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I had mixed feelings after reading the reviews about the Sony HDR FX1 camcorder which is already on the market for some time (beginning 2005, if I’m correct). But I luckily found a video demo from a professional guy who made a fashion movie with it. This convinced me that the FX1 is a really good prosumer camcorder. It’s is not the point-and-shoot type, you need to learn how this tiger works. And indeed, the settings are numerous, which might discourage the occasional user. If you only plan to do home movies without a hassle, this camera is probably a bit too much for you. The Sony HDR SR7 is easier to use and also yields great results.
But if you are serious about video and you are not afraid to study a little, you can make good quality video under nearly all circumstances with the HDR FX1.
I was swinging between this model and the consumer model, Sony HDR SR7 but the decision to buy or not to buy was taken out of my hands because a good client of mine simply bought the FX1 for me as a present. And as soon as I saw my first test, I was really amazed by the realistic colors of this camcorder and the razor sharp images, even in SD format (DV).
It is said that it is difficult to set the focus with the FX1, but I did not find that any harder then with most other digital camcorders. The expanded focus button on top of the camcorder does help a lot to focus, especially if combined with the zoom.
A fantastic feature is that you can create your own custom settings and save them in a slot in the personal menu. You can group up to 28 settings in one slot. This is such a great time saver! You work out the best settings in relation to the task, being it indoors or outdoors, and then set everything upfront. Once on the job, you simply select the appropriate personal menu (called P1, P2 etc..) and you can even tweak it a little if needed.
This camcorder has one more interesting feature and that is the LCD display: you can turn it around 360°. That means that you can see yourself in the LCD while the camera is placed on a tripod. Not bad at all, because you can do one man shows on your own. However, don’t forget to look into the camera lens. Looking at the display all the time will give the idea that your are somewhere else with your thoughts and I think you don’t want that to happen 🙂
Some great tips to get to know this camcorder
Checking output before filming: In a studio or at home, as soon as you hook the camcorder up with Windows MovieMaker (PC) or iMovie (Mac) to capture video on your laptop or PC (it works with FireWire), you see exactly what you are going to get. Setting the focus becomes much easier as well. I tested this both on Mac and PC and that method works fine. It is a great way to get to know your camcorder, what its typical characteristics are and how to interpret the LCD display, because that display might fool you into believing that the world looks very crisp and beautiful. Therefore, after some testing, you may find that you want to customize the LCD display by making it a bit darker and tone down the saturation somewhat, because it tends to show a very rosy picture that is simply too good to be true.
It is a good idea to set the personal menus while being connected to your computer with FireWire because that guarantees that the output is in sync with what you want. Like I said, the display is a bit euphoric.
Don’t use the LCD in the bright sun outside because that will force you to lighten up the LCD display again in order to see something. Use the viewfinder instead.
Here is a sample of noise: http://www.miracletutorials.com/powermate-griffin/. You can see it best when only the background shows, You have to concentrate to be able to see it but I would like to avoid it, if I can.
Software settings on the camcorder for this footage were:
- WB (white balance): Indoors (you should set it manually, normally)
- AE response: Fast
- Gain setup: H > 18db – M > 12db > L 0db
- Steady shot: On (shouldn’t have been, I was working from a tripod, but mistakes happen :-))
- Steady shot type: Standard
- Flicker reduce: On (I was filming a computer screen, but the frequency difference was too big to help)
- Color level: +4
- Sharpness: 12
- Skintone: Off (should have been on, as I show a hand close-up)
- AT Iris limit: F11
- AWB sensitivity: High
- Cinematone: Off
- Cineframe: Off (30 and 24 give more smoothness, but for tutorials, fake cinema effects are not ideal)
- Rec format: HDV 1080i
I have to say, good lighting is really important for any camcorder and I don’t think the noise is any worse worse then with other camcorders. But I suddenly noticed this on some of my videos and thought to report it. In really dark conditions, there is no noise, probably because the difference in contrast with the noise becomes smaller. Outside on the street in broad daylight, no problem either. It’s a typical indoor thing and with good lighting, you can avoid it.
Once you know this camcorder, it is a very reliable machine, and it’s bigger brother, the Sony HDR ZU1 only has a couple of features that are worthwhile over this prosumer model, in my opinion not really worth the price difference. Because the lens and body are exactly the same, apart from some accessories of which only one make a serious difference: the XLR input for external mics, and that brings us to the bad point:
The bad point: audio
The FX1 lacks an XLR input which is indeed a problem because you need to buy extra equipment to get around this if you want good sound from an external mic.
The mic itself on top of the camcorder is not that great, although I didn’t notice much deformation in the sound. It is not really directional and that can be a problem, especially on the street. I knew that already from many reviews, so that is not a big surprise. I would only use the built-on mic it if I had no other choice, but that goes for most camcorders with a fixed mic, it is just a shame that there is only a mini-jack to connect external mics because the connection easily deteriorates over time.
On the whole, I really love this machine and the HD format(High definition) is enormous. You can film the head of a cat, twice as big as in reality, yet as sharp as a hyper realistic illustration. You can see every hair and any details you wouldn’t even see with your naked eye. I don’t mind the camcorder works with miniDV tapes because I mostly record directly on the laptop or an external hard drive. I only use the tapes when I am on the road and with the high quality miniDV’s from Sony, you do not have drop-outs, or very seldom. As you can see, the Sony HDR FX1 camcorder is a good prosumer device.