camcorders

Sony HDR-CX700V Review

New frame rate options and 96GB of internal flash memory make the Handycam HDR-CX700V one hot ticket.

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Introduction

Sony’s newest high-end camcorder—the Handycam HDR-CX700V—offers Full HD 60p and 24p recording, as well as a traditional 60i record mode. These new frame rate options, along with the camcorder’s 96GB of internal flash memory, make it one of the more intriguing flagship models to hit the shelves in 2011.

Design & Usability

A built-in USB cable is one of the most prominent features on the HDR-CX700V.

The lens and sensor on the HDR-CX700V slightly differ from the setup on the previous flagship Handycam from Sony, the HDR-CX550V. The new camcorder has the same amount of optical zoom (10x), and its lens still has a widest aperture setting of f/1.8, but the focal length has been altered slightly. Sony also increased the pixel count of the image sensor on the HDR-CX700V, but the sensor is still the same size as what was inside last year’s HDR-CX550V.

The camcorder comes with a large lens hood that can be attached to the front of the camcorder. The hood isn’t all that durable, but it is a good thing to have if you’re shooting in a space with lots of glare. Attaching the hood does make the CX700V less portable, however, so don’t bring it along unless you’re comfortable with the extra bulk.

Here’s something we haven’t seen before: the HDR-CX700V has a _smaller_ LCD than its predecessor.

Here’s something we haven’t seen before: the HDR-CX700V has a smaller LCD than its predecessor, the HDC-CX550V. Sony reduced the size of the LCD on the CX700V by 1/2 an inch (compared to last year’s flagship models). We loved the 3.5-inch screen that Sony included on its top camcorders, and it is sad that Sony decided to take it away. The smaller screen makes the touchscreen interface more difficult to use and it gives you less space to frame your shot.

At least Sony did something smart by retaining the 921,000-pixel resolution of the LCD. This means the LCD still delivers clarity and detail, which are necessities when you’re trying to make precise adjustments to things like focus or exposure. The LCD has two brightness options (normal and bright), and it uses a touchscreen interface. It is when you use this touchscreen system that you really start to miss the larger screen space on the LCD. A smaller screen means there’s more clutter and touch-buttons take up more space.

Finally, on the right side of the camcorder, the CX700 plays host to a number of enticing ports. For starters, there’s the sly USB cable that tucks into the side of the camcorder’s hand strap. This built-in cable means you don’t have to remember to pack a bulky USB connector with you when you take the CX700V on vacation. The built-in USB cable isn’t perfect—it is too short and it makes the hand strap a bit rigid—but it is certainly a boon to portability.

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Features

This camcorder has a variety of manual and auto controls, but the custom control dial has some issues.

For most HD recording on the CX700V, the camcorder uses AVCHD compression. AVCHD is the standard for consumer HD camcorders and it is becoming extremely common. Most editing programs will work with it, but the files are large and require a powerful computer if you’re planning on extensive editing. Sony is one of the few manufacturers to include standard definition record modes on its HD camcorders. So, if you don’t need the high-quality of HD, you can capture videos that are far smaller and easier to edit by switching the cam over to SD record mode.

We say the CX700V uses AVCHD compression “most” of the time because the camcorder’s 1080/60p mode uses an original compression system that is based on the MPEG-4 codec (the same thing AVCHD is based on). AVCHD cannot handle 1080/60p recording, hence the reason Sony uses this proprietary original format. This is the same thing Panasonic had to do with its 1080/60p mode on last year’s HDC-TM700 and this year’s HDC-TM900 models. The problem with this format, and this goes with the Panasonic models as well, is that the resulting video is not compatible with most editing programs. In fact, we had a number of programs—specifically iMovie and Final Cut Express—crash whenever we tried to import 60p footage from our HDR-CX700V.

The problem was actually even worse: we couldn’t even connect the camcorder to a computer when it had 60p and 60i footage on it. The software we used (iMovie and Final Cut Express) would only recognize the footage if no 60p clips were contained on the camcorder’s internal memory. This is yucky and disappointing, but we’re not surprised either. 1080/60p recording is new, there’s a lot of bugs with compatibility, and it is going to take time before manufacturers all get their act together and smooth things out.

If you’ve got a thing for flash memory, then you’ll love the Sony HDR-CX700V.

If you’ve got a thing for flash memory, then you’ll love the Sony HDR-CX700V. The camcorder is loaded with 96GB of internal flash memory, and a dual-format memory card slot that works with both SD and Memory Stick cards. To be specific, the card slot works with Memory Stick PRO Duo and Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo cards, as well as SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards. The card slot is located inside the LCD cavity, behind a sliding door that also covers the USB and HDMI ports.

This gives you a ton of media options to work with, and, honestly, the 96GB of internal flash memory will take you a while to fill unless you’re shooting tons of HD video at the highest quality settings. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to backup your footage to disc, computer, or hard drive, the HDR-CX700V’s multitude of media settings may be right up your alley.

