With its £500 street price, HD video support, hard-disk-based recording and Sony provenance, the Handycam HDR-SR5E certainly seems like a bargain.
Mostly, however, the SR5E simply confirms our belief that decent HD video will still run you more than £1,000.
If you discount the small touchscreen LCD and lack of an eye-level viewfinder, the SR5E has a perfectly serviceable design. With its shiny silver-and-matte-black duotone body, it lacks the sophistication of the 7-series models, but that's pretty typical for the camcorder B-list.
At about 460g, it weighs down a jacket pocket but is pretty comfortable to hold during extended shooting. As you'd expect for the money, it feels solidly built, with nice touches such as a sliding jack cover, an electronic lens cover and a sturdy tethered hotshoe protector.
The rest of the controls on the body sit in the places you'd expect to find them: zoom switch, photo shutter and power/mode switch fall under your index finger, while the stop/start record button lies under your thumb. A tiny button for turning on the flash -- for still photography -- sits between the power and record controls.
On the left side of the gripping ridge formed by the hard disk enclosure is the NightShot switch. Underneath the LCD you'll find the buttons for for completely automatic operation (Easy), cycling through the display options and launching thumbnail views, plus the slot for the Memory Stick Pro Duo that's required for shooting still photos.
Also typical -- at least for Sony -- you operate almost all of the camcorder's functions via the touchscreen menu system. As we've said before -- and will repeat ad nauseam -- the 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD is too small for comfortable touchscreen operation.
You have to press the tiny navigation icons with the very tips of your fingers, something that gets even more difficult in colder climes. Thankfully, there are larger, easier to press icons for adjusting exposure compensation, white balance, focus and choosing scene modes.
Along with its duo of siblings -- the tape-based E and the DVD-based -- the SR5E uses Sony's 1/3-inch, 2.1-megapixel ClearVid CMOS sensor, recording video at 1.4-megapixel (HD) or 1.1-megapixel (SD) resolution before upsampling and encoding to 1080i HD (1,440x1,080 pixels) or SD (720x480 pixels), respectively.
It will hold almost 5.5 hours of best-quality video. It also shoots photos at native 1.4-megapixel (16:9) or 2.0-megapixel (4:3) resolutions, despite the grandiose 4-megapixel claim on the body, which refers to a maximum interpolated resolution. It sports a 10x zoom Zeiss T*-coated lens and 5.1 Dolby surround-sound recording.
Unlike the higher-end E, there's relatively little in the way of manual controls -- just those mentioned previously. Since we don't normally shoot people when testing camcorders, we did overlook an interesting feature in our evaluation of the SR7E, which also appears in the SR5E: Face Index.
This will provide thumbnails of every recognisable face in a clip and allow you to jump directly to that bit of the video during playback. Other post-shoot-friendly features include a mini-HDMI connector -- though the cables are still quite pricey -- and a bundled dock with one-button disc burn.