Sony's HDV camcorder for the indie crowd

Flash-based recording may be all the rage, but tape's not quite dead yet for the entry-level and wannabe pro shooters.

Sony Electronics

Sony's HDR-FX1, a camcorder popular with indie videographers looking for HD on the cheap, shipped almost four years ago; that's a pretty long product cycle, even for the semi-professional class it inhabits, especially given that Canon's competing entrant, the XH A1, shipped almost two years ago. So it's just a tiny bit disappointing that the FX1's replacement, the Handycam HDR-FX1000, merely offers parity with the XH A1 rather than leapfrogging it.

First, some basic specs compared:

 Sony HDR-FX1Sony HDR-FX1000Canon XH A1
Sensors3 1/3-inch 1,080x960 Super HAD CCDs3 1/3-inch 1,080x960 ClearVid CMOS3 1/3-inch 1,440x1,080 CCDs
Recording modes1080i (1440x1080), 1080/30p, 1080/24p (via 2:3 pull-down), 480i1080i (1440x1080), 1080/24p (via 2:3 pull-down), 480i1080 60i/50i (1,440x1,080), 24F (24fps 1080 via 2:3 pull-down)
Min ilummination3 lux1.5 lux0.4 lux
Lens12x f1.6 4.5-54mm (32.5-390mm equivalent)20x f1.6 4.1-82mm (29.5-590mm equivalent)20x f1.6 4.5-90mm (32.5-650mm equivalent)
LCD3.5 inches/250,000 dot3.2 inches/920,000 dot2.8 inches/207,000 dot

The most notable differences between the FX1 and the FX1000--and they're certainly nontrivial--are the new lens and the switch to the ClearVid CMOS from CCDs. Though the new 20x lens matches the XH A1 respect to its zoom range, it starts at a wider angle, a nice feature that's pretty rare in camcorders. It's also, presumably, a better-quality lens, based on the G series optics from Sony's dSLR lenses. The lens also now includes a dedicated iris ring. And while the sensors remain the same resolution as before, we've generally seen the ClearVids outperform their CCD predecessors, and the Exmor on-chip noise reduction is partly responsible for the FX1000's lowered minimum recommended illumination of 1.5 lux.

One of the FX1000's disappointments is the 24fps implementation, which, like the FX1 and XH A1, captures 60i video and uses 3:2 pull-down to create a 24fps stream before recording to tape. Sony has added some gamma and color-correction presets to help better simulate the film experience over the FX1's implementation. For true 24p, you have to bump up to the pro version of the FX1000, the HVR-Z5U.

Like the XH G1, the XH A1's broadcast brother, the Z5U also adds DVCAM and timecode support and XLR inputs. Plus, the Z5U has an optional $940 flash recording pack, compatible with other models via i.Link (FireWire), that accepts CF cards.

The HDR-FX1000 is scheduled to ship in November for about $3,200; the HVR-Z5U should arrive in December for $4,950.

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