Also typical--at least for Sony--you operate almost all of the camcorder's functions via the touch-screen menu system. As I've said before, and will repeat ad nauseam, the 2.7-inch LCD is too small for comfortable touch-screen operation. You have to press the tiny navigation icons with the very tips of your fingers, something that gets even more difficult in colder climes. Thankfully, there are larger, easier to press icons for adjusting exposure compensation, white balance, focus, and choosing scene modes. (For more comments on the design, see the slide show.)
Along with its duo of siblings--the tape-based HDR-HC5 and the DVD-based HDR-UX5--the SR5 uses Sony's 1/3-inch, 2.1-megapixel ClearVid CMOS sensor, recording video at 1.4-megapixel (HD) or 1.1-megapixel (SD) resolution before upsampling and encoding to 1080i HD (1,440x1,080) or SD (720x480), respectively. The 40GB model will hold almost 5.5 hours of best-quality video, while the 100GB model will hold 13 hours. It also shoots photos at native 1.4-megapixel (16:9) or 2.0-megapixel (4:3) resolutions, despite the grandiose 4-megapixel claim on the body, which refers to a maximum interpolated resolution. It sports a 10x zoom Zeiss T*-coated lens and 5.1 Dolby surround-sound recording.
Unlike the higher-end SR7, there's relatively little in the way of manual controls--just those mentioned previously. Since I don't normally shoot people when testing camcorders, I did overlook an interesting feature in my evaluation of the SR7, which also appears in the SR5: Face Index. This will provide thumbnails of every recognizable face in a clip and allow you to jump directly to that bit of the video during playback. Other post-shoot-friendly features include a mini-HDMI connector--though the cables are still quite pricey--and a bundled dock with one-button disc burn.
By most performance measures, the SR5 fares okay. From a cold start, it takes about 8.5 seconds for the hard disk to spin up and be ready to shoot, and recording generally starts instantaneously when you press the button. The SteadyShot image stabilization works well throughout the zoom range and doesn't seem to mess with panning, and the autoexposure adjusts accurately and quickly to changes in scene illumination. However, the autofocus seems quite sluggish compared to that of other Sony models I've used (as well as to competitors'), frequently taking several seconds to lock on to a new subject, even in good light.