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Its fair to say that the BlueMidget family is rarely on the cutting-edge of technology, (though there have been the occasional exceptions). My father took some convincing that digital photography was the way to go and held out buying a digital camera for quite a while. Eventually, he relented and found that, actually, they were finally beginning to offer the scope and freedom his old SLRs did.
Encouraged by this particular success, my father decided it was time to upgrade the family camcorder, which I should point out is older than me by some nine or ten years. Partially his decision to do this was because of how impressed he was with the quality of his digital camera, but largely it was down to my mothers refusal to stand anywhere near him in public with such an archaic device, (we have actually overheard conversations by others wondering whether or not he was a BBC cameraman).
Having decided on a budget, my dad set about researching various digital-format camcorders, taking into account the fact that (on my advice) it would be better to invest in one that actually has a hard-disk drive, rather than one that uses DVD or similar media. Eventually, he decided that the Sony DCR-SR52 was suitable for everything his current model did, with many, many additional features too.
You may question how I can review what is essentially my fathers camera. Well, having a fairly large family there is almost always an excuse for family get togethers and therefore plenty of video opportunities. I, for some reason that I havent entirely been able to explain, nearly always find myself as the designated cameraman, so despite only having the camera a relatively short amount of time, Ive decided to train-up on how to use it, since its inevitably going to be me who gets blamed when the family-day out is missed because of poor camera angles.
~~~ Behind The Scenes ~~~
On first glance of the camera its most striking feature is just how small it actually is, with Depth, Height and Width at just 10.9 x 7.2 x 7.3cm, the DCR-SR52 is incredibly compact. Also, at 355g, its fairly light-weight and I doubt most people would struggle carrying it around filming for prolonged periods of time.
The DCR-SR52 uses a hard-disk drive with 30Gb worth of storage; roughly translated into recording time, this would typically equate to 20 hours worth of video footage.
The camcorder is also equipped with a 25x zoom, enabling you to get very tight close-up shots from quite a respectable distance. Also, there is a Night-vision option that allows you to record in dark light-levels, (as far as I can tell, in pitch-black though this hasnt been objectively tested yet).
For a more in-depth Technical Specifications see the section of the same name towards the end of the review.
As well as the camcorder, included in the package is a docking-station, (which acts as the charging unit, as well as a means of connecting the device to your PC or television), a USB cable for connecting to a PC, a phono cable and a SCART adapter to connect to a television, a remote control, a battery and the user manual. Also, there are two discs that include a digital version of the manual, (with more detail) and the software required for using the camcorder with your PC.
I would say that the device is fairly easy to use, since it has an Easy Cam mode, which really acts as a point-and-shoot option. In this mode, the camcorder controls light levels and other features, meaning all you have to do is make sure the camera is pointing in the right direction and at the right thing. It should be said that occasionally, using Easy Cam does present a couple of issues in terms of focusing, (particularly in lower light levels), but on the whole this mode serves for the majority of uses most amateur film-makers would required.
Equally, for the more adventurous film-maker, you can deactivate the Easy Cam mode and take control of certain features, such as a certain amount control over focus and light levels, but personally Ive not found this yet to be of any great advantage over Easy Cam.
The zoom is really very impressive, though does take a little bit of practise to get used to. The are several ways you can use the zoom, the most obvious being the shifting switch on top of the camcorder. This switch is sensitive to how much it is moved, so the quicker you move it to full the faster the zoom. Typically, this isnt a very good style of camera-work; however, with a little practise it is possible to use this switch effectively to get the right speed of zoom you want whilst also keeping it smooth.
The other methods are by using the buttons on the side of the view screen, (marked T and W) or by using the remote control. This zooms at a pretty slow speed, but does mean that you dont suddenly go too far and I think some people might prefer using one of these methods.
One thing worth bearing in mind is that at maximum zoom the camera will pick up any slight camera-shake, so its worth investing in a tripod, or finding someone very a very steady hand, if you plan on doing a lot of close up shots.
Obviously, before you can start using the camcorder, you need to charge the battery. Using the docking-station is very straightforward, though it is important to ensure that the camcorder is properly docked, otherwise the camera will either not charge at all, or only charge intermittently, taking far longer than actually required. Since the battery is Ion-Lithium, it doesnt take all that long to charge up
One thing I do have a slight issue with is that the battery supplied with package only has a two-hour life span. Given that the HDD can store up to about twenty hours worth of movie, this seems rather disproportionate when compared to the battery-life. However, it is possible to buy bigger-capacity batteries that will work with the SR52 and offer a much longer runtime. I suppose for the majority of uses, two hours is plenty of time, especially since youre unlikely to be recording solidly for those two hours, although I think its always worth investing in one or two spare batteries which can be kept with you, just in case.
The 2.7 viewing touch-screen is more than adequate to allow you to see what youre recording. As is standard these day with view-screen, it swivels through 180-degrees on way so it faces whatever youre recording, or 90-degrees the other way so, for example, if youre recording something directly below you, you can still see the image. For the most part, the view screen feels as if its attached solidly, but I do think that carelessness, or use of excessive force could break it relatively easily.
Unusually - at least in my experience of digital-camcorders, which I freely admit may be somewhat dated these days the view-screen is your only method of viewing what the lens is seeing, since there is no view-finder you can put your to. I dont really think this is a problem, since the quality of the image is good enough to ensure you frame the shots well and capture the moment as you intended.
