The Sony Handycam DCR-SR58E is small, has a stupidly long zoom and comes with enough built-in storage to film your own version of Gone with the Wind several times over. But when the overwhelming majority of modern camcorders can record video in gloriously detailed 1080p vision, why on Earth would you shell out the considerable sum of £250 for a model that can only capture at boring old standard definition?
Let's deal with the elephant in the room first. The DCR-SR58E can't do HD. There, we said it. And with that, many people will have already dismissed Sony's shiny Handycam with a cursory mouse-click. Fair enough, too. If you absolutely have to have a high-definition camcorder, look away now. Recording at 576i (standard PAL SD resolution) in either widescreen or 4:3, this Handycam is simply not able to produce the kind of pictures that will show off the capabilities of your HD Ready television, pixel for pixel.
But here's the thing -- not everybody needs, or even wants, HD. There are many people for whom highness of definition just isn't an issue. Perhaps they don't have an HD TV yet. Or maybe they're recording video to burn straight to DVDs (which are also standard definition) or share over the Web. In these cases, it makes sense to avoid paying for an HD camcorder if you can't or don't need to edit, upload or playback any of those extra pixels.
Normally, we'd suggest buying an HD model anyway in order to future-proof your investment. After all, you can pick up a basic HD model for roughly the same price as the DCR-SR58E, and most will output to standard-definition TVs without any problem. But, in the case of the DCR-SR58E, the little Handycam comes with a few stand-out features that most low-end HD models would find hard to compete with.
HDD but not HD
Like most HD cams, the DCR-SR58E has ejected miniDV tape in favour of memory-based recording. The Handycam comes with a whopping 80GB built-in hard drive. Not only that, but it also has a spare slot that can take either a Memory Stick Pro Duo or an SD/SDHC/SDXC card, potentially adding another 32GB. Because standard-definition MPEG-2 files eat up less storage space than full-blown HD, you can save a mind-boggling amount of footage across the two storage options -- up to an impressive 85 hours' worth, all told.
Unfortunately, the style train appears to have bypassed the DCR-SR58E. The silver casing and stunted, hard-edged design don't exactly lend a contemporary feel. That said, the device is small enough to slip inside a handbag or generous pocket, though the built-in hard drive makes it slightly heavier than you might expect.