camcorders

Sony HDR-UX1 Camcorder Review

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Performance

**Video Performance ***(8.0)*

The Sony HDR-UX1 is equipped with a 1/3" CMOS sensor, the same chip found on the HDR-HC3, the HDR-SR1, and the DCR-DVD505. This chip offers 2.1 gross MP (that’s 2,100,000 pixels). In 16:9 aspect ratio, the chip produces 1.43 effective MP, and in 4:3, it produces 1.08 effective MP. This chip produced killer results in the HDR-HC3 and DCR-DVD505, some of our favorite camcorders in their respective categories. Now we have the new high definition AVCHD compression to factor into the equation. Let’s see how it did.

High Definition

At 3000 lux, the HDR-UX1 produced a familiar image. It is indeed a close relative of the HDR-HC3. The colors are strong, with an even saturation all around. This is a little more saturation than you would find in a professional camcorder, but right on par with consumer camcorders. In the consumer world, it’s often a question of finding the balance between "enough to make the image pop" and "Ow, those colors hurt my eyes." Thankfully, Sony seems to have found the balance. In terms of color reproduction, though, the HDR-UX1 is much closer to the DCR-DVD505. The overall brightness and the yellow-green portion of the spectrum seems to witness most of the difference. In the HDR-HC3, the picture is brighter overall, and the yellow is a strong canary color. In the DCR-DVD505 and the HDR-UX1, the image is slightly darker, the yellow more of a goldenrod, and the greens not quite as strong as the rest of the spectrum. The cause of this color processing is unknown.

Next is the question everyone want to know. How sharp does it look? We are happy to report that this is definitely HD-quality video, and not just HD-*sized*. The HDR-UX1 did a great job reporting fine detail. But noise is definitely an issue. There seems to have been a steady decline in Sony’s ability to control noise level since their introduction of consumer HD camcorders. The HDR-HC3 was noisier than the HDR-HC1 and now we’re sorry to say that the HDR-UX1 is noisier still, and the heavy AVCHD compression is likely the contributing factor to that increase. There was noise is everything we shot, bright light and low light, indoor and outdoor, against flat backgrounds and against detailed shots. The noise did not seem to cost the camcorder much in its fine detail rendering, but there’s no way you won’t notice it. We saw compression artifacts in the footage like blockiness and poor handling of color gradients. It's really too bad because the picture is so sharp and so well-colored, that it isn't compressed as well as it could be.This does not bode well for the first generation of AVCHD, and forced us to factor that into the score.

Against the Sony DCR-DVD505, the HDR-UX1 was much sharper, naturally. But because the DVD505 did not have so much detail, it was actually better equipped to mask the noise.

The Canon HV10 was clearly the victor over the HDR-UX1 in color performance and in compression. It had the same great color balance as the HDR-HC3, but the picture was sharper overall. With a slightly higher contrast, the object edges looked cleaner. Most importantly, though, the Canon HV10 has remarkably low noise levels. In this regard, it absolutely trumped everything that Sony had to offer. Blown up on a big screen, this is the image we would want to see.

Standard Resolution

As with all consumer HD camcorders, you can also shoot in standard definition, if you like. This allows for more shooting time per disc, and it may also alleviate some editing aggravations until a suitable AVCHD workflow is in place.

At 3000 lux in standard definition, the HDR-UX1 produced the same great image as it did in high definition – minus, of course, the definition. No, a 720 x 480 image can’t really compete with 1920 x 1080, even if the colors look the same. The image quality is about on par with the DCR-DVD505, as you might expect – both are using identical sensors and compression methods. The noise appears to be just as bad as the HDR-UX1’s HD footage, though, which knocks it down a point against the DVD505.

The JVC GZ-MG505, which runs at a similar price line (MSRP $1300), makes for a good comparison to the HDR-UX1’s standard definition footage; there is no comparison to be made with the AVCHD footage. At 3000 lux, the GZ-MG505 had drastically more saturated colors than the HDR-UX1. Taste the rainbow – those colors are pouring off the screen. The whites also tended to blow out. While we commented on liking the apparent sharpness in our review of the GZ-MG505, the HDR-UX1 beat it out in every regard.

 

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Video Resolution* (31.2)*

We tested the Sony HDR-UX1 for its video resolution by shooting a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart and running stills from that footage through Imatest imaging software. In the highest quality AVCHD format, the camcorder produced 616.4 lines of horizontal resolution and 506.1 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 311960.04.

In standard definition MPEG-2, the HDR-UX1 produced 474.7 lines of horizontal resolution and 336.6 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 159784.02.

The AVCHD resolution is right on par with other HD camcorders, fulfilling the hopes of those who wanted to see AVCHD stand up to HDV. For the full breakdown of the HDR-UX1 versus the HDR-HC3, read the Video Performance and Low Light Performance sections.

