Sony Handycam HDR-UX1 review:

Sony Handycam HDR-UX1

Given the abundance of space on the UX1, nothing feels crammed in, and with a couple of small exceptions, all the controls fall under the correct fingers for easy one-handed shooting. Those exceptions? The proximity of the photo shutter button to the zoom switch, and the slight awkwardness of operating the on/off switch (for jumping between photo and camcorder modes) with an index finger. Like all Sony camcorders, the UX1 features a touch screen-navigated menu system; I'm not a fan, but it works better on the UX1's large LCD than the smaller screens of lesser models. All in all, I found it a pleasure to use.

The photo button and the zoom switch are just a bit too close to each other. I frequently hit the zoom when I meant to take a picture.

Sony reworked its touch-screen menus and navigation, making them much easier to use--at least on this model's large 3.5-inch LCD.

And there's plenty to use. The HDR-UX1 supplies all the features one expects from a prosumer camcorder, including A/V, component, and HDMI output jacks (though the HDMI cable is optional); headphone jack and mic input; intelligent accessory shoe; Zebra stripes; a manual control ring around the lens for adjusting exposure, focus, or white balance; smooth slow record mode for analyzing action, albeit for a mere 3 seconds; and that perennial Sony perk, 5.1 Dolby surround recording. Unlike playback, the UX1 has few compatibility issues on the recording side. It takes 3-inch versions of DVD-R/RW, DVD+RW, and newly minted DVD+R dual layer discs. With the latter you can record about 40 minutes of video at 20 minutes per side.

Although it's not as zippy as a hard-drive-based camcorder during start-up and shutdown, the UX1 is a bit faster than average for a DVD model. For instance, it took only about 4 seconds to initialize a DVD-R disc; it wasted a moment or two every bootup to politely remind us that it prefers to eat Sony media. The zoom operated smoothly throughout the 10X range, though a tad faster on the way out than the way in, and as usual, Sony's Steady Shot does an excellent stabilization job. I found the autofocus quick and accurate, as well. The LCD is easy to view, even in bright sunlight, however in the same light it's hard to see the LEDs which indicate whether you're in video or still mode. As long as you use the eye-level viewfinder and don't spend a lot of time playing back your videos, the battery should last at least 45 minutes--bring extras on vacation.

While video performance excelled, I have only three words for still shooting: abysmal shutter lag. And though Sony stresses that the 2-megapixel ClearVid CMOS sensor in the UX1 takes uninterpolated 4-megapixel photos, they're pretty unimpressive photos that don't match the quality of the Canon HV10's. Furthermore, while the video looks sharp and saturated, autoexposure blows out highlights even more than is typical, and there's serious purple fringing on many of those blown-out, high-contrast edges. If you take the exposure down a notch in bright sunlight, though, you should be fine. And I was extremely impressed by the UX1's video quality in dim light--low noise, with little loss in saturation.

Since the HDR-UX1 can record plain-old standard-definition video as well, you're not completely hamstrung by format issues--but then the UX1 just becomes a glorified, overpriced version of the DCR-DVD505. For the very near future, I recommend you stick with HDV models such as the Handycam HDR-HC3 or the Canon HV10 for your high-def needs.

What you'll pay

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