CNET First Look
Sony Handycam HDR-CX150Its small size and attractive price might draw you to the Sony Handycam HDR-CX150, but this bare-bones camcorder just barely delivers on the promise of HD quality.
[Music]� ^M00:00:03�� >>Lori Grunin:� Hi, I'm Lori Grunin, senior editor with CNET, and this is the Sony Handycam HDR-CX150. With prices ranging from $400 to $600, the CX110, CