Sony HDR FX1 camcorder review – updated

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Sony Handycam HDR FX1Jump to updated part >>
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.

Lighting conditions indoors: Although this camcorder can work in gloomy lighting conditions, it tends to show vague noise shimmering in mid tone areas, especially when you use the Sharpness filter. In HDV, you practically do not see it, but when you resize the video to web format, it becomes more noticeable and it gives a slight shimmering effect on static objects.  Moving targets are seldom a problem as the noise blurs with the movement. Testing for shimmering while hooked on your computer is difficult, you practically do not see it in the preview window unless you have a 24inch screen.

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.

I bought an adapter from mini jack to XLR and a shotgun mic from Rode (the NTG-2) which makes a huge difference in sound quality.

Conclusion

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.

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26 thoughts on “Sony HDR FX1 camcorder review – updated

  1. Your site is a refreshing change from the majority of sites I have visited. When I first started visiting web sites I was excited by the potential of the internet as a resource and was very disappointed initially. You have restored my enthusiasm and I thank you for your efforts to share your insights and help the world become a better place.

  2. Hi Andy,

    Yes, it is a great camcorder. I’m sure you will have a lot of pleasure from it.
    I did buy a DVD tutorial in the beginning to get going because the first time I saw all those options and requirements, I was a bit daunted by it.
    The tutorial gave the full tour of all the features, and how to use them in practice, which was a real time saver.

  3. Hi Len,

    No, because you need some way to communicate with that hard drive and on its own, the camcorder doesn’t have that functionality. Connecting an external drive to a laptop, then connecting the camcorder to the laptop as well works, though. In fact, I do that myself quite often. So, instead of recording on tape, I directly record on the external hard drive, but it means you cannot walk around with the camcorder unless you have someone carrying the laptop with you. In practice, you can use this trick best when working from a fixed spot, let’s say doing an interview or something like that.
    With Windows, you are also limited in size. Most window OS do not recognize the camcorder in HD mode, so you are restricted to 720×520 pixels. On Mac, no problem with HD.

  4. Is there a way to fool the HDR FX1 into believing it has a tape in it? I’d like to be able to record a 2.5 hour event direct to a ninja disk with no time code interruptions, which happens when you change the tape. Or way to get it to record without a tape in the mechanism at all? Anyone?

    • I often record without the tape by connecting the camcorder to a laptop. But I have to say, I never film longer then 20 minutes or so, and as such did not experience time code interruptions. I suggest you give it a try, let the camcorder run via a laptop for 2.5 hour and see what happens.
      Make sure your drive is big enough because this is going to be a huge file.

  5. can u kindly let me know how to capture the video from HDR FX-1E sony to the computer
    i know there is a port and i know there is soo EEE wire but the other end of the EEE wire has a different socket it does not fit in any of the sockets in my pc do i need some other hard wire if yes what is it and what software do i need

    • Normally, you do not need software, a driver will be installed automatically when you turn on the camcorder.
      You indeed need a FireWire 4 cable. Since you indicate the firewire port is different from the camcorder, you will need this cable: (94-4400) IEEE-1394 FireWire Cable.
      Here is a site that sells various firewire cables: http://www.usbcable.com/cat15.htm
      To make sure, compare the firewire slot of your pc with the plugs. The smallest plugs goes into the camcorder.

  6. Hi ya, thanks for all the info on here – useful stuff! I own one of these cameras but I’m having trouble with the firewire port on it. I’ve tried connecting it to 3 or 4 pc’s and laptops (including a mac) and non of them recognise it at all. Tried a few different firewire cables too and there’s still nothing; no ‘installing driver’ pop-up, nothing in ‘my computer’ and therefore I can’t capture any footage at all – which is a bit of a problem for the edit! Wondering if you can shed any light? Is there a re-set I can do or something? Hope you can help, thanks!

    • Hi Gfunk-era,

      The camcorder indeed does not trigger installation of drivers and it does not show up between the hard drives in My Computer, but you should be able to capture and import footage using iMovie on Mac.
      Regarding PC, it’s a bit of a pest. I discovered you can only import Standard DV on Windows. For capturing, you need to set the camcorder to Standard DV as well.
      I will test on my new laptop to see if it works on Windows 7 and come back to you on this.
      {edit} HDV does not work on Windows 7 home edition. This is on purpose, you need to buy the pro version. Smart move of Microsoft, although quite annoying.