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**Low Light Performance ***(6.5)*

Low light performance is largely dictated by the size of the imaging chip in the camcorder, or to be more precise, the size of the individual light-collecting sensors in that chip (generally, the larger the chip, the larger the sensors). The 1/3" ClearVID CMOS on the HDR-UX1 has proven to be a winner in this category; the HDR-HC3 and DCR-DVD505 both did quite well in low light.

At 60 lux, the HDR-UX1 maintained a solid performance, in that it retained a lot of color information. Noise definitely picked up, but it was high to start with. You’ll notice noise most in the mid-tones. As we said before, the noise seems to be an artifact from the AVCHD compression. It's difficult to ignore, and creates a solid grain pattern across the entire image. This could indicate a real shortcoming for AVCHD. Low light shooting is a fact of life for videographers of any level. If it can't compete with HDV in this category, it will earn a bad name quickly. Perhaps part of the issue is the relatively low data rate of the HDR-UX1 (12Mbps) versus AVCHD's potential (24Mbps). Any way you cut it, this camcorder had noise even the most casual user will take issue with.

In the Video Performance section above, we talked about how the HDR-UX1 produced duller shades of yellow and green than the HDR-HC3. That difference widened the gap in overall performance once the lights dimmed. While the HDR-HC3 managed a good saturation all around, the UX1 noticeably faded in the yellow-green area, losing vividness and subtle color distinctions. Fine detail capture and apparent sharpness, however, remained excellent.

As in bright light, the image looked very similar to the DCR-DVD505 in terms of color performance and overall brightness. But the gap between HD and SD makes for a world of difference in the apparent sharpness.

Sony managed to strike a major coup against Canon in the category of low light performance. While Canon came out ahead in bright light, the HV10 fell apart at 60 lux; it was a costly flaw in an otherwise promising camcorder. The image was just too dark, way too dark, despite having a larger imager than the ClearVID CMOS. The HDR-UX1 is clearly the winner in this category.

The standard definition results were much the same as the AVCHD. The noise looked a little more problematic here, but not too much fine detail was lost. Color performance was exactly the same. The JVC GZ-MG505 lit up like a neon bar sign at 60 lux with extremely oversaturated colors. But this is precisely what some consumers are looking for, so you can’t fault JVC (too much) for caving to customer demands. The picture was also noisy, but not quite as bad as the HDR-UX1.

At 15 lux, the HDR-UX1’s HD video definitely waned – most camcorders do, at this light level. Noise picked up enough to become a nuisance here. Because it was high definition, the noise did not obscure too much of the fine detail. You can still make out, for instance, high contrast differences like words on light background. The standard definition image did not have such luck. Color distinctions between subtle shades are all but lost. Still, we’ve seen much worse.

The HDR-HC3 did not maintain its edge at this light level, and produced essentially the same image. The DCR-DVD505 suffered bad noise, and looked to be identical to the standard definition footage of the HDR-UX1. None of them faired very well here.

All, however, managed to do a much better job with this difficult lighting environment than the Canon HV10, which was completely awash with noise. Color performance was about the same as the HDR-UX1, but overall, the Sony was a far better camcorder. Overall, the Sony HDR-UX1 did not disappoint, given our expectations for this familiar ClearVID CMOS chip. The noise was definitely a problem, but the sound beating it gave the Canon HV10 will give struggling consumers a definite nudge towards Sony.

In standard definition, the HDR-UX1 had some trouble focusing at 15 lux, a less-than-reassuring finding. This is unusual for high-end camcorders, and did not occur in any of the other camcorders mentioned here.

In summary, we were relatively pleased with the color performance and general exposure levels in low light. However, we were routinely reminded that this was AVCHD footage, and heavily compressed. The noise is really bad. The fact that it's a 1920 x 1080 image is a mixed blessing. The higher resolution helps to maintain fine detail, but those more likely to play it back on large screen HDTVs are going to see more noise than anyone.

{column='Low Light Performance' models='Sony HDR-UX1,Sony HDR-HC3,Sony DCR-DVD505,Canon HV10,JVC GZ-MG505'}

Wide Angle* (10.4)*

The HDR-UX1 produced a wide angle of 52 degrees in 16:9 and 41 degrees in 4:3, for an eleven degree difference in frame width between widescreen and standard definition mode. To record video in 4:3, the camcorder crops the sides of the image, but there is no loss in vertical picture information, while the difference in width indicates that this camcorder's CMOS sensor is a native 16:9 imager. This score is very good.

Comparable Products

Before you buy the Sony HDR-UX1, take a look at these other camcorders.

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Sections

  1. Performance
  2. Format
  3. Tour
  4. Auto / Manual Controls
  5. Still Features
  6. Handling and Use
  7. Audio / Playback / Connectivity
  8. Other Features
  9. Comparisons / Conclusion
  10. Specs/Ratings