Skydiving: safety: Freefall Photography : Big BANG/Small Bucks :
Big BANG/Small BucksPosted 2009-02-19
By Douglas Spotted Eagle
AVCHD has exploded on the consumer and pro-sumer scene like a new star at the Oscars, and the CX100 is the newest “actor” in the AVCHD lineup from Sony.
Packed into a small body measuring 2” W x 2.25” H x 4” L (including factory battery) and 2” W x 2.25”H x 5” L with the more practical NP90 battery, this small “brick” weighs in between 11 and 14 ounces, depending on the battery chosen. Short description; this camcorder is a mini-brick.
The CX100 records a 1920 x 1080i image on a Memory Stick Pro Duo card, with record times up to 340 minutes on the included 8GB stick, but it’s more practical to record to the highest quality video in most situations, reducing recording time to approximately 40 minutes on an 8GB card, or 115 minutes on a 16GB card. There are other modes, and these are useful for recording surveillance, low motion, or even simple scenes, but for best quality, most users will likely find the 16Mbps FH mode to be the preference.
Most exciting is that this camcorder brings the award-winning Exmor™ imager to the consumer world. Exmor is the heart of the professional EX-series camcorders, which have become standards in the broadcast world. What this means to consumers is a more clean image, less noise in low-light, and a smoother image overall. It’s a single .20 CMOS imager, but don’t be fooled by single and small. Technology has brought CMOS to a new level of quality that previous generations of CCD-dependent camcorders. CMOS has shown itself to be the new future of virtually all imaging devices from the very low cost cell cams to high end professional production cameras. Exmor is currently the king of small imagers.
Small is the key with this camcorder.
Tiny and light weight, this camcorder fits snugly into the palm. It’s very ergonomic, being curved on the right side and square on the left side.
The lens housing is very simple; it’s a 30mm threaded lens with a manual lens cover. It’s a Zeiss lens, identical to lenses found on previous HDR series camcorders. Optical width (35mm equivalent) is 42mm wide zoomed in to 497mm, so the camcorder isn’t quite wide enough for action sports or close-in work, but is plenty wide for the average user. While the camcorder does offer digital zoom, like most digital zooms, it’s not terribly useful due to the small sensor sizes. It’ll work well in a pinch, on a tripod/non-moving, or in a situation where the image acquisition is more important than image quality. Exposure is controlled via menu touchscreen, as is shutter speed, although the camera does not offer full manual control. There are nine exposure modes plus an Auto mode, giving users ten options for exposure control.
Two microphone ports are found beneath the lens housing.
The 2.5” LCD panel flips open and rotates; there is no clasp or latch holding it in place. The panel may be closed with the screen facing out, as with all previous models in this series. This is a big preview screen and it looks terrific.
The controls are very simple. There is no normal on/off switch on the camcorder; opening and closing the LCD panel turns on/off the power to the camcorder. Power can be turned off with the LCD Panel open by pressing the on/off switch found beneath the LCD panel.
Also found beneath the LCD panel is a one-touch Disc Burn button to burn card contents straight to a DVD via the USB connector. Next to this is found a Play button for playback modes. Even when the camcorder is in Camera mode, pressing the Play button will put the camcorder in to Playback mode. Beneath the Disc Burn button is a Display button. Pressing this button once turns off most of the displayed information, thus allowing more of the preview screen to be seen. Pressing again turns off all display items, leaving the preview screen blank. Pressing/holding the button turns the preview off completely, thus allowing this camcorder to be used in a dark room without the LCD providing a source of light. In this mode, there is no recording indicator at all. The LCD screen is the only indication of recording; the camcorder does not have a Tally light. Next to the Display button is an “Easy button” that allows the camcorder to set all parameters of operation. Manual focus, exposure, and other modes are disabled when the Easy mode is engaged. Finally, there is a Reset button to reset all parameters of the camcorder back to factory setting.
With the LCD Panel closed, the camcorder has three buttons; Record start/stop, Photo, and Zoom lever. With Record Mode enabled, the CX100 is able to take continual still photographs at a resolution up to 4Mp. However, there is a time lag between shots; expect about one still every 3 seconds, hardly fast enough for many sport photography modes.
