When you're recording a special occasion, keeping things simple is the safest way to go. Just point, press a button and let the camcorder do the rest. That's the approach championed by the Sony DCR-SR42 Handycam camcorder (available for around £300 online), which reduces arcane recording features to a minimum and saves files to a hard drive so there's no need to buy Mini DVD discs or MiniDV tapes. At its highest quality setting, the Sony DCR-SR42 Handycam camcorder's 30GB hard drive can record up to seven hours of video.
Nicely designed, easy to use and lightweight, the 13 has everything you need for quick and simple videography, including a sharp, colourful 2.5in wide-format (16:9) LCD screen and a powerful 40X optical zoom lens with electronic image stabilisation. Set the Sony DCR-SR42 to fully automatic Easy mode, and nearly all of the menu options will be turned off. This is convenient because you can give the camcorder to an inexperienced shooter without much risk that the person will accidentally put the camera into manual focus or switch to an improper exposure mode.
(Oddly enough, in Easy mode, the hard disk formatting selection remains on and the Scene mode option is turned off, rather than vice versa.) With Easy mode turned off, the Sony DCR-SR42's menus are nicely labelled and well organized. The camcorder's 40X optical zoom makes image stabilisation vital.
Inevitably, simplicity entails some compromises. The Sony DCR-SR42 lacks a headphone jack, a microphone jack, a built-in low-light assist lamp and an eye-level viewfinder - a helpful feature when you're shooting in bright light, and the DCR-SR42's LCD panel becomes hard to use.
In formal lab tests the Sony DCR-SR42 earned middling scores of Good and Poor, respectively, for video and still images - well below those achieved by the Sony DCR-DVD408.
Informal videos taken outdoors produced pleasing (although not especially vivid) colours, and details that weren't especially crisp. On the other hand, the Sony DCR-SR42's automatic exposure control worked well as scenes changed from shadows to bright areas to a mixture of both.