Although the Mac OS is the platform of choice for editing video and rendering effects, it still lags behind Windows with its support for hard disk camcorders. HDD offers longer recording times, high-def recording and some better filehandling efficiencies.
However, few of these HDD units are fully Mac-compatible. The AVCHD codec enables the few that are, such as the Sony HDR-S11E with its 60GB hard drive. Our Mac OS reads this codec and uses a bridging codec (Apple Intermediate Codec) to transfer footage directly into iMovie or Final Cut. But this ability is limited to Intel Macs only.
We expected the footage to transfer quickly to the Mac from the HDR-S11E using a USB cable, but it was slower than the last Canon MiniDV camera we tested, a budget MD160.
This is because the HDD camera captures much more data, so the files are heavier on the processors involved, and the Apple Intermediate Codec adds a layer of translation to the process.
Our first upload to the Mac was 3 minutes 43 seconds' worth of footage spread across five scenes. Importing lasted 4 minutes 20 seconds. Our second batch of scenes, totalling 24 minutes, took 32 minutes 40 seconds to import.
Slow importing times are offset to some degree by the time saved when browsing footage while out shooting, but any expectations of whizzing footage into iMovie were not realised.
All footage we imported was 1080i high-def content. The HDR-S11 records High-Def, AVCHD, Standard Def and MPEG2. You can record to the disc or a Memory Stick.
During playback, we noticed the flickering from 1080i interlacing between frames, especially when playing back on a larger screen. Generally though the results were very good. No noise or blurring was noticeable at full zoom. Colour capture was perfectly acceptable, though contrast in dark areas was a little muddy.
Sony's SuperSteadyShot stabilisation technology worked very well, and the resolution levels exceeded our expectations. Even on a large screen the resolution was excellent and detailed on distant objects like the tops of churches and a distant castle.
The camera presents scenes shot as thumbnails inside the foldout panel – great for reviewing on-the-fly. The camcorder doubles as a 10.2-megapixel basic stills camera too, though most of the features can only be accessed through the foldout screen, which reduces its point-and-shoot usefulness.
Very good camcorder
There is also a second-long lag between clicking the Picture button and capturing the scene.
For shooting set compositions, it's much better. Face-detection software is built in, focusing is sharp, and colours are good. Using the controls, Audio recording was not great because the mic is on top of the camera pointing upwards and not on the front pointing at the subject. A hotshoe lets you connect a stronger mic. Some of the controls are a bit fiddly.
The Quick On button is recessed into the body, so it's hard to flick on. The foldout touchscreen, which is the interface for controlling nearly all of the camera's higher functions, offers small icons to tap. We ended up using a pen and it takes more than a gentle tap to control these features.
The price has come down for HDD camcorders, but the speed of importing being what it is, the technology presented here is not compelling. You can buy an excellent MiniDV camcorder for half the price and get equivalent-quality images.
This is still a very good camcorder, and the images are high quality. With a better data-transfer speed, we would have recommended it.