Sony HDR-FX1E

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Sony HDR-FX1E

Pros

  • High definition, brilliant quality

Cons

  • Heavy, expensive

Bottom Line

For those with a little extra money, or serious professionals looking to take the leap into high definition video, the HDR-FX1E is a great option.

Would you buy this?

  • Buy now (Selling at 1 store)

Before rushing out to buy a new digital handycam, take a moment to consider whether you want to spend all that money on a format that could soon be consigned to the dustbin of history. Which format? Why, digital video (DV), of course. Higher resolution formats in the form of high-definition video (HDV), are here now. Many new digital TV sets ship with HD modes built in and now HD-capable handycams are arriving too.

Sony's HDRFX1E is one such beast. But lest you are wary of committing to HD just now - or if you do not have an HD-compatible TV to view your footage - the FX1E also records in standard DV. Not only that, but you can mix and match HDV and DV footage on the same miniDV tape and the FX1E will convert HDV footage to DV when you output it to a device via a Firewire cable. So even if your lounge isn't HDV-equipped, you can enjoy the videos as DV now and stash the tapes away for the day when you slap down the cash for an HD-compatible TV.

Is HD worth paying for? Hell yes. The FX1E's 1080-line, interlaced scan video looks spectacular when displayed on an HD screen. While the difference in detail isn't quite like the switch from 3 megapixel still digicams to 8 megapixels, it's startling nonetheless, perhaps all the more so because we've been looking at the same low-resolution video signals for so long. All that extra detail means extra data, so HDV uses Mpeg-2 compression which enables it to compress the data enough so that existing MiniDV tapes can be used with the camera and still provide the same record times as standard DV.

The HDRFX1E certainly produces fantastic quality, although until more HDV cameras arrive we can only compare it with the DV imagery produced by the competition. The quality is not simply due to it being high-definition video - the FX1E has a lot more going for it than a simple matter of more pixels. Like many other high-end handycams, the FX1E uses a 3CCD (charged couple device) sensor arrangement, which captures more accurate color than single CCD sensors.

Moreover, while it still has a fixed lens rather than an interchangeable system, Sony has provided a flexible f/1.6--2.8 lens with 12x optical zoom (equivalent to 32.5mm- 390mm in 35mm terms). This comes with a lens hood that has an integrated cap - just flick a switch to close the double-door cap and protect the lens while not in use.

Design-wise, the FX1E obviously isn't pitched at holidaymakers looking for a lightweight handycam to carry in their backpack. This is aimed at serious enthusiasts and professionals, and while it's not particularly heavy, it is a large unit to lug around.

One advantage of the FX1E's size is that it has room for a wealth of buttons and controls that save you trawling through the menus to adjust settings. Many of these buttons can be used in conjunction with user-defined settings, so you can set a range of variables and have them accessible via buttons. By default, iris, gain, shutter speed and white balance are automatically adjusted but a simple lock switch can be toggled off to allow you to perform manual adjustments. There is also a two-setting neutral density (ND) filter for reducing the volume of light in bright conditions, and a picture profile button which provides access to six preset profiles that operate like scene settings on a still digicam. While the presets are useful, the real power lies in the ability to adjust them all and save your customized settings.

Another valuable feature accessed by side-mounted buttons is shot transitioning. This allows you to set up and save two settings - which can include variables like focus, zoom, iris gain, shutter speed and so on - and then smoothly transition from one setting to the other by pressing the A or B buttons.

The FX1E has a large carry handle mounted along its length, which has the viewfinder attached towards the rear, and the stereo microphone at the front. Behind the microphone is the large, 16:9 colour LCD. The LCD swivels, and beneath it you'll find all the playback controls. Also located on the carry handle is a second record button and zoom lever (the standard record button and zoom lever are located in the usual position on the right-hand side). This handle-mounted record button and zoom lever makes it possible to hold the camera at waist height - movie steadycam style - to record the action.

In addition to the two zoom levers, the large zoom dial on the lens can be used for precise zooming. Switch to manual focus and the large focus ring can be used too, and for even more control there is also a dial for manual control of the iris aperture.

Output options from the FX1E are many: there's an i.LINK (Firewire) port for connecting to a PC or TVs equipped with an i.LINK port, component output, S-video or basic A/V output.

All this flexibility and function comes at a price. The best things in life may be free, but you'll have to pay a tidy sum for HDV. While it is not an investment many of us will be making soon, the FX1E clearly points the way to a revolution in digital video that is unavoidable.

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