The DCR-SR58E is, however, easy to use. It operates in the same way you would expect a camcorder to. Flip open the decent-sized (2.7-inch) LCD screen, switch to either photo or video mode and press start. There are a handful of useful options in the menus -- face detection, electronic image stabiliser, a spot meter and a few other manual controls. The unit provides a fairly easy-to-navigate touchscreen interface via which these controls can be accessed. In truth, the DCR-SR58E is most likely to be used in straightforward point-and-shoot mode.
Looking further afield
Sony sees fit to include a near CIA-standard 60x optical zoom lens on the DCR-SR58E. While it's fun to pretend you're a paparazzo, the lack of effective image stabilisation (only a weak electronic stabiliser is available) makes for some extremely shaky recording at full magnification, unless you employ the talents of a sturdy tripod.
USB and AV output are the DCR-SR58E's only connections to the big, wide world. The unit works like an external hard disk when you plug it into a PC, allowing you to drag and drop files onto your computer. It's also possible to dub video straight to an external drive without the need for a computer, and Sony's bundled PC software makes it easy to burn discs or share your clips on YouTube, Facebook and the like. It's a shame the camera doesn't feature an AV input -- this would have been a great way to digitise older analogue recordings.
When it comes down to it, still photography is pretty much a dead loss. Photo resolution is sub-megapixel (0.3) and, these days, you'd get better quality snaps from the average mobile phone handset. Video performance is significantly better. Detail is somewhat limited by the camera's technical limitations but, for casual use, the DCR-SR58E can record perfectly acceptable standard-definition pictures and sound. Outside in daylight, the camera handles colours well and auto functions are quick to adjust to their surroundings. Motion is a bit blurry, but this could be easily attributed to standard-definition's low (25 frames per second) frame rate. Results from interior filming can be a little less convincing. Low light saps colours and adds grain, and there's not a huge amount you can do to compensate.
Clearly, the Sony Handycame DCR-SR58E's most significant feature is its defiantly standard-definition-only recording capability, and this is likely to be the main factor governing any purchase. Indeed, the DCR-SR58E is one of the best SD camcorders we've tested in a while. Video picture and sound are both strong and it's extremely easy to use. Features, such as its copious storage and similarly generous optical zoom, help to make this Handycam even more attractive. Poor photo quality is disappointing, however, and prospective buyers would do well to weigh up their options before diving in.
Edited by Emma Bayly