Sony was the first manufacturer to introduce consumer high definition cameras to the UK in the shape of the HDR-HC1E, and although manufacturers are now turning away from the tape-based HDV format, Sony has continued to release models. The HDR-HC9E represents the fourth generation of Sony consumer HDV camcorders, and is essentially a development of the HDR-HC7E.
The HDR-HC1E was also Sony's first HD camcorder to use a CMOS sensor instead of a CCD one, and the HDR-HC9E continues that tradition. It uses the same 1/2.9in sensor as the HDR-HC7E, which has a gross 3.2-megapixels. Only 2.3-megapixels are used when shooting video, but Sony employs interpolation to boost still image resolution to 6.1-megapixels for 2,848 x 2,136 photos. This is the same as the HDR-HC7E. The image stabilisation is Sony's Super SteadyShot optical system, rather than the (admittedly fairly decent) electronic system found in all predecessors except the HDR-HC7E. We found Super SteadyShot very effective during testing.
Now that HD video has bedded in, assistance for the novice seems to be the focus for camcorder manufacturers. Sony offers loads of handy advice via its built-in Guide, which is divided into four subsections, accessed via the touch-sensitive LCD. The 'Shoot Guide' takes you through what all the Scene modes actually do, and enables you to set the one you want. It also offers an alternative route to spot metering and focus, exposure, and other settings, with more explanation of why you might want to use these than is available via the usual menu.
The ‘Cnnect Guide' provides a pictorial guide to hooking the camcorder up to an external device, and only changes settings when you down-convert from HD to SD.
The 'Display Guide' is also primarily explanative, and tells you what on-screen symbols mean - just click on the one you don't understand. The 'Useful Guide' includes settings which don't fit into the other categories, such as setting the recording format. However, although Sony's Guide covers a lot more ground than Panasonic's Intelligent Shooting Guide, as found in the HDC-SD9, you still have to invoke it and trawl through the options to use it. This will probably mean novices won't use the advanced functions as much as those found in the Panasonic, which are more ‘in your face'.
Fortunately, the Guide hasn't replaced the P-Menu and so more seasoned users can still get directly to the settings they want. Scene modes include Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Candle, Sunrise-Sunset, Fireworks, Landscape, Portrait, Spotlight, Beach and Snow - a comprehensive selection. Alternatively, you can manually set the shutter between 1/6th and 1/10,000th, and vary the exposure, although there is no guide as to how the latter relates to F-stop or gain settings.