The SX30E doesn't include Sony's latest widgets like face detection-based exposure compensation. It does have Face Indexing, although we've found this of limited practical use despite the marketing claims. One surprising omission, however, is any way of triggering record via the LCD. Having a button for this on the outside edge of the display makes two-handed shooting from the hip a very comfortable alternative to the traditional HandyCam posture. Some manufacturers are even adding zoom controls here, and it would have improved the SX30E's usability to have this option.
After the steady stream of HD camcorders we've been seeing here at TrustedReviews, regular TV resolution can feel like a step back. Naturally, the SX30E's picture has far less detail than HD, but colour reproduction is equally important, and this has traditionally been a strong point for Sony. The DCR-SX30E achieves Sony's usual saturated image in good lighting. Primary colours are vibrant and well defined, although there is a slight loss of focus at the most extreme telephoto factor. The compression also handles fast-moving detail well, without an undue level of artefacts - something cheap Internet-oriented camcorders often fail to accomplish.
The most likely casualty of the SX30E's small CCD is low light performance, and not surprisingly it isn't outstanding in this area. Sadly, with many cheaper camcorders, dimly lit social gatherings are a likely shooting subject, but also one of the weakest areas of performance. The SX30E does slightly better than expected under these conditions. On the downside, colour washes out almost completely in low light, but surprisingly there is still detail visible in shadowy areas, and not too much grain. This is the complete opposite to most HD pocket Internet camcorders, such as the Flip UltraHD, which maintains colour but with a much fuzzier image.
The SX30E's video comes as a standard MPG files, so is readily supported by most mainstream editing apps for PC or Mac. There's a USB 2.0 port under the LCD, and the only other connection is for A/V output. Sony bundles a breakout cable sporting composite video and RCA audio, and the port is protected by a reassuringly sturdy plastic flap, something we wish more manufacturers would emulate.
Although the days of standard definition camcorders are clearly numbered, there are still a few years left to go. If your budget only extends to £200, your choice is between a cut-down HD model with inferior features and image quality, a pocket Internet HD camcorder with no features at all other than direct web upload, or a budget regular TV resolution unit such as the DCR-SX30E.
Canon's LEGRIA FS21 and JVC's Everio GZ-MS120 both offer better low light performance, particularly the JVC, but they are also considerably more expensive, where the SX30E is available for around £200. If you would rather have a camcorder with a little more control than a Flip, and are willing to forego HD resolution to get it, this is a relatively capable pocket model for a good price.