Review – Sony HDR-SR7 AVCHD Hi-Def Camcorder

Recently my old trusty Canon MiniDV camcorder started breaking down, and I decided it was time to upgrade to a new camcorder. Anybody looking at buying a new camcorder has to first answer one big question: do I upgrade to HD or not?

The HiDef camcorders still cost a big premium over SD. But in the end I decided the “future proof” appeal of the HD camcorder was worth it. Online reviews seemed to indicate that the Sony was the best choice.

There are a lot of posts on the net about how poor support for the AVCHD format used by the new HD cameras hampers their utility. Well, I’m happy to report that the situation seems to have gotten much better. The Sony camera comes with software that allows easy playback of the AVCHD files on my PC, and includes simple transcoding of those files to MPEG2.

The Camcorder

The camcorder itself is great. Small, light, easy to hold. The touch screen interface is pretty awesome. It’s easy to use. I haven’t stressed battery life yet. The camcorder records to an internal hard drive, no tape needed! This really is a great advance. No more spinning through tapes to find stuff. The video you record ends up in clips that you can easily review/delete right there on the camera. It actually works just like a digital still camera.

Connecting to the Computer

Lots of people have complained that the camcorder doesn’t include a USB port on the unit itself. Instead you get a dock which connects to the computer, and you place the camcorder into the dock. I agree it’s kind of silly, but it’s not really a big issue.

Picture

The camorder picture quality is awesome. I’ve only really watched video on the computer, but the hi-def is super crisp. I’ve seen complaints about poor low-light performance. Performance in low-light isn’t great, but it’s not much different than my old Canon SD. So personally I can’t complain.

Workflow

Basically all of my video is of my kids. As any parent can tell you, that means new video every week! So my motivation is not to craft the next Citizen Kane, but rather to get as much video processed as quickly as possible. In my case “processed” just means off the camera and into 3-5 min clips I can share with people. Now this is where this hard-drive camcorder really shines. Getting the raw video onto my computer takes nothing more than plugging the camcorder in and downloading the raw mts files. No more “grabbing” from hour-long DV tapes. Whoo hoo!!! Getting video onto the computer now takes just seconds.

Once I’ve got the raw files, I’m using Sony Vegas for very simple editing. I just drag clips onto the timeline, then say “Render” and generate my video file. Rendering still takes a long time (like running time * 5), but at least that process is totally automatic.

Conclustion

Fantastic. I love the camcorder, and I love the workflow. The best part is actually the hard drive recording into a compressed format. This makes a huge difference in the time you spend editing the video, because you’re just dealing with much smaller files, and no tape. The HD part is cool, but I could probably live fine with SD.

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