hard drive model probably makes sense for you, at least until the flash-based camcorders start to include more onboard memory or the price of flash memory cards declines.
Sony's £750 Handycam HDR-SR11 is among the cream of the hard-drive AVCHD crop right now, and the same is true for its sister, the , since the only difference between them is the size of their respective hard drives. The SR11 sports a 60GB drive, while the SR12 packs 120GB into its attractive HD-recording body.
That body design is quite nice, though it does have some quirks and comes across as chunky compared with most flash-based models. It's about the same size as a miniDV camcorder, thanks to its hard drive. Plus, that drive gives you a nice grip, while some flash camcorders have awkwardly designed grips.
Sony placed the controls well; however, you will have to use the 81mm (3.2-inch) touchscreen to get to some important functions, which can be an annoying way to use a camcorder. The large size of the screen helps compared with some other Sony models, but the screen is still fingerprint prone.
The fingerprints can be distracting when recording, and if you try to change a setting while shooting, you'll likely end up jostling the camcorder while you make the change. Thankfully, Sony included a small button up front, below the lens, for backlight compensation, so you won't have to hit the menus for that.
Just above that button is the CAM CTL dial. It has a button on the front of it that lets you activate manual focus, exposure compensation, white balance shift or shutter speed, though you can only assign one such function to the wheel at any given time. This wouldn't be the end of the world, but you have to dig pretty deep into the menu to assign something to the wheel.
Sony didn't call the menu item CAM CTL, instead it called it Dial Setting. True, it's the only dial on the camcorder, but if you're going to label it the CAM CTL on the body, you should be consistent in the menu.
We did like the doors that cover the various connectors though. The doors are plastic and have nifty hinges and slides to get them out of the way while using the jacks. We were worried that the headphone or mic-in jacks might not have enough room, but after trying several headphones with various size connectors, we were impressed that all fit amply. An Active Interface Shoe -- Sony's proprietary hot shoe -- sits atop the camcorder so you can add one of Sony's microphones or video lights.
Sony added face detection this year. The HDR-SR11 is quick to notice faces and uses them to set exposure and focus. We tried it in a tricky situation -- a diner -- and it did a great job of locking on our friend's face and stuck with her when she moved around in the frame and kept the exposure correct for her face.
Sony continues to include x.v.Colour -- its name for the xvYCC colour space -- though we have yet to see any appreciable difference, despite using the camcorder with the appropriate Sony TVs. The remote control included with the SR11 will likely make more of a positive difference than x.v.Colour if you plan to attach the camcorder to your TV to view footage.
Sony includes its Picture Motion software with the SR11, but it would be much better off including Vegas Movie Studio Platinum with a camcorder of this price. Picture Motion lets you view your footage, but it can only make extremely basic modifications.