The HDR-SR10 sits at the entry-level position in Sony's frankly bewildering array of high-definition camcorders. If ever there was a case to argue that a company is not just having a bet both ways, but is in fact covering every base simultaneously, then Sony's HD camcorder play is it. You can get HD tape camcorders. Or HD DVD camcorders. Or camcorders that record to hard drive -- and the HDR-SR10 is of this latter category. It's undeniably a bit confusing for the poor consumer, stuck with trying to work out what to buy when a single vendor is seemingly backing so many horses. No doubt, Sony's marketing department would, at this point, be using the phrase "consumer choice" somewhere. (We've conveniently compared each of the models, spec for spec, in our round-up of Sony's '08 camcorder line.)
Anyway, the little entry-level SR10 is a nicely proportioned camera, and the way that most people will hold it, it essentially feels like it comes in three parts. There's the handgrip, which also incorporates basic camera controls. That sits aside the main lens, which is much larger and can give the camera a lean in smaller hands, although that's fairly easily adjusted for in most cases. Finally, the battery slots in prominently on the back. A flip out 2.7-inch LCD touchscreen can be used for further playback and recording tweaks, while further controls hide in on the left-hand side of the camera body.
Aside from the camera, Sony ships in requisite connectivity cables, a tiny remote control and a full camera dock with the SR10. It's from this dock that you recharge the SR10, as well as connect up to external outputs and USB for PC/Mac-based editing.
The SR10 is a high definition, 1080i-capable camcorder with an integrated 40GB hard disk drive. That's good for around 290 minutes of recording time at full 1920x1080 resolution, according to Sony's own figures, although there's a slight catch here. The supplied battery, you see, is only rated for around 100 minutes of recording time, although larger extended batteries are available. Taking things all the way down to the other end of the spectrum, a 3Mbps 720x576 recording rate will give you a whopping 1660 minutes of recording capability -- well, as long as you're willing to carry 17 spare batteries along with you, anyway. It's also possible to bump up the recording time by recording to Memory Stick if Flash memory excites you.
The SR10 features facial recognition technology that, so Sony claims, automatically adjusts focus and colour control whenever a face is detected in shot. For the aspiring camera person, you'll see this effect as a superimposed square where the camera thinks it spots a face. It also features a "Zoom" microphone that's claimed to focus in on the subject being zoomed in upon. Like many camcorders, the SR10 can also be used for stills shots, with a 4-megapixel sensor.
We used the SR10 to shoot a variety of test material, including a young children's birthday party, to really put the SR10's facial recognition facility to the test. We were largely impressed with the results; the SR10 shot crisp and clear video, and seemingly no number of young, rapidly moving faces could throw it off focus.
We were, however, less impressed with the SR10's inbuilt microphone, which picked up a lot of ambient wind noise. If the microphone pick-up was zooming in when we zoomed in the lens, it passed us by as well.
Our larger criticism of the SR10 is an ergonomic one, and as such it'll vary depending on your arm strength, how long you're going to be shooting for, and how large your hands are. We found the SR10's natural position in our hands to be slightly tilted, and this was something that was exacerbated during long shooting periods. Of course, it's not too tough to shoot straight, but the disparity in size and weight between the side panel and the main lens might affect your shooting strategy over time.
On a pure quality front, the SR10 represents quite a fair balance for the asking price. Just make sure you pick one up beforehand and make sure it's a good fit for your preferred style of shooting.