Sony’s HDR-XR105E combines a pair of trends in the modern day circa-£500 camcorder. Firstly, it has an on-board 80GB hard drive, and a very quiet one at that. Secondly, it can shoot in resolutions of up to 1080p HD. Considering just how compact the device is, that’s a lot of power packed into a small chassis.
And Sony has employed a neat yet obvious trick to keep the size of the unit down. Rather than adorn the casing with an abundance of buttons, the camcorder’s flip-out 2.7-inch LCD has touch screen functionality, to help you get to much of the HDR-SX105E’s advanced functionality.
Granted, you can use the basic controls to point and shoot, and you’ll generally get a very sharp picture out of it (in fact the sheer ease of use to get up and running is extremely commendable), but there are plenty of added functions that lift Sony’s product above many of its contemporaries. And adopting a touch screen interface makes them intuitive to get at.
One compromise involved in getting the size of the unit down quite so dramatically – it’s a lightweight unit that easily suits single-handed operation – is that there’s no viewfinder. There’s a part of us that gets old fashioned about this, as you then become reliant on the flip screen to frame your shots. Furthermore, using the screen permanently has a knock-on effect on battery life, although to be fair, the HDR-SX105E did give us a solid few hours off a single charge. We’d still be tempted to pack an extra battery, just to be on the safe side.
Sony boasts a collection of valid and effective features for the unit, including simultaneous movie and still image capture, face detection, a high speed image processor and auto backlight correction. Above all, though, Sony gets the basics right first. The quality of the Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens shines through, and while it’s advisable as usual to avoid the 120x digital zoom, you get a lot of good mileage out of the effective 10x optical zoom.
The quality of close-ups is terrific, and whether opting to take a still image (the unit doubles up as a 4-megapixel digital camera too, reasonably effectively) or capture fast action, the HDR-SX105E’s versatility is up to the task.
It’s also capable of capturing 5.1 audio, although you’re clearly not going to get near Hollywood standards given that the technology is packed with many others into such a compact device. You might be surprised at just how well it manages to capture sound, though.
You have, of course, a choice of modes by which you can conserve the on-board storage space of the unit (which is expandable via a Sony Memory Stick), but you can get over 30 hours’ worth of high definition material (using the AVCHD format) on the hard drive.
Furthermore, Sony provides a good package of software for transferring your work across to your computer, with the required leads in the box. There’s an HDMI connector too if you simply want to plug the unit directly to a display, and it’s to Sony’s credit that it’s made things really very simple.
The HDR XR105E may prove to be a little too compact for old hands, but there’s little doubting just how much you get for your money here. It’s crammed with useful features, is very easy to use and the results are certainly impressive. It’s questionable whether any home user will really need 80GB of storage space, to be fair, and thus there are economies to be made and cheaper units to be found. But this remains a fine piece of work and is heartily recommended for those who want just that little bit more from their camcorder.