The DCR-HC30, like the other two budget HC models, combines a very compact design with comfortable ergonomics. One thing that really sets Sony's consumer camcorders apart from the crowd is their touch-screen LCD system, which we have mixed feelings about. There are few physical controls on the body of the DCR-HC30 because you access most settings through the touch-screen menus. This makes for a simple, uncluttered design, but if you're the kind of person who likes to fiddle with the controls, you'll probably find it less than convenient to navigate through screens of options. And if you have large fingers, making the selection you want may be awkward. Fortunately, the physical controls that Sony does put on the camera body are useful and well placed. They include a backlight button for getting the right exposure with backlit subjects, and a second record button on the LCD panel where you can reach it when using your left hand to steady the camera. Pressing the button for Easy mode enlarges the menu display and pares your options down to the essentials.
A smoothly operating 10X zoom lens and a good automatic feature set combine to make the Sony DCR-HC30 a well-rounded home video camera. Although you won't find many manual adjustments on the camera, its programmed automatic modes and exposure shift give casual videographers adequate control. You can also spot-focus or spot-meter by touching an area on the LCD, which gives you some extra flexibility with tricky scenes; however, the automatic exposure and focus adeptly handled most typical scenes in our tests. Audio quality was decent, although we wish that there were a wind filter option.
With a 1/6-inch sensor and a 340,000-pixel effective video resolution, the Sony DCR-HC30 is typical of its budget class in offering decent but not great video quality. It does do a bit better than Canon's budget models in low light, and its image is smoother and more stable than what you get from competing Panasonic models. That said, it suffers from the same limited dynamic range, which causes highlight areas to turn white and shadow areas to drop out, and it offers a merely acceptable level of image detail.