The Handycam DCR-SX41 is Sony's flash-memory-based standard-definition camcorder. Its main attractions are its small size, 8GB of internal memory backed by a Memory Stick slot for expansion, and a 60x megazoom lens. It's also easy to use partly because of the touch-screen-based menu navigation and because of its dearth 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 have gotten 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, will let you see people and things near and far, and can fit in a coat pocket, this Sony is worth checking out.
|Key specs||Sony Handycam DCR-SX41|
|Dimensions (WHD)||2x2.4x1.3 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||10 ounces|
|Storage capacity, type||8GB, flash memory; Memory Stick Pro Duo|
|Resolution, sensor size, type||680K pixels (410K pixels (16:9), 340K pixels (4:3) effective), 1/8-inch CCD|
|LCD size, resolution||2.7-inch LCD, 123K 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||6 lux|
|File format (video, audio)||MPEG-2 (.MPG), Dolby Digital 2-ch stereo|
|Recording time at highest quality||2 hours|
|Image stabilization type||Optical|
|Inputs/Outputs||None/Mini-USB, AV terminal|
|Battery type, rated life||Lithium ion rechargeable, 50 minutes|
Available in blue, silver, or red versions, the SX41 is a cute little camcorder. Its physical controls are textbook camcorder design with a start/stop button at the back and easy-to-control zoom rocker up top in front of a shutter release for snapshots in Photo mode. Off to the left of that is a Mode button for switching between shooting movies or stills. The whole package is roughly the size of soda can. The hand strap is comfortable if a little low. Just to the right of where the strap connects at the back of the body is a flip-down door concealing a proprietary AV jack and DC input for power.
Its battery juts from its back; below it is the Memory Stick Pro Duo card slot and power input. Flip open the touch-screen display (there is no viewfinder), and you'll find five buttons in the body cavity for power; turning off and on display information; direct-to-DVD recording using Sony's $149 VRD-P1 DVDirect DVD burner; an Easy button that locks down the camcorder's few advanced features for point-and-shoot recording; and a Backlight option to correct exposure of backlit subjects. An uncovered Mini-USB port and covered Memory Stick Pro Duo card slot are also in the cavity.
The remainder of the controls rely on the touch-screen menu system, which is good for people who don't make a lot of changes. In other words, it's responsive, but can get a little confusing for those unfamiliar with Sony's Menu and Home buttons. Menu gives you access to context-sensitive shooting options while Home gets you access to everything else. The main problem with this is remembering what functions rest where. (Fortunately, Sony puts the menu tree in print in the manual that comes with the SX41.) With little practice though, the system makes sense and even full operation--not just point and record--becomes simple.
Generally, we don't bother discussing bundled software. However, the MPEG-2 files created by the SX41 don't play well with Macs. Also, Sony's Picture Motion Browser software that is included with the camcorder is Windows only. Apple's iMovie '09 supports the files, but you can also convert them to a Mac-friendly format using a free application called MPEG Streamclip for Mac.
|Features||Sony Handycam DCR-SX41|
|White balance||Auto, Outdoor, Indoor, Manual|
|Scene modes||Auto, Twilight, Candle, Sunrise & Sunset, Fireworks, Landscape, Portrait, Spotlight, Sports, Beach, Snow|
|Focus||Auto, Manual, Spot AF, Tele Macro|
|Lens cover (auto or manual)||Manual|
This camcorder was designed for hassle-free recording and as such doesn't have a lot of extra shooting options. A majority of my field testing was done with the SX41 set to Auto for white balance, scene selection, and focus and it performed satisfactorily. There are more scene options if you chose to get specific and the same goes for white balance. Also, should you want to be more hands-on with focus and exposure, you can control both by touching the spot onscreen you'd like the camcorder to draw its information from. What you can't do is control the zoom or recording with the screen, making it more difficult to operate if the camcorder is mounted on a tripod or you're shooting overhand.
For its low-end status, the SX41 performs reasonably well. It has an instant-on option that gets the camcorder up and ready to record very fast simply by opening the LCD (not an uncommon feature, but nice nonetheless). The autofocus is responsive; however, when it is zoomed out, it hunts to focus--particularly in low-light conditions (also not uncommon). The rated battery life for the included power pack is 100 minutes of continuous operation; expect less if you're frequently turning it on and off, using the zoom and touch screen, and reviewing clips. Extended life batteries are available, including one that, according to its manufacturer, has a life of up to 13 hours of continuous shooting.
Overall, its video quality is very soft; the only time a somewhat sharp picture was obtained was in Tele Macro mode. Clips also display quite a bit of noise and digital artifacts until you scale down to YouTube-size dimensions. This includes noticeable purple fringing around subjects. If you still live completely in a low-resolution world, your recordings are destined for video-sharing Web sites, or you simply want to capture the moment no matter how it looks, the SX41 will suffice. Its video colors look good and its white balance is respectable, too. Though low-light video had its share of noise, the results were actually decent. Lastly, while the camcorder takes still shots, you'll likely get better photos out of a camera phone.
It's true that you can get much better video from an HD camcorder that costs $200-$300 more. However, standard-definition video is less demanding to play and edit on an average desktop or laptop and SD camcorders are less expensive. With the Sony Handycam DCR-SX41 you're trading off video quality for a very small, lightweight body, a touch-screen LCD, and a 60x zoom lens. Just don't expect HD when you're paying for SD.
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