The Sony HDR-XR150 is a Full HD camcorder equipped with a 120GB hard drive and 25x optical zoom lens.
Like other models in the Sony handycam range, the Sony HDR-XR150 comes with an exhaustive array of consumer-friendly features and gimmicks, including Spot Focus, Face Detection, Smile Shutter, Steady Shot, a ‘Child Priority' tool, Intelligent Auto and a Smooth Slow Record mode. (Curiously, it lacks an inbuilt GPS, which is commonplace on many of its stable mates.)
In terms of specifications, the Sony HDR-XR150 is quite similar to last year's batch of HD handycam models, which included the similarly named HDR-XR100. The biggest improvement to the HDR-XR150 is probably its enlarged 25x optical zoom lens, which is very impressive for a high-def camcorder. (Previous Sony models have come with 15x optical zooms, or less.) The HDR-XR150 also comes with SD/SDHC memory card support, in addition to Sony's proprietary Memory Stick format. In other words, you have no less than three recording formats at your disposal.
The Sony HDR-XR150 is impressively compact for a HDD camcorder. Despite packing in a 120GB hard drive, the unit weighs just 300g and measures a tiny 57x67x114mm. When compared to previous hard disk-based behemoths, like the Sony HDR-SR12E, it feels like somebody zapped it with a shrink-ray. Needless to say, it should fit inside your jacket pocket with a minimum of hassle.
For the asking price, the Sony HDR-XR150 gave a solid video performance. It boasts a redesigned Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens, as well as Sony's celebrated Bionz processing chip. It records 1080p video in the AVCHD format at 24 megabits per second (Mbps) - previous Sony handycams made do with an inferior bit rate of 16Mbps. The 1/4in ‘Exmor R' CMOS sensor, meanwhile, offers an effective pixel count of 1350k. This might sound a bit measly on paper, but the HDR-XR150 still did a good job in our imaging tests.
We connected it to a to a Pioneer KURO PDP-C509A plasma TV using the included component (RGB) cable and were very impressed with the results. Images remained clean in dim lighting with less noise than we're used to. The Sony HDR-XR150 also comes with a 3.1-megapixel stills mode which should prove adequate for Facebook - just. (Unfortunately, there's no inbuilt flash or night mode, so your happy snaps must be limited to daylight hours).
For menu selections, Sony has stuck to its tried-and-tested touch screen LCD. The interface is fast and responsive, yet it also suffers from a few design glitches. For example, the ‘scroll down' arrow reverts to a ‘My Menu' icon after a few seconds of inactivity. This caused us to frequently return to the home menu when we simply wanted to select a different menu category. A little practice helped to eliminate this problem, but it was frustrating nonetheless. The 2.7in display could also prove problematic for thick fingers (we much prefer the Sony HDR-CX520's 3.5in display).
We were unsurprised, but disappointed nonetheless, by the absence of external audio options. Instead, you're stuck with the Sony HDR-XR150's 2ch stereo microphone. On the plus side, the user can adjust the microphone level manually, and the zoom mic helps to cut out ambient noise - to a degree.
The Sony HDR-XR150's 120GB hard drive can store up to 50 hours and 30 minutes of high-definition footage in LP mode - or 11 hours and 20 minutes at the highest possible quality. As mentioned, a Memory Stick slot and SD/SDHC card slot are also included for hybrid recordings. You can also record video in standard-definition if the mood strikes you.
NEXT: our expert verdict >>