The zoom control feels very well-balanced, neither too loose nor too tight, and it's very easy to maintain a slow, steady rate. As usual, a stereo mic sits in the front of the camcorder under the lens.
In the menu system, you can put six menu choices on a custom menu that pops up before you enter the full menu listing, with different custom menus appearing for video, still, and playback modes. I still find the straightforward but endless scrolling list confusing and tedious to navigate.
|Sony Handycam HDR-CX110/CX150||Panasonic HDC-SD60/TM55||JVC Everio GZ-HM340|
|Sensor||3-megapixel Exmor R CMOS||3-megapixel CMOS||1.37-megapixel CMOS|
|1/4 inch||1/4.1 inch||1/5.8 inch|
37 - 1075mm (16:9)
46.4mm to 928mm (n/a)
|Min illumination (lux)||standard: 11
low light: 3
low light: 4
|LCD||2.7-inch 230,000-dot touch screen||2.7-inch 230,400 dot||2.7-inch 123,000 dot|
|Primary media||None/16GB built in; SDHC||None/8GB built in; SDXC||16GB built in; SDHC|
1080/60i @ 24, 17Mbps; 1440x1080/60i @ 9,5 Mbps
1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9; 1440x1080/60i @ 5 Mbps
|AVCHD: 1080/60i @ 24, 17, 12, 5 Mbps|
|Manual shutter speed and iris||No||No||No|
|Audio||2 channels||2 channels||2 channels|
|Body dimensions (WHD, inches)||2.0 x 2.3 x 4.3||2.0 x 2.6 x 4.4||2.1 x 2.4 x 4.4|
|Operating weight (ounces)||9.3||12 (est)||9 (est)|
This year's models have the same basic feature set as last year's CX100. With the exception of the face detection, Smile Shutter, and scene modes, the camcorder has no bells or whistles to speak of. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it could use a wind filter. Like more and more of the Handycam line, it forgoes 5.1-channel surround in favor of more typical 2-channel--no great loss there. Smooth Slow Record is a low-resolution, fast frame-rate buffered recording mode that is good for analyzing golf swings and the like, but because of the long time it takes to save the buffered video, it's not very good for ad-hoc slo-mo shooting.
At its highest quality, the 24-megabit-per-second mode, you can record about 5 minutes of video per gigabyte of storage. At the 17-megabit-per-second mode, that increases to just under 6 minutes per gigabyte. Sony warns you that you won't be able to record AVCHD discs of the 24Mbps video--Blu-ray discs are okay. But I can't imagine what possessed the company to default to the fake HD 1,440x1,080-pixel 9Mbps video quality. (The 17Mbps 1,920x1,080 pixels should be playable on most systems, it's only the higher bitrate stream that may hang you up). It doesn't really matter why, though; all that matters is that if you don't change to a higher quality setting, you'll find yourself wondering why you paid HD prices for only slightly better than standard-definition quality. Regardless of output device, PC or HDTV, the video is soft with various edge artifacts--sometimes glowing, sometimes smeary. It's a bit sharper and better defined, though the edge artifacts remain, when you bump up to the higher resolution and better bitrates. The color rendering and exposures are pretty good, though. And while low-light video isn't great--it looks relatively noisy, soft and smeary--it's pretty typical for its class.
The image stabilization works fine in tandem with the starting-to-play-the-spec-game long lens.
I'll issue my boilerplate advice for choosing among the three: go with the cheapest one. It's never worth paying the premium for the built-in memory. And unless you shoot day-long videos that require a hard disk's worth of capacity, you shouldn't be choosing a model with the intention of leaving all your videos on the camcorder. Like forced savings, smaller capacity removable media keeps you from getting into trouble. That said, while it's hard to get excited about these models, they're pretty competitive in their price class from a feature standpoint (especially since Canon's HF R series interpolates up to 1080i rather than capturing it natively).