CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Sony Handycam DCR-SR42 review: Sony Handycam DCR-SR42

Given its mediocre video quality, the Sony Handycam DCR-SR42 seems overpriced for what it delivers.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography | PCs and laptops | Gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
3 min read
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.


Sony Handycam DCR-SR42

The Good

Compact and lightweight; large storage capacity; bundled dock; built-in lens cover.

The Bad

Mediocre video and still photo quality; no wind filter; small, fingerprint-magnet touch screen LCD; software free for Windows but $100 for Mac.

The Bottom Line

Given its mediocre video quality, the Sony Handycam DCR-SR42 seems overpriced for what it delivers.

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.

Usually, in camcorders with sensors of such low resolution, the manufacturer saves some cost by dropping the flash memory slot for recording stills. It makes even less sense to have one here, since you could record stills to the hard disk instead.

Like most camcorders, you can switch between still and movie recording by toggling the power switch. The SR42 lets you change modes via the touch screen-based menus as well.

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.

Video records to the hard disk in MPEG-2 format, and thankfully, you needn't rely on the bundled version of Pixela's Motion Browser to edit, since there are plenty of alternatives available. Still, if for some reason you wanted to use that odd piece of software on the Mac, you'd have to fork over $100 for it. Stick with iMovie.

Sample images from the Sony Handycam DCR-SR42

Like all but the SR300, the SR42 uses the electronic image stabilizer version of Sony's SteadyShot. But the video tends to be so mushy and artifact-ridden that it's hard to tell whether the stabilizer is working, even zoomed out to its 40x maximum.

Despite its range, it's fairly easy to control the zoom switch for a fast or consistent crawl, though the autofocus takes a little longer to catch up. The stereo audio, though surprisingly decent, suffers from the lack of a wind filter. Even a modest breeze whips across the audio track with tornado-like rumbles. The camcorder lacks a microphone input as well as an accessory shoe--typical omissions in budget models.

As the Handycam DCR-SR42 exemplifies, for the moment, there are still no bargains to be had in hard-disk-based camcorders--unless you really don't care about the video quality. If you want a decent hard-disk model, you've got to pay a little more. Despite its inconveniences, in this price range, tape-based models like the Panasonic PV-GS320 or quality DVD-based models like the Canon DC40 are still the way to go.


Sony Handycam DCR-SR42

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 6Image quality 5