  7. Hi Rudolf,

    Thanks for the info – I’ll have another go on my mac using iMovie and see if that gets me anywhere.

    Thanks for your help!

  8. I have a Sony VX2100. I bought it used. Upon instant testing at the point of purchase, all worked great. Later, I realized that during playback, the picture and sound comes out “skippy” and distorted especially during early point of the tape, but gets smoother towards the middle to end, even on new tapes. I have cleaned the head, but don’t seem to help. Any ideas, or similar experiences anyone?

    • Hi Moengah,
      I never experienced this problem myself, but there are a few possible causes. The tapes you bought might have a defect. To determine whether that is the case or not, try to find somebody who has a functional tape with content on it, so that you can test (perhaps go to a store and ask them if you do not know anyone). If you still get the same problem, I suspect something is wrong with the mechanism driving the tape.
      Another option is to ask someone with a tape camcorder to test your tapes.

  9. Thanks Rundolf. Actually I have severally tried using my other miniDV camcorder, still getting the same outcome. It indeed distorts the tapes – Kind like a chewed music tape. I like the camcorder because of it’s nice picture, but it lets me down, when some important footage is distorted, and unusable.
    Thanks

    • I’m afraid that the mechanism is messing up then. Since you had this form the start, I would try to get a refund on the camcorder if possible and buy another one.
      If that is no option, you could ask a quote for the repair in a Sony store. If you are lucky, it is a small thing.

  10. Hello,

    I have a SONY NXCAM AVCHD, and I have been using it to record video depositions. The only problem is that when I plug an external mic into the input jack, there is so much static noise, it makes the video almost useless. I plug a ECM-CS10 microphone into an extension and into the camera itself. Is that what is causing the static? I don’t know what to do at this point, please help!

    • Hi David,
      It is clear that you have a problem with either the socket of camcorder which leads to the mic or the plug of the mic itself. Perhaps you can test another mic?
      If that does not solve the issue, contact the dealer where you bought the camcorder because there should be no static.

  11. I have a Sony FX 1 (got it used). I would like to try some editing in 1080. Should I get a good PC with intel i7 since its much more affordable than a Mac? Or should I go Mac regardless of the costs? What else do I need in order to be able to capture the footage on a PC? Special capture card, cables, etc? I have never done this before so any ideas will help me in making my decision. What editing software would you recomend?

  12. I have a Sony FX 1 camera and I would like to start doing some editing. Is Adobe Elements 12 a good start? Do I need a card to capture? I have a PC with A8 chip. Is that good? Or its better to invest in a Mac?

    • Hi Martin,
      My experience is that it works best on Mac with a firewire port. It works on Windows as well, but only with the professional version because the home version does not let you capture HD video. Again, you need a firewire port.
      Regarding editing software: on Mac you have iMovie. This is excellent to edit the timeline. (cut frames, moves frames etc…). It also has a range of basic options to add text etc…
      this is free software delivered with your Mac. If you want to do color corrections and so on, Adobe AfterEffects or Premiere are a good choice. FinalCut Pro is fine as well, but I prefer the Adobe products because they are more user friendly. AfterEffects has possibilities beyond your imagination. But it is not cheap. Therefore you may want to have a look on eBay for a slightly older version.
      You need no special capture card, everything is captured via firewire.

  13. Hi again Martin,
    I did not see your previous question. Adobe Elements is certainly an option and much cheaper then the other ones I proposed earlier on. It depends on your requirements, though. I suggest you have a good look on the site of Adobe to compare features and base your decision on what you actually want to achieve. Adobe Elements does not have a high learning curve like Adobe AfterEffects, for instance, but it stands to reason that you do not have all the professional whistles and bells.
    I hope that helps?

    • Hi Brendan, as with many semi-professional camcorders, it runs on tape. However, the advantage of tapes is that the videos are only very lightly compressed while on hard drives the compression is higher to preserve space.
      But a hard drive is more convenient to use then a tape, I agree with that.

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