The stripped-down nature of this camcorder belies its intelligence. The camcorder is extremely smart, able to sense up to eight faces on the screen and calculate exposure based on these faces. Additionally, if the still modes are being used, the camcorder can sense smiles, and shoot automatically when it sees a smile. Now if it only had an “ugly” sensor that would prevent it from taking ugly photos, or a ‘composition’ setting that could prevent badly composed photos from being taken. Maybe in the next generation.
Spot focus, spot metering, slow-shutter are all available on this camcorder, along with the previously mentioned nine exposure modes. Menus are relatively simple in this camcorder, but there are some menus the average user will want to pay attention to.
In the “General” menu mode (preview screen/menu button, page two under the Toolbox), there are five menu options. In this menu, Auto Shutoff, Calibration, and Power On By LCD are the important options. First, disable Auto Shutoff unless you’re okay with the camera powering down after five minutes of disuse. In the action-sports world, this is a non-starter, so disable this mode. Next, calibrate the screen for your personal finger touches. Different size fingers will touch the menu differently. Next, disable the Power On By LCD option if a remote is part of the planned operation of the camcorder. For example, when using the HypEye D Pro remote/camera indicator, the LCD panel must be opened first, then the HypEye may be enabled and will control the camcorder. If the Power On By LCD option is disabled, the HypEye D Pro will be able to turn on/off the camcorder, start/stop recording, and control functions of the camcorder while the camcorder is in a box or cage. It becomes a hands-free operation when the Power On By LCD option is disabled.
In this same Toolbox menu, you’ll want to scroll to Page One of the menu options, and select the Face Function Set menu. Disable Face Detection, and disable Smile Shutter features. This will significantly speed the auto-focus functions of the camcorder. This same menu is where you’ll set the movie or photo modes of the camcorder.
In the next menu, you’ll want to set the camcorder to record to external media, unless you’ll plan on downloading everything from the internal memory to an external hard drive. There is a huge benefit to this process; if you’ve filled or forgotten a memory stick, now you’ve got a way to record. Imagine being on a cliff wall or aircraft and realize you have no memory stick, or the stick is full. Simply switch to “Internal Memory” mode and you’ve just gained nearly 60 minutes of high-quality recording in FH mode!
Be certain to enable X.V. Color in the menu for the most rich and natural colors during playback to any X.V. enabled HD display. X.V. is standard in Sony displays, but XVYcc is an up and coming standard in home video/theatre. The color information is embedded in the video stream, and having it will not harm the image of non-XV (HDMI 1.3) systems, but will be immediately apparent in XV displays.
If you need to share media, no worries. You can easily dub media from a mem stick to the internal Flash memory, or dub from the internal Flash memory out to a media stick. If Firewire has been your primary means of sharing video files, MSPD is now your transport medium for sharing video. From skateboarders to skydivers, this feature will be much loved, much appreciated, and much late in file-based recording systems.
Another ‘feature’ of this camcorder is the image stabilization system. For the past two years, almost all Sony models have been Optically Stabilized, or OIS. This is terrific for those that stand around with camcorders in their hands, but for those that are mounting camcorders to skateboards, helmets, aircraft struts, motorcycles, or anything else that has heavy, inconsistent vibration, OIS is a bane, not a benefit. Soft, juddery images are sometimes the result of OIS systems. The CX100 offers EIS, or Electronic Image Stabilization. Granted, for those that stand around with camcorders in their hands, EIS may not be quite as preferable, but for everyone else, EIS is golden. Action sports photographers have been begging for EIS to return to small-format camcorders. Sony has finally obliged.
All in all, the Sony CX100 is a dream camera for the low-budget videographer, the action sport photographer, or the independent production looking for a crash cam. At a retail of 599.00, its street price is somewhat lower, and available everywhere. In Black, Red, and Silver, there are even multiple color choices for the color-coordinated videographer/photographer. There is little to want for, given the size, weight, and cost of the CX100.
Weaknesses are found in the potential “oops” factor of leaving a lens cover on while using a remote, and in the opportunity to miss menu options in a hurry. Lack of audio input means extra care should be taken to capture decent sound; if a housing is used, be sure to leave an opening for audio. These are small pitfalls for the large scope of what this mini-monster brings to the table.
Congratulations to Sony’s design team; in my estimation, this is the best small-format camcorder for the buck. Ever.