Other than its recording medium, the HDC-SX5 is a relatively ordinary camcorder. Discs load from the top and SDHC from the side, so you could easily use it on a tripod. There’s a standard-sized accessory hot shoe, too, but since no microphone input is provided you’ll still have to opt for proprietary add-ons. Strangely, you can adjust audio levels manually – despite the complete absence of a headphone output as well. The HDMI connection is also curiously located underneath the battery, so you can only use this when the camcorder is on external power. Otherwise, an RCA-based AV connection is available for composite video output, and a proprietary connection for analogue component.
No lens ring is available, and unlike Canon’s HV20, there isn’t a separate alternative method for manual focusing. Instead, you must switch the camera to manual focus mode and use the joystick, although you can turn on Focus Assist to help. The joystick is also the home of the five Scene modes – Sports, Portrait, Low Light, Spotlight, and Surf & Snow. The shutter can be varied from 1/25 to 1/8000 sec and the iris from F2 to F16. You can also add up to 18dB of video gain to the fully open aperture. White balance can be controlled with the joystick, too.
In automatic mode, the joystick still has its functions. You can turn on Colour Night View, backlight compensation, soft skin mode, tele macro, the intelligent contrast function and fades between clips. Intelligent contrast brings out the details in shadows and highlights, and we found it performed its task reasonably well. The HDC-SX5 also uses optical image stabilisation rather than the inferior electronic variety that sacrifices image resolution. This proved incredibly effective and is one of the best implementations we’ve seen in a consumer camcorder. Another potentially handy function is PRE-REC, which spools three seconds of video into a buffer, so when you hit record the video file will actually include the three seconds before you pressed the button. However, you can only use this when recording to SDHC.