The Sony DCR-SX40 also has 4GB of extra embedded memory and an impressive 60x optical zoom. Compact, stylish and easy to use, it will primarily suit casual users in need of an affordable standard-definition camcorder. The only caveats are its low pixel count and a dearth of manual controls, but these are to be expected for the £307 asking price.
The Sony DCR-SX40 records video to removable flash memory. It has superior build quality and an intuitive user interface.
Unlike some standard-definition camcorders we could mention, the Sony DCR-SX40 doesn't skimp on the camera lens. The 39-2340mm (35mm equivalent) Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens is a cut above most entry-level models, which typically sport cheap, low-grade optics. Indeed, the same lens (albeit with a smaller zoom) can be found in several Sony Cyber-shot digital still cameras, which is a testament to its quality.
Unfortunately, the Sony DCR-SX40's imaging sensor is not nearly so impressive. It consists of a single CCD measuring an eighth of an inch, with an effective pixel count of just 410k. Consequently, the DCR-SX40 is ill equipped for playback on a high-definition TV, which brings image artefacts and noise to the fore. Our test footage fared better on a CRT television, though you'll still need to shoot in optimum lighting if you want crystal-clear imagery.
All up, the Sony DCR-SX40's video performance is adequate for the asking price. While unlikely to knock anyone's socks off, it does the job well enough. If you'll allow us to dust off a hoary old cliché: it's good but not great. The Sony DCR-SX40 also comes with the obligatory still image mode, but with a resolution of just 0.3 megapixels, it is probably best avoided.
The Sony DCR-SX40's 60x optical zoom lens is one of the most powerful zooms on the market. Most camcorders offer between 10x and 40x. You're going to need a tripod when shooting at maximum zoom or your footage will look overly shaky. When shooting at normal magnifications, the DCR-SX40 does a pretty good job of keeping footage smooth and steady, despite the lack of an optical image stabiliser.
When it comes to build quality, the Sony DCR-SX40 lives up to the exacting standards you'd expect from a Sony product. Measuring 53x59x113mm and weighing only 200g, it's just small enough to carry around in your pocket.
The Sony DCR-SX40 is available in three different colours - black, silver and red. We tested the red version, which strikes a nice balance between flashy and tasteful (ie it's not too garish and not too boring). The dark shade has an understated metallic finish that we found quite pleasing. Those little Sony touches, like sturdy connection flaps and a premium-grade hand strap, are also present on this model. For the asking price, it's definitely a great looking camera.
Being an entry-level model, the Sony DCR-SX40's feature set leans towards the user-friendly (read: automatic). Hidden within the intuitive touch-screen menu are all the usual Sony bells and whistles, including adjustable shutter speed (1/3-1/3500), Face Index (which display thumbnails of your subjects' noggins in the playback menu), fader functions, 11 Scene modes and a slideshow mode for still images. Dedicated fool-proof buttons for auto shooting and DVD burning are also included on the camera's body.
The Sony DCR-SX40 camcorder offers a solid performance for the asking price. Its primary strength lies in its user-friendly interface, followed by its sleek good looks and 60x optical zoom lens.