The Handycam DCR-SR88 is Sony's entry-level hard-drive-based standard-definition camcorder. The main attractions are its small size, large storage capacity, and megazoom lens, all at a sub-$400 price. It's also fairly easy to use out of the box; despite what is seemingly a never-ending menu system, there aren't a lot of shooting options. However, as with most camcorders in its class, the video results are mediocre--especially if you're watching them full screen on a large HDTV or are used to the detail of high-definition content.
If you're not terribly concerned with video quality and want a reasonably priced camcorder that's easy to use, has a megazoom lens, and can fit in a coat pocket, this Sony is worth checking out. If 120GB of storage seems like more than you'll need, spend $50 less on the DCR-SR68, which is identical to the SR88 but has an 80GB hard drive.
|Key specs||Sony Handycam DCR-SR68/SR88|
|Price (MSRP)||SR68, $349.99; SR88, $399.99|
|Dimensions (HWD)||2.2x2.6x4.1 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||11 ounces|
|Storage capacity, type||SR68, 80GB hard drive; SR88, 120GB hard drive; Memory Stick Pro Duo, SD/SDHC cards|
|Resolution, sensor size, type||680K pixels, 1/8-inch CCD|
|LCD size, resolution||2.7-inch LCD, 230K pixels (touch screen)|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||60x, f1.8-6.0, 39-2,340mm (16:9), 44-2,640mm (4:3) (35mm equivalent)|
|Minimum illumination||3 lux (1/30-second shutter speed)|
|File format (video, audio)||MPEG-2 (.MPG), Dolby Digital 2-channel stereo|
|Resolution (video/photo)||720x480 (9Mbps)/640x480|
|Recording time at highest quality||20 hours and 33 minutes|
|Image stabilization type||Electronic|
|Battery type, rated life (typical)||Li ion rechargeable, 45 minutes|
|Included software||Sony Picture Motion Browser (Windows only)|
Available in blue, silver, and red versions, the SR68/SR88 (the SR88 is silver only) is an attractive little camcorder. Its physical controls are textbook camcorder design with a start/stop button at the back and zoom rocker up top in front of a shutter release for snapshots in Photo mode. The whole package is roughly the size of a soda can. The hand strap is comfortable if a little low and because hard drives have become so small and light, there's barely a bump encasing it, making the body mostly lens. On the top left of the hard drive is a small door hiding a power input. The battery gets charged while attached to the camcorder.
The battery juts from the back; above it is a button for switching between photo and video modes. Below the battery on the bottom of the camcorder is a card slot that supports both Memory Stick Pro Duo and SD/SDHC cards. Up front below the lens is a small door hiding a proprietary AV output; a composite cable is included, but an S-Video cable is available. A slider on the right side of the lens opens and closes the lens cover; using it once your hand is under the strap is awkward.
Flip open the touch-screen display (there is no viewfinder), and you'll find two rows of buttons in the body cavity for power; backlight compensation; direct-to-DVD recording using Sony's $149 VRD-P1 DVDirect DVD burner; turning on and off an LED lamp under the lens; and changing over to Playback mode. The last of the I/O ports are in this cavity, too: an uncovered Mini-USB port.
The touch screen is nice and sharp compared to other models in its class. On the left edge of the screen there are virtual buttons for controlling the zoom lens and starting and stopping recordings; very helpful if you're shooting at a low angle or on a tripod. The touch-based menu system is good for those who don't make a lot of changes. In other words, it's responsive, but because all of the options are in one long row, it can feel like the list goes on forever. At least Sony lets you configure an opening menu screen with six items you frequently adjust.
For those of you attracted to the megazoom lens, be warned: the camcorder is very difficult to hold still when shooting one-handed. To get the best results, it really needs to be on a tripod or some other stable support. Also, Sony went with electronic image stabilization, which is better than nothing, but won't come close to keeping your movies from being a shaky mess with the lens extended.