Sony Handycam HDR-CX550V review: Sony Handycam HDR-CX550V

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.9
  • Design: 7.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 8.0
  • Image quality: 7.0

Average User Rating

3.5 stars 1 user review
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Full manual feature set for video; geotagging for video is fun, if not very practical; autofocus system performs very well.

The Bad Annoying menu system; no wind filter or meaningful audio controls; relatively big and heavy; expensive; defaults to low resolution, not-full-HD video quality; cumbersome touch-screen interface.

The Bottom Line The Sony Handycam HDR-CX550V fares well compared with the competition, though its video could be a bit sharper and the interface less cumbersome. Unless you absolutely need to store a lot of video on the camcorder--which I don't suggest--or if have large hands that could benefit from the extra grip that the hard drive provides, the CX550V is a better deal than its hard-disk-based sibling.

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Given its accoutrements--a large G series lens, 64GB memory built in, 3.5-inch LCD and EVF, headphone and mic jacks, and shutter and iris controls--the Sony Handycam HDR-CX550V's price north of $1,000 may be a bit painful, but not much of a surprise. One of Sony's two nearly identical high-end models for its prosumer line, the CX550V differs from its sibling, the XR550V, primarily with its recording media and by having a slightly different body design. Their designs differ only because of their storage media--the XR550V's 240GB hard drive versus the CX550V's flash memory. This review is based on our testing of the XR550V.


  Sony Handycam HDR-CX300/CX350V Sony Handycam HDR-XR350V Sony Handycam HDR-CX550V Sony Handycam HDR-XR550V
Sensor 4-megapixel Exmor R CMOS 4-megapixel Exmor R CMOS 6-megapixel Exmor R CMOS 6-megapixel Exmor R CMOS
1/4 inch 1/4 inch 1/2.88 inch 1/2.88 inch
Lens
(with Active SteadyShot disabled)
12x
f1.8-3.4
29.8 - 357.6mm (16:9)
12x
f1.8-3.4
29.8 - 357.6mm (16:9)
10x
f1.8-3.4
29.8 - 298mm (16:9)
10x
f1.8-3.4
29.8 - 298mm (16:9)
Min illumination (lux) standard: 11
low light: 3
standard: 11
low light: 3
standard: 11
low light: 3
Night Shot (IR): 0
standard: 11
low light: 3
Night Shot (IR): 0

EVF

No No Yes
0.2 inch 201,000 pixel
Yes
0.2 inch, 201,000 pixel
LCD 2.7-inch 230,000-dot touch screen 2.7-inch 230,000-dot touch screen 3.5-inch 921,000-dot touch screen 3.5-inch 921,000-dot touch screen
Primary media 16GB/32GB flash; SDHC 160GB hard disk; SDHC 64GB flash; SDXC 240GB hard disk; SDXC
HD recording AVCHD:
1080/60i @ 24, 17 Mbps; 1,440x1,080/60i @ 9,5 Mbps
AVCHD:
1080/60i @ 24, 17 Mbps; 1,440x1,080/60i @ 9,5 Mbps
AVCHD:
1080/60i @ 24, 17 Mbps; 1,440x1,080/60i @ 9,5 Mbps
AVCHD:
1080/60i @ 24, 17 Mbps; 1,440x1,080/60i @ 9,5 Mbps
Manual shutter speed and iris No No Yes Yes
Accessory shoe Yes Yes Yes Yes
Audio 2 channels 2 channels 5.1 channels;
mic, headphone jacks
5.1 channels;
mic, headphone jacks
Body dimensions (WHD, inches) 2.1x2.6x5.0 2.4x2.8x4.5 2.6x3x5.8 2.9x3x5.8
Operating weight (ounces) 13.3 (est) 15.3 (est) 17 (est) 20
Mfr. Price $899.99 $999.99 $1,199.99 $1,249.99
Ship date February 2010 February 2010 February 2010 March 2010

Though Sony changed some of the controls, the camcorder's design is fundamentally the same as last year's models. The camcorder feels quite sturdy. However, if you've got larger hands, the hard disk's protrusion on the XR550V might give you a more comfortable grip. All of the camcorder's door covers are solidly attached. The camcorder has a sliding door on top for the accessory shoe; another slider near the lens on the right side covering the mic and headphone jacks; two separate covers underneath the record button for the proprietary AV out and DC power in; and one inside the LCD hiding the Mini-HDMI and USB connectors. I don't like the location of the latter connectors, since I hate to leave the LCD open with cables running out of it. Also, its location makes it awkward to hold and move the camera around when you connect it to a TV. However, this seems to be a popular place for manufacturers' to stash the connectors.

At the front of the camcorder, you'll find a big-barreled lens with electronic lens cover and a flash on top--there's no built-in video light--as well as manual dial to the side. The manual control dial has long been a staple on Sony's top-end consumer models, but Sony expanded its capabilities a bit. Pressing the dial's center button toggles the operation to the currently selected option; holding the button in lets you select which manual function you'd like it to have. As for manual functions, the CX550V has options for focus, exposure, iris, shutter speed, autoexposure shift, and white balance shift. I've always liked the dial for its feel, but if you use the manual focus, shutter speed, and iris controls a lot, it gets annoying bouncing around the options with only the single control. However, this is how all of the prosumer models operate and is a trade-off for their relatively small sizes.

Toward the front-top of the unit is the five-channel mic; for the gazillionth time, I'll say I'd rather see Sony use that space for a stereo mic with good separation. In addition, though it has a mic input, the camcorder doesn't have any recording volume controls except for the reference level with two choices: Normal and Low.

The electronic viewfinder has a higher resolution than its predecessors had, as well as those on several of its competitors, but it is smaller. While EVFs are a disappearing breed and I find them essential no matter how bad, I'm disappointed with how small and low magnification the CX550V's is. That said, given the choice between size and resolution, I prefer the higher resolution.

The camcorder's large touch screen is relatively high resolution and nice to work with. It's also reasonably viewable in direct sunlight, but I still found it difficult to judge manual focus on it or in the EVF. Part of the problem is that there's neither focus assist--it doesn't magnify the subject on the LCD or in the viewfinder while using manual focus--nor peaking control to amplify the edge displays. Instead, the manual instructs you to zoom in, focus, and zoom out.

Under the LCD are buttons that trigger NightShot (infrared) and intelligent auto mode--a replacement for Easy--playback, and direct-to-DVD burning for use in conjunction with Sony's DVDirect dock or through software when connected to a PC. The GPS is switch controllable, and there's a manual power button in addition to the automatic operation when you pull out the EVF or open the LCD.

The camera's zoom switch falls directly under your right ring finger, which pushes the surprisingly small photo button to the very corner, where it's borderline difficult to feel. The zoom has a nice touch, and it's easy to maintain a steady rate. I complained about the location of the mode button--for switching between recording video and shooting still photos--in Sony's previous models, and now it sits just to the left of the EVF, a much better place and one that's easier to get to when you're shooting with the EVF.

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Sony Handycam HDR-CX550V

Part Number: HDR-CX550V Released: Mar 15, 2010
MSRP: $1,299.99 Low Price: $1,682.02 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Mar 15, 2010
  • Optical Sensor Type Exmor R CMOS
  • Type built-in flash
  • Width 2.6 in
  • Depth 5.6 in
  • Height 2.9 in
  • Weight 15.5 oz