Though it's not the least expensive model in Sony's AVCHD camcorder lineup--the Handycam HDR-CX100 fills that spot--the hard-drive-based HDR-XR100 looks, feels, and performs as if it should be. Boxy looking, in a boring two-tone silver and black plastic, the XR100 isn't nearly as attractive as the CX100, and as you'd expect from a hard-drive model, it's bigger and heavier as well. There's nothing particularly wrong with the simple but functional physical design--as with similar models the hard drive's protrusion affords a more secure grip--but it feels a bit cheap for its class.
|Key comparative specs||Sony Handycam HDR-XR100||Sony Handycam HDR-CX100||Sony Handycam HDR-XR200V|
|Sensor||2.4-megapixel Exmor CMOS||2.4-megapixel Exmor CMOS||2.4-megapixel Exmor CMOS|
|1/5 inch||1/5 inch||1/5 inch|
|Lens||10x f1.8-2.2 42 - 497mm (16:9)||10x f1.8-2.2 42 - 497mm (16:9)||15x f1.8-2.6 40 - 600mm (16:9)|
|LCD||2.7-inch touch screen||2.7-inch touch screen||2.7-inch touch screen|
|Media||80GB hard disk, Memory Stick Pro Duo||Memory Stick Pro Duo (8GB flash built in)||120GB hard disk, Memory Stick Pro Duo|
|Maximum bit rate||16Mbps||16Mbps||16Mbps|
|Manual shutter speed and iris||No||No||No|
|Audio||5.1 channels||2 channels||5.1 channels|
|Body dimensions (WHD, inches)||2.8 x 2.8 x 5.1||2.3 x 2.4 x 4.5||2.8 x 2.8 x 5.1|
|Operating weight (ounces)||14.5||11.7||16.6|
While it's not a one-button operation, the controls are relatively sparse. To the front of the drive sits a covered recess with mini-HDMI, proprietary AV (for component and composite video), and USB connectors; there are no microphone or headphone jacks, flash, video light, or accessory shoe. Next to the lens is the manual lens cover. On the top front sits the 5.1-channel microphone, an unnecessary gimmick that Sony could have eschewed to get the price down a little more. Atop the rear of the hard drive sits the zoom switch and photo button. The switch is a bit wobbly and hard to control, making it difficult to get a consistent-speed zoom. On the back of the camcorder, the record button falls comfortably under your thumb, but the camera/camcorder mode switch above it is a bit flat and hard to feel.
Within the LCD recess sit the speaker, covered Memory Stick Duo Pro slot, and power, Easy operation, one-touch DVD burning, play, and display options buttons. You control the camcorder predominantly through the touch-screen interface. Unfortunately, the 2.7-inch LCD isn't really big or responsive enough for easy navigation. Interestingly, however, the screen was a little better than that on the CX100--it's a bit easier to view in direct sunlight and doesn't seem to accumulate fingerprints. But the camcorder uses the older, frustrating menu system rather than the newer one introduced this spring. The menus are structured in such a way that it's almost impossible to remember where to find some of the settings. Under the Home menu you can choose from the three basic capture modes--movie, photo, and Smooth Slow Record (for example, to record golf swings)--though the mode switch also lets you choose between movie and photo. Under this menu is also a tab for image-viewing options; Others, which are random options for in-camera editing, and TV and USB connections; Manage Media, which is where you choose whether to record to the 80GB hard disk or to a card; and Settings for options like SteadyShot stabilization, selecting high definition or standard definition, face detection and Smile Shutter, and Output settings (for example, TV type and HDMI resolution). Under the Options menu you'll find more shooting-related settings, including spot meter and focus, manual focus and exposure, white balance, scene modes, and recording quality (bit rate). So while you select Movie Settings in one spot on the Home menu, and standard versus high definition elsewhere on the Home menu, you select movie quality in the Options menu.
Like the CX100, with the exception of the face detection, Smile Shutter, and scene modes, the camcorder has no bells or whistles to speak of. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it could use a wind filter.
The SR100 records in the AVCHD format at 1,920x1,080/60i. At its highest quality, the 16Mbps mode, you can record a little over 7 minutes of video per gigabyte of storage. That's about 9 hours and 40 minutes on the hard drive. If you drop to 9Mbps mode, that increases to about 15 minutes per gigabyte.