Weighing 1 pound, 7 ounces with battery and tape, I found the HC7 quite comfortable to hold and shoot; only using the touch screen required an awkward two-handed balancing act. Though inconvenient for menu navigation, the LCD otherwise works well, and remains visible in harsh lighting. I generally prefer shooting with an eye-level viewfinder, though, and wish Sony had padded the hard plastic eyecup.
Though Sony emblazons "6.1 megapixels still image recording" on the HC7's lens barrel, that claim's a bit misleading--especially when you can spot "6.1 megapixels" from several feet away and "still image recording" requires an up-close-and-personal read. In fact, it delivers an effective video resolution of 2.3 megapixels in HD mode and 1.7 megapixels in SD mode. Either is more than enough for downsampling to 1,920x540 (a single 1080i field) and 720x480 (SD). Photo resolution depends upon your current video mode. If you take photos while in tape mode (as opposed to memory mode), it records to the Memory Stick Duo but fixes the resolution at 4.6 megapixels (16:9) and 3.4 megapixels (4:3); in camera mode, you have the option of 6.1 or 3.1 megapixels for 4:3, as well as VGA resolution. How confusing is that? Especially since the area of the scene covered by the 4.6 megapixel, 16:9 aspect version is a letterboxed crop of the 6.1 megapixel, 4:3 aspect version. In practice, since most people likely will be shooting HDV and simply snapping the occasional photo, the typical photo size you'll see is 4.6 megapixels.
All that said, the HC7 generally produces excellent video, and depending upon the subject, photos that print nicely as large as 16x9 inches. The auto white balance could be a bit more neutral, but overall the colors emerge ballpark accurate and saturated. As usual with the Zeiss T* lenses, video renders sharply, especially when shot in conjunction with Sony's great Super SteadyShot optical image stabilizer. It helps that the lens doesn't have to stretch beyond 10x zoom; that means neither the optical system nor the stabilizer face undue challenges.
The autofocus and metering systems also perform quite well. The HC7 renders correct exposures in a variety of situations ranging from overcast midday skies to glaring low-angle desert light. Though CNET Labs' tests can't yet substantiate Sony's low-light claims of 2 lux, in a typical single-lamp living room environment it fares better than many competitors for sharpness, noise, and color. And the autofocus adapts relatively quickly to changes in position and zoom.
Although far pricier than the typical home-movie camcorder, if you've got the extra bucks to spend, your baby and vacation videos will look far better shot with the Handycam HDR-HC7 than if you shoot them with the typical $600 model. And though the quality far exceeds that of YouTube video, you can always run them through the garbage disposal first for that Internet cinema veritÃ© look.