* Prices may differ from that shown
It was, it is enough to say, difficult for me to come to terms with the Sony Handycam DCR SR290E. My previous video-camera a bastion of unparalleled style and functionality reviewed just a few months ago, came to an untimely demise at the callous hands of my fiancée, who had thought it wise to toss it to one side during a routine cleaning exercise. With my first love reduced to a shadow of its former self, I was forced to invest in a suitable replacement.
The Sony Handycam DCR SR290E seemed like the perfect choice. It is, without a doubt, a highly functional, if, at around £600, highly pricey, piece of equipment. Its proudest boast is its vast array of features, closely followed by impressive quality and enormous storage space, coming in the form of a mammoth 40GB hard disk. Of course, as is the established norm, the camera can also be used as a webcam, a microphone, and a standard digital camera. Unfortunately, it is an absolute monstrosity. I would not presume to call my video-camera ugly, especially since Sony so valiantly claims that it is the ultimate in style. But to call it sexy, beautiful, attractive, would simply be misleading.
Does anybody remember the ritual humiliation at school that came with persistently being picked last for the football team? Of course, being the pinnacle of athleticism that I was, this never happened to me. But, should video-cameras play sports, this is what would happen to the DCR SR290E. Now, when one ventures into the labyrinth of beauty and attractiveness, one inevitably enters, at the same time, the dark world of radical subjectivity. One mans Venus may be another mans eyesore. So I accept that my opinion is simply that.
But this camera is not attractive. Overly elongated, and holding a long but thin LCD screen, the DCR SR290E is not sleek and certainly is not sexy. The side of the camera is littered with buttons and the front is unusually imposing. Granted, the viewfinder is well situated, and the colour scheme, silver and black, is nicely polished, but I prefer understatement, and this camera looks like it is about to explode. On this front, I was uncharacteristically unimpressed.
But my faith in Sony was soon restored. In terms of sheer quality, this camera is astonishingly brilliant. It is almost sufficient to say that in this category, having some experience in filming, I felt that this model, essentially a fairly pricey but affordable amateur filmmakers camera, comes close to rivalling some of the cheaper, more professional options. The DCR SR290E is particularly impressive in its handling of colours and in terms of image resolution, and this is true both of its video and photographic functions, with the user able to take either 2848 x 1602 or 640 x 480 stills. The colours, especially, were far superior to anything I ever saw on my previous model, making this the perfect solution for anyone looking to capture the colourful variety and diversity of the outside world.
The 2.7 inch LCD display and the viewfinder also offer images of a high quality, allowing the user to identify the best shots possible before filming has started. And the cameras audio performance is also second to none, with a built-in microphone capturing sounds very effectively. Providing one does not make the tragic mistake of pointing the microphone directly into the wind, or of directing it away from the person who is speaking (perhaps they werent very interesting), the audio quality is of an extremely high standard, complementing the visual quality very well indeed.
As the title of this review makes clear, the DCR SR290E is a highly functional monstrosity. It is not particularly nice to look at, but it does what it is supposed to do with unstoppable pride and vigour. Naturally, the main purpose of a video-camera is to record videos. You may wish to record the family Christmas, the eventful holiday, or, like my fiancée, the playful bunny hopping around in the garden. It is up to you, but this camera will let your creative juices flow in whichever direction you should choose.
The DCR SR290E can also be used, as aforementioned, as a standard digital camera, adding a touch of flexibility. Indeed, if you are that sort of a person, you may even want to connect your video-camera to the computer and use it as a webcam, boasting a far more impressive resolution than your jealous friends with their purpose-built devices. And the microphone does, of course, double as a voice recorder. All of this makes the DCR SR290E a video-camera that can rival any other, in its price-range, for adaptability.
If you should manage to somehow avoid getting lost among the clutter of buttons positioned on the side of the camera, the DCR SR290E will gladly endow you with its vast array of impressive features. These include, of course, classics such as sepia, pastel, monotone, and old movie, but the most exciting feature, for the adventurous young director and cunning bird spotter alike, is probably the outstanding night-vision capability, which really allows the user to experiment with different approaches to filming. Slow motion is a useful addition, and a backlight prevents the predictable lighting disasters, though the zoom, at just 10 x optical and 20 x digital, is nothing to write home about. Furthermore, a handy auto power save feature helps to considerably increase the battery lifespan with no need for user intervention, and a standard remote control makes self-recording much easier.
On the whole, the DCR SR290E is impressive here, but its not too ambitious. For the newcomer, this will probably come as something of a godsend. Confusion is never good. But the innovator might be a tad frustrated, given the price of the camera.
Uploading, Playback, and Editing
Videos, images, and audio can be uploaded to ones computer via a USB connection. The best advice for editing is probably Microsoft Moviemaker, though this is simply a matter of preference, and there are more professional packages out there. The significant 40GB storage capacity of the camera ensures that plenty of data can be recorded and then uploaded, giving the user hours of potential editing time. But this can often be the most interesting, and even the most creative part of the process. Video can, of course, be played back on the computer, on the camera itself, or on a television, making plenty of options available here and allowing the user to choose their own method.
The battery-life of the DCR SR290E is very impressive indeed, at about 6 hours if used conservatively, making the camera extremely competitive on this front. However, battery length will depend on how vigorously the video-camera is used. Using the LCD display, the night-vision, and the various features are sure ways to cut down on battery duration. The rechargeable Lithium-ion battery will self-discharge over time, probably by about 5% per month if charged sensibly, and will probably last for about 30 months, giving the camera an excellent lifespan before a battery replacement is required.
Overall, this is an impressive video-camera, and Im more than glad that I bought it. I do, I admit, lament the loss of my old Sony DCR TRV270, but the DCR SR290E is a more than satisfactory replacement, boasting superb features, a good variety of functions, and a very impressive battery life-span. It may be an ugly duckling, but it is an excellent piece of technology, highly recommended for those who know that, while looks are important, they are not everything. I promise.
Price: £599 (Dabs, May 07)
Width: 7.6 cm
Depth: 12.8 cm
Height: 7.8 cm
Weight: 485 g
Media Type: Hard disk drive
Optical Zoom: 10 x
Digital Zoom: 20 x
Battery Type: Lithium-ion rechargeable battery (included)
Software: Drivers & Utilities, Sony Picture Motion Browser