Like most camcorders, the Sony HDR-CX700V has a dedicated still image mode for taking photos with the camcorder. You can access this mode by selecting it from the menu system (under the Shooting Mode submenu), or by pressing the small mode button on the back of the camcorder. The mode button only switches between video and photo modes, it does not allow you to enter other shooting modes (like Golf Shot or Smooth Slow Record), nor will it bring you to playback mode.

Auto controls can be broken down into a few main categories: Autofocus, Auto Exposure, Auto White Balance, and Additional Auto Features. Autofocus is arguably the most important of the three, and the Sony HDR-CX700V appeared to have a good system in place. Focus was fairly quick, with the only slow points being when we used a ton of zoom or quickly switched between close-ups and far-away shots. Auto exposure was also very fast, but this may perturb users who like a slower, more fluid exposure response. If you like your videos to be a bit brighter or darker on average, you can bump the auto exposure shift a notch or two. This feature is a great middle-ground between using auto controls and full-on manual adjustments.

Finally, the HDR-CX7000V has built-in GPS that allows you to keep track of your videos by the location in which they were shot—and you can even view/organize clips by location on a map. You turn GPS on and off via a small switch inside the camcorder’s LCD cavity. Keep in mind, having GPS activated will drain your battery a bit faster than normal. Also a problem: the CX700V’s GPS function could not find our office location on the map. We had to walk around outside before things started to click. Don’t expect the GPS to work smoothly everywhere (even in major cities).

Comparable Products

Before you buy the Sony Handycam HDR-CX700V, take a look at these other camcorders.

Performance

Performance was so-so, not what we expected from such a high-end camcorder.

The Sony HDR-CX700V wasn’t as strong on color accuracy as the flagship models from other manufacturers, but it still put up respectable numbers. Unlike the Panasonic HDC-TM900 and Canon HF G10, the Sony HDR-CX700V doesn’t have much in the way of color controls. It does have a Cinematone setting that enhances contrast and makes for a more film-like aesthetic, especially if you combine this feature with the camcorder’s 24p record mode. You can also play around with the CX700’s white balance shift feature to make the color tones hotter (more red) or colder (more blue). There’s no specific saturation boost or color preset functions on the camcorder, though.

The HDR-CX700V offers a whole new set of options in terms of recording motion.

We had hoped Sony’s updates to the HDR-CX700V would result in improved low light sensitivity on the camcorder, but, alas, it did not. Since the CX700 has such a wide angle lens, we also tested the camcorder’s sensitivity using no optical zoom so we could see how much a fully-opened aperture would enhance its low light sensitivity. The results were much better without zoom—again, however, this represents no improvement over last year’s high-end cam from Sony.

With its new 60p and 24p record modes (in addition to 60i), the HDR-CX700V offers a whole new set of options in terms of recording motion. The 60p record mode on the CX700V didn’t improve results in our motion test as dramatically as the Panasonic HDC-TM900’s 60p mode, but it still helped the CX700V produce smoother video with less artifacting. The 24p record mode on the camcorder was a bit choppy, but we’re happy to finally see this feature on a Sony camcorder.

Conclusion

The Sony Handycam HDR-CX700V is close to being a fantastic camcorder, but its sub-par results in our low light test made it fall short.

The camcorder has a wonderful set of features, including the new 24p and 60p record modes, as well as a good amount of manual controls. It isn’t loaded with pro-level controls like the Canon HF G10 (for example, the CX700V has no gain control), but it has most of the controls that your average videographer would want to play with.

If editing is your thing, you should plan to do a lot of troubleshooting when working with 1080/60p files.

Besides taking a hit in low light, the HDR-CX700V also had a tough time in our stabilization test. This is one area where the camcorder did worse than last year’s flagship camcorder from Sony (the HDR-CX550V). Sony also decided to shrink the size of the LCD by 1/2 an inch on the CX700V, which, as we’ve hinted at throughout this review, was a stupid idea. Despite the decrease in screen size, the HDR-CX700V is not any lighter than last year’s HDR-CX550V.

But there’s still plenty to love. The 96GB of internal flash memory, the multiple frame rate options, the simple interface for beginners, and the standard definition recording options (in addition to HD) are all wonderful features for a top-level consumer camcorder. The built-in USB cable is a bit strange to see, but we think it will appeal to certain users. However, we don’t like that Sony had to alter the design of its hand strap, thereby making it far less comfortable than previous Handycams, in order to accommodate the USB cable.

One final note about 1080/60p recording with the HDR-CX700V: the 1080/60p video files, as is the case with all 1080/60p files, can be increasingly frustrating to work with on a computer. We had several editing programs crash simply when we tried connecting a CX700V that contained 60p files on it to a computer. Sony’s provided software does work with these files, however, and the software wasn’t a huge pain to install on our PC (it is not supported on Macs). If editing is your thing, you should plan to do a lot of troubleshooting when working with 1080/60p files recorded with the CX700V. Other than this mess, the 60p clips looked lovely when viewed on an HDTV (directly from the camcorder), and the 24p frame rate did a very good job at creating a cinematic aesthetic.

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