Sony DCR-SR42 Camcorder Review
The DCR-SR42 is Sony’s entry-level hard disk drive (HDD) camcorder. It may not be the best entry-level HDD overall, but it’s a decent value for the money.
Video Performance* (3.0)*
The Sony DCR-SR42 is an entry-level camcorder, which means that you should immediately lower your expectations for video performance. It features the standard entry-level specs; a 1/6-inch CCD with a gross pixel count of 680,000 and an effective pixel count of 340,000.
The SR42’s image at an even 3000 lux (bright light) was adequate. The sharpness is quite poor – no surprises here – but the color was decent, producing a relatively even and saturated spectrum. As with most lower-end Sonys, the SR42 produced heavy amounts of blue noise. Though this was more noticeable in darker areas, we saw it in bright light, too. Looking carefully around high-contrast areas, we also saw signs of oversharpening – an in-camera correction that boosts contrast to increase perceived sharpness. While this is common in most camcorders, it can go too far. In this case, it blew out some of the white areas.
Last year’s Sony DCR-SR40 gave a more or less identical performance. The JVC GZ-MG155, which retails for the same price, produced slightly less saturated and more accurate colors. It also yielded better fine detail capture. Canon does not offer any standard definition HDD camcorders, but they do have a number of similar DVD camcorders. The Canon DC220 sells for $50 less than the Sony SR42. This camcorder also produced less saturated colors. The sharpness and fine detail capture was about the same as the SR42.
Out of the lab, the Sony DCR-SR42 was a truly mediocre performer. The image generally lacked a lot of detail and did not have great dynamic range. However, as we’ll describe later, the automatic responses to changes in light were rather good.
Video Resolution* (2.75)*
The video resolution of the Sony DCR-SR42 is tested by shooting a DSC Labs video resolution chart at an even bright light and examining the playback footage on an HD monitor. At best, the camcorder was able to produce an approximate horizontal resolution of 250 line widths per picture height (lw/ph) and a vertical resolution of 200 lw/ph. This score was low compared to the competition.
Low Light Performance* (4.58)*
The low light performance was tested in three stages. First, we shoot our DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde color chart at an even 60 lux and 15 lux, then compare the results against competing camcorders. At 60 lux, the blue noise became a major issue. We’ve seen heavy amounts of blue noise in every low-end Sony camcorder for the last few years, and they’re clearly not putting any time or research into correcting it. The noise is most pernicious in darker areas of the chart. We saw the same problem out of the lab. Any areas in moderate shadow produced the same noise.
The overall color retention was reduced considerably, but it was still possible to identify all the colors. This is about average for a single 1/6-inch chip.
Competing camcorders were generally better. The JVC GZ-MG155 has a slightly brighter image overall. There was just as much blackish noise, but none of the blue noise. The Canon DC220 was even worse when it came to black noise, causing a fair amount of fine detail loss. Again, it did not have the Sony’s blue noise, which is much more distracting to the viewer than black or gray noise.
At 15 lux, most of the color information was lost. The black noise picked up in the extreme, running roughshod over the details. This is not what we would consider a usable image. Among the competition, the levels of noise and focus difficulty varied, but they were all bad.
The second part of the test involves shooting the same chart under an even light, then steadily lowering the light while tracking a waveform monitor, an instrument that measures camcorder’s exposure levels. The light is lowered until the camcorder can produce a peak of 50 IRE. The Sony DCR-SR42 was able to produce 50 IRE at 13 lux, about the same score as other Sony camcorders with a 1/6-inch chip. Canon was also about the same, while the JVC GZ-MG155 required almost twice that much light.
Finally, we shoot a GretagMacBeth Color Checker chart an even 60 lux, then import frame grabs into Imatest imaging software to determine noise, color accuracy, and saturation. At best, the camcorder was able to produce a color error of 13.6. This score is similar to nearly all Sony camcorders at 60 lux, regardless of the imager size. This indicates that a major contributing factor to the color error must be the color processing rather than merely the sensitivity. Sony tends to saturate its colors more than most. Imatest determined the noise level of the SR42 at 60 lux was 1.8625 percent. The saturation level was 68.99 percent.
In summary, the DCR-SR42 is by no means a powerhouse low light performer. If Sony could finally do something about the abundance of blue noise in its entry-level camcorders, it might actually stand a chance.
The DCR-SR42 is equipped with Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS), which is common for an entry-level camcorder. EIS functions by creating a digital buffer around the frame to compensate for shake, while the more effective Optical Image Stabilization isolates the lens element from the body of the camcorder.
We tested the effectiveness of the DCR-SR42’s EIS using our custom-built camcorder shake emulator. Two speeds were used to simulate typical shooting activity. Speed One is equivalent to stationary handheld shake or a slow walk on level ground, camcorder in hand. Speed Two simulates a light jog or bumpy car ride with the camcorder. At Speed One, the DCR-SR42 exhibited a 50 percent shake reduction while Speed Two yielded a 44.44 percent reduction. This sub par performance is most likely due to the camcorder’s tiny size and limited EIS capabilities.
Wide Angle* (10.4)*
We tested the DCR-SR42’s maximum field of view using a vertical laser. The camcorder was mounted to a tripod with the LCD flipped open, EIS disabled, and the zoom pulled back to a full wide angle. Footage was then interpreted using an external monitor to attain a true reading. The DCR-SR42 displayed a wide angle measurement of 52 degrees, which is on the high end of the scale.
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