Sony Handycam HDR-XR350V Camcorder Review
Ease of Use
Ease of Use
The HDR-XR350V is just as easy to use as many of its Handycam predecessors from Sony. Sony did do away with its dedicated auto mode on a few models last year, however, so we welcomed the presence of the iAuto (dedicated auto mode) setting on the HDR-XR350. This option makes the camcorder easy for beginners to use, although the fact that it doesn't lock you out of accessing the menu system may result in some novice users accidentally getting lost among the long list of features and settings available on the camcorder.
Thankfully, Sony implemented its simple 'My Menu' feature on the HDR-XR350V (as well as on the rest of its Handycam models in 2010). The 'My Menu' screen simplifies the main menu to six choices, which can be customized by the user (or kept as the default six options if you don't want to change them). We like this menu a lot, especially since the main menu is very long and has a somewhat confusing navigation system with the touchscreen interface.
The camcorder does have a truncated information box that appears at the bottom of the LCD when you select a menu option. This info box can be extremely helpful, particularly when you're still getting used to the ins and outs of the camcorder. Unfortunately, the camcorder's instruction manual is very lacking in details and specifics, so certain features may take some actual hands-on experience before you figure them out completely.
Sony's Intelligent Auto (iAuto) mode generally works well as a dedicated auto mode on the HDR-XR350V. Instead of locking you out from accessing the menu system like many dedicated auto modes do, Sony's iAuto mode simply deactivates itself if you select a manual control from the menu. We're not sure how we feel about this design, as it does make the camcorder a bit more difficult for beginners, but it is also less confusing for intermediate users who may want to switch back and forth between automatic and manual control.
Auto exposure and autofocus work quickly and accurately on the XR350V, but we found the auto white balance system to work a bit slow on occasion. Once the white balance eventually did calibrate, however, the color tones looked accurate. The camcorder has a good set of scene modes, and its spot focus and exposure options are a great use of the touchscreen system (you tap the part of the screen you want to bring into focus or expose properly). The camcorder does not have an AF/AE tracking feature like you'll find on the Canon HF M31 and Panasonic HDC-HS60.
The auto slow shutter feature on the HDR-XR350V is grouped in with the camcorder's Low Lux setting. It appears that the Low Lux option may also boost gain levels as well as allowing the camcorder to utilize a 1/30 of a second shutter speed, but since there's no way to choose one or the other, you get stuck with the camcorder automatically activating both when using Low Lux. We'd prefer if these options were kept separate, or, better yet, if the camcorder had offered manual shutter speed or gain control in addition to the Low Lux.