Sony Handycam DCR-SR42
Though most digital cameras produced today have sufficient resolution to make the spec itself almost a nonissue, the same can't be said about camcorders. That goes double for camcorders which record directly to hard disk or DVD, since they need sufficient pixels to compress into a decent image. The resolution of the hard-disk-based Sony Handycam DCR-SR42--680,000 pixels--falls into the insufficient range, especially since its effective video and still resolution is a mere 340,000 pixels. In fact, it seems as if the only reason for the SR42 to exist is so that retailers can upsell you to the DCR-SR62; trading a higher-resolution 1-megapixel sensor for a more modest zoom lens--25x versus the SR42's 40x--makes sense to me given the $50 price difference between the two models.
The SR42 comes in two flavors, one with a 30GB hard disk that can hold up to 7 hours of best-quality video, and a version with a 60GB hard disk (the DCR-SR42A) that holds up to 14 hours. Unless you really think you'll need to shoot more than 7 consecutive hours of video with no way to copy it off the hard disk, I can't imagine spending the extra $100 for the bigger hard drive; an extra $25, maybe. Like all the SR models, the SR42 bundles the Handycam Station, which charges the battery and connects to a TV or PC. It also supports one-touch DVD burning via software or when connected to the Sony DVDirect.
On one hand, the SR42 feels compact and lightweight--only 13.3 ounces in a sea of 1-plus-pounders. But the plastic body also feels a little cheap, more like what you'd expect for half the price. It's almost too small, as well. My fingers overshot the top of the squat body, making it awkward to shoot one-handed; I had to pull my wrist and fingers back to manipulate the zoom and record controls with my right hand.
As with the rest of the Sony consumer camcorder family, the SR42 uses a touch screen-based menu system. On this camcorder's 2.5-inch, 4:3 aspect LCD, you need tiny fingers to navigate, preferably ones without fingertips, since the screen can literally become obscured by fingerprints. You don't need to use the menu much, since the SR42 has only the most basic of feature sets. It includes 10 scene program modes, a few digital effects and transitions, spot metering and focus, and NightShot infrared shooting mode.