The great thing about modern camcorders -- flash-memory models in particular -- is you no longer have to lug around something the size of a small Hubble telescope in order to capture those oh-so-precious moments in sharp, high definition. The Sony Handycam HDR-CX115E is surprisingly small and light for a device that boasts 1080i HD recording, a large, touch-sensitive LCD screen and a lengthy optical zoom, all for a relatively affordable £350.
All of a sudden, camcorder designers seem to have realised there are more colours in the spectrum than just silver and black. Our HDR-CX115E review unit came in a jolly metallic purple, for example. An equally cheerful red model and an altogether more sombre granite-black edition are also available. The rest of the design offers few surprises. Sony's device doesn't exactly throw caution to the wind in terms of its shape, retaining the barrel-like body and flip-out LCD of many models that have come before it. What you will notice when you first clap eyes on it in the flesh, is just how small and neat it is. Without the battery, it's about the same size as our computer mouse, and not much heavier. There are smaller devices available, but few that share the HDR-CX115E's approach to picture quality and features.
Unlike some cheaper candybar cams, the HDR-CX115E records video using the same high-quality AVCHD standard as most top-range models. There are several picture settings, the highest of which sets the bit rate to 24Mbps. Don't let the fact that it can't film in 1080p put you off, either. The HDR-CX115E's 50-frame-per-second 1080i output is light years ahead of most progressive 1080 modes found on lower-end models. In our tests, the device delivered some great footage -- sharp, detailed and smooth. In full automatic mode, auto focus and exposure were quick to respond. In good outdoor light, we did notice some slight bleed on bright colours -- reds in particular. We were pretty impressed by the HDR-CX115E's indoor performance. For a camera with a single CMOS image sensor, picture quality withstood reduced lighting conditions admirably, with far less grain and blur compared to many similarly priced models.
Photo quality, meanwhile, isn't exactly up to David Bailey standard. The image sensor can save snaps at up to 3.1 megapixels in 4:3 photo mode, which isn't great to start with. Colours also seem to be oddly unpredictable. It's hard to achieve a non-blurry shot when you're using the zoom, and that's a real shame, because the 25x optical magnification on offer is extremely generous.