So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
- Exceptional image quality, Plenty of modes and functions, Professional components and design
- Daunting for first-time users, Mediocre stills mode, Prohibitive asking price.
If you're an indie filmmaker with a medium-sized budget on your hands, you could do a lot worse than this consumer/professional hybrid camera.
Price$ 5,299.00 (AUD)
The Sony HDR-FX7 is a curious beast of a camera. On one hand, it's the king of consumer-level camcorders, offering stunning high definition visuals at a prohibitively expensive price. On the other, it's a bottom-rung professional model that fails to match the exacting standards set by its top-end rivals. By placing itself on the border of two very different markets, the HDR-FX7 could easily have slipped between both stools. However, for the most part it manages to deliver a very satisfying performance. It will appeal to the dedicated video enthusiast with an interest in creative endeavours, such as short filmmaking.
Despite being branded under Sony's disposable sounding 'handycam' label, the HDR-FX7 is a serious product aimed squarely at prosumers (i.e. - the submarket between consumer and professional). This is made immediately obvious by the unit's elite design which wouldn't look out of place in the hands of a news crew -- and with three 1.1-megapixel ClearVid CMOS sensors capable of delivering video at 1080p, the sense of professionalism extends beyond mere aesthetics. Although CMOS technology typically offers a lower resolution than traditional CCD sensors, you'd be hard pressed to tell a difference judging by this camera's exceptional output. Depending on setting adjustments, the colours in our test footage ran the gamut from realistically muted to stunningly vibrant; with crisp, highly detailed visuals almost completely unaffected by noise. The large Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens has been designed to reduce lens flare and ghosting, with the super-sized hood offering additional image protection. The camera can also record high-def video onto standard MiniDV tapes at a compressed rate, making it a versatile choice for people with more than one handycam.
Naturally, a level of expertise is expected for a camera in this price range, and the quality of your output will be largely dependent on your mastery of the advanced controls. Iris, shutter speed, white balance and gain all have dedicated buttons which must be attended to frequently in manual mode. Ironically, this means that novice users are more likely to produce poor video with the HDR-FX7 than with a cheap point-and-shoot camcorder. To make matters worse, the owner's manual is particularly impenetrable and unhelpful, making for a slow learning process if you're a newcomer to the field. On the other hand, those who already know their way around a high-end camera will find the control interface intuitive to use.
A wide variety of modes and features are present on this camera, including Sony's Smooth Slow Record function, which enables footage to be played back at a quarter of its usual speed. This is a particularly handy tool for previewing sporting techniques -- such as tennis serves or karate bouts -- while still on location. One feature that stands out in a negative sense is the uninspiring stills mode. At a resolution of just 1.2 megapixels, the images taken by this camera fail to reflect its premium price tag.
Due to the camera's hefty size and widely spaced control scheme, two-handed operation is required at all times, with your left hand taking care of the majority of functions. As you would expect from a prosumer model, the HDR-FX7 comes equipped with a pair of zoom and focus rings for higher levels of precision. This is an especially desirable feature for anybody with an interest in filmmaking, as it allows for more natural adjustments, which will give your video a more cinematic feel. Unfortunately, the zoom ring lacks beginning and end points, which makes it difficult to gauge crash zooms and artificial dolly shots. Nevertheless, the 20x optical magnification level (30x via digital extender mode) is quite impressive for a prosumer model, which tend to be compromised in the zoom department due to their wide-angle lenses.
In terms of audio, the HDR-FX7 is pretty difficult to fault. In addition to a large top-mounted stereo microphone, there are jacks for a pair of headphones and an external mic, as well as an accessory shoe for additional microphone placement. Although the manual settings are not as advanced as some people might like, we found the camera's auto mode to do a good job of adjusting sound levels on the fly.
The camera's included battery lasted for around 90 minutes when recording in the HD video format (shooting in standard DV will gain you a few more minutes). Larger batteries which last up to three times longer can be purchased separately.
All up, there is very little to criticise about the HDR-FX7. It sets out to deliver a high-end consumer product with professional trimmings, and in this it succeeds admirably.
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