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Sony Handycam HDR-XR100 review: Sony Handycam HDR-XR100

While it's a perfectly serviceable HD camcorder, the Sony Handycam HDR-XR100 should deliver a little more of everything for the money.

Derek Fung
Derek loves nothing more than punching a remote location into a GPS, queuing up some music and heading out on a long drive, so it's a good thing he's in charge of CNET Australia's Car Tech channel.
Derek Fung
4 min read

Design and features

Though it's not the least expensive model in Sony's high-def camcorder line-up — the Handycam HDR-CX100 fills that spot — the hard-drive-based HDR-XR100 looks, feels and performs as if it should be. Boxy looking, in two-tone silver and black plastic, the XR100 isn't nearly as attractive as the CX100, and as you'd expect from a hard-drive model, it's bigger and heavier as well. There's nothing particularly wrong with the simple but functional physical design — as with similar models the hard drive's protrusion affords a more secure grip — but it feels a bit cheap for its class.


Sony Handycam HDR-XR100

The Good

Relatively fast start-up. Comfortable design.

The Bad

So-so video quality for HD. Annoying touchscreen and interface.

The Bottom Line

While it's a perfectly serviceable HD camcorder, the Sony Handycam HDR-XR100 should deliver a little more of everything for the money.

While it's not quite a fully automatic device, the controls are relatively sparse. To the front of the hard drive sits a covered recess with mini-HDMI, proprietary AV (for component and composite video) and USB connectors; there are no microphone or headphone jacks, flash, video light or accessory shoe. Next to the lens is the manual lens cover. On the top front sits the 5.1-channel microphone, an unnecessary gimmick that Sony could have eschewed to get the price down a little more. Atop the rear of the hard drive sits the zoom switch and photo button. The switch is a bit wobbly and hard to control, making it difficult to get a consistent speed zoom. On the back of the camcorder, the record button falls comfortably under your thumb, but the camera/camcorder mode switch above it is a bit flat and hard to feel.

Within the LCD recess sits the speaker, covered Memory Stick Duo Pro slot, and power, Easy operation, one-touch DVD burning, play and display options buttons. You control the camcorder predominantly through the touchscreen interface. Unfortunately, the 2.7-inch LCD isn't really big or responsive enough for easy navigation. Interestingly, however, the screen was a little better than that on the CX100 — it's a bit easier to view in direct sunlight and doesn't seem to accumulate fingerprints quite as readily. But the camcorder uses the older, more frustrating menu system rather than the newer one that's being introduced with the TG5.

The menus are structured in such a way that it's almost impossible to remember where to find some of the settings. Under the Home menu you can choose from the three basic capture modes — movie, photo and Smooth Slow Record (for example, to record golf swings) — though the mode switch also lets you choose between movie and photo. Under this menu is also a tab for image-viewing options such as: Others, which are random options for in-camera editing, and TV and USB connections; Manage Media, which is where you choose whether to record to the 80GB hard disk or to a memory card; and Settings for options like image stabilisation, selecting high-def or standard-def, face detection, Smile Shutter and Output settings (for example, TV type and HDMI resolution). Under the Options menu you'll find more shooting-related settings, including spot meter and focus, manual focus and exposure, white balance, scene modes and recording quality or bitrate. So while you select Movie Settings in one spot on the Home menu, and standard versus high-def elsewhere on the Home menu, you select movie quality in the Options menu. One word: confusing.

Just like the CX100, if you discount the inclusion of face detection, Smile Shutter and scene modes, this camcorder has no bells or whistles to speak of. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it really could use a wind filter.


The XR100 records in the AVCHD format at 1920x1080/50i. At its highest quality, the 16Mbps mode, you can record a little over seven minutes of video per gigabyte of storage; about nine hours and 40 minutes of footage would fill up the hard drive. If you drop to 9Mbps mode, the storage rate increases to about 15 minutes per gigabyte.

It seems like the autofocus system has more trouble than usual distinguishing a subject from the background, which slows it down a tad. And the LCD simply isn't very sharp; it's nearly impossible to tell if something's in focus or not. Furthermore, the battery doesn't last very long; it's rated for less than an hour under typical usage. On the other hand, the XR100 starts up surprisingly quickly for a hard disk-based unit.

Despite using the same sensor and lens as the CX100, we found the video quality less impressive. Overall, it's slightly soft, even when not scaled up on a large TV; as you'd expect, even more so in dim light and less so in close-ups. Outdoor shots look a bit low in contrast with blown-out highlights, though most colours — except for some blues, which is not uncommon — are relatively accurate. Video in living room level light is acceptable if somewhat desaturated. On the upside, the XR100 doesn't have the CX100's lens flare problems, but it does frequently display fringing on high-contrast edges. The 4-megapixel interpolated stills look somewhat over-processed, as you'd expect, and the native resolution shots have edge artefacts, like fringing and halos.


If you're looking to spend about AU$1500 on an HD camcorder, there are a few decent alternatives, like the Panasonic HDC-HS20 or JVC GZ-HD320, you might want to consider before shelling out for the just alright Sony Handycam HDR-XR100. If you can justify the extra expense, the XR200V with its brilliant active image stabilisation system is well worth a look too.