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Sony Handycam DCR-SX30E
High definition camcorders have reached a price where it's almost not worth considering anything else. Almost, that is, but not quite. If your budget only stretches to around £200, your only HD choices will be feature-impoverished pocket Internet models such as Flip's UltraHD. In this case, if you want more control over how your video is shot, a standard definition camcorder could still be a better option, as what you lose in pixels you will gain in configurability. The major manufacturers are still developing a small range of standard definition models, and one of Sony's latest is the DCR-SX30E.
Since it uses flash memory for recording, the SX30E is reassuringly tiny. The camcorder comes with 4GB built in, but if you want more the only option is of course Sony's proprietary MemoryStick format, in this case the Pro Duo variety. You will almost certainly need to avail yourself of some extra storage, too, as at the top HQ quality setting the on-board memory is only enough for 55 minutes of footage. The HQ option uses a 9Mbits/sec data rate, but there are also SP and LP modes which operate at 6Mbits/sec and 3Mbits/sec respectively. All footage is recorded at a resolution of 720 x 576 pixels and 25 frames/sec, using a standard interlaced format and MPEG-2 compression.
The optics feed an incredibly tiny 1/8in CCD sensor with 800,000 pixels. The sensor size doesn't bode well for low light performance, and still image resolution is just 640 x 480 pixels, which is behind a lot of mobile phones these days. The one benefit here is that it enables a whopping 60x optical zoom, which can be boosted to 2,000x using digital means, but thankfully Sony plays this down. The lens is protected by a built-in cover, which operates using a manual slider rather than automatically when you power on the camcorder.
Not surprisingly, the DCR-SX30E has few features for the enthusiast. There is no accessory shoe - there's hardly enough room for one anyway - nor minijacks for headphones or an external microphone. The majority of settings are configured through the touchscreen. There are discrete buttons for toggling Easy mode and backlight compensation, and that's it. Otherwise, settings are accessed via the Home and Options menus. However, the latter is where the most detailed configurations can be found.
Since the control method is via touchscreen, Sony's capable one-touch system is available. This provides either focusing or metering by simply pressing a reference point in the visible frame. Alternatively, both can be set simultaneously via the combined option. There's also a tele macro mode, plus both focus and exposure can be set manually using touchscreen sliders. As with other Sony camcorders, there is no direct access to shutter speed. Your only option is to bias this indirectly using one of the 10 scene modes. For example, Sports will choose the highest shutter possible in the given light conditions, for sharper pictures of moving objects.