The touch-screen makes using the camera extremely easy when you want to playback, delete, etc. any of the movies. I thought the menus and options were laid out quite well, with most things being easy to find and activate. Obviously, the main issue with any touch-screen is it quickly becomes covers in fingerprints, (especially if you have greasy fingers), so weve taken to keeping a cleaning cloth, (like you find with glasses) with the camcorder.
Surprisingly, the lens is able to pick-up images even in very low-light levels; however when it does finally become too dark to film, the night-time feature allows you to continue recording. Obviously, being infra-red means the recordings are black and white, but as a means of night shooting its not at all a bad feature and weve already found it quite useful from time to time.
~~~ Art In Motion ~~~
Having made your recording of that family birthday, or works retirement, you obviously want to be able to view your work and, more importantly, save it so its available for posterity.
Obviously, you can play back your recording on the camcorder itself, since as well as the screen there is also an in-built speaker, (which offers surprisingly good quality); but with a screen only 2.7, this isnt really something youd want the family to crowd around to watch. For a more comfortable viewing method, you can connect your camcorder to your television and play through the movies. Using the RGB cable, (with the SCART adapter if you wish, or just directly into your television), you can connect the cable either directly into the camcorder, or use the docking-station which will also charge/power the device whilst you watch the movies.
Once the camcorder is connected and switched on you will initially see a live image of the room, (I have to put my hand up and say I did point the camera at the television to get the never ending screen-within-a-screen). Here, you can either navigate to the play menu by using the view-screen, or by using the remote control. Both navigation methods are simple and fairly intuitive, so it shouldnt be too difficult for most people to find their way to the movies and play them accordingly.
Saving your recordings to disc is a slightly different kettle of fish. First you have to install the software, (more on this shortly). Connecting the camcorder to your PC via the USB cable supplied, you then have to turn on the device and using the touch-screen you then have to activate it so that your PC recognises the camcorder. I was a little surprised that the camcorder wasnt Plug-And-Play, i.e. simply switching it on when connected allows the PC to recognise the device. The middle-stage is a little bit of added fuss that I dont think is all that necessary but, its not too fiddly and once you know what youre doing its actually quite simple.
With the device connected, you can then open the software, (which will not load until it detects the SCR-DR52) and begin downloading the videos from your camera to your computer.
~~~ The Software ~~~
The software that accompanies the device allows you to download your movies to your PC and also play them and, if you want to, edit them into smaller clips.
Installing the software is quite straightforward, although in this particular instance the camera does need to be connected in order for the software to complete the installation. For this reason its probably worth set-up up the docking station before you begin. Using the default settings the software takes relatively little time to install and its not long before you can start downloading your clips and trimming them accordingly.
Editing your movies into smaller clips is quite a good feature and easy to use. Whilst this doesnt give you the chance to actually edit the clips together to make something you could put onto DVD and watch, it does at least allow you the grab the interesting portions of your raw footage ready for use in another programme, (such as Movie Maker that comes with Windows XP). The fact that its very simple and user-friendly just makes this an ideal means of editing your movies.
I found the software quite accessible and well designed - I dont think theres anything here that would excessively confuse anyone who only knows the basics of using a computer and actually getting the movies onto your PC is hassle free.
One thing that did bug me is that the software doesnt let you easily save the files to a location of your choice; theres really no reason for the design of the save-screen to be any different to the standard one you encounter in most programmes, but Sony have decided to ignore the tried and tested method and sadly this makes it not quite as user-friendly as it could have been.
~~~ Cost ~~~
The camcorders RRP is around the £450 region; however there are some excellent offers to be had with this particular model we managed to save £100 on the RRP by buying it via Amazon, but Im sure if you were to shop around you could find some other great value deals.
Obviously, not everyone has this amount of money to spend and although I havent experience the less expensive models myself, my experience with this particular Sony model would lead me to at least checking out their less expensive ranges.
For those of you who can afford this price-range, whilst I dont think I would have been necessarily disappointed with the camcorder had we paid full-price, I doubt we would have chosen it since its more expensive than the original budget. For what we actually paid for this model, I think its excellent value for money.
Additional batteries can be a little expensive, (I think somewhere between £60 - £80 pounds for a battery that would last about 4 hours). Obviously, this is one way Sony manage to make money. Again, shopping around you can find them cheaper and I think in the long run the initial expense pays off. Also, bear in mind that this price for batteries is unlikely to differ significantly, regardless of what brand or model of camcorder you possess, so its inevitable that youll probably pay more than youd like to for a spare battery.
~~~ Conclusion ~~~
Whilst there are a couple of little niggles here and there, theres nothing about the DCR-SR52 that I found truly disappointing. The device seems robust enough to withstand everyday use, (though I wouldnt recommend dropping it from any great height). Equally, its easy enough to get to grips with and after some initial thinking, the controls and use of the camcorder felt quite natural.
I think if anything was to turn people off from the DCR-SR52, it would be the fact that it was out of they price-range. If it is within your budget and youre looking for a high quality, mid-range camcorder (there are camcorders available that offer more features, but you do pay for the price), that is easy to use, then I dont think you can go far wrong with this particular model. Throw into the mix the fact that there are some excellent offers currently available and I think youll find this to be a tremendous bargain. I would highly recommend this camcorder to anyone looking for something around the £400 mark.
~~~ Technical Specifications ~~~
Video Format: HDD
Hard-disk Capacity: 30Gb
Optical Zoom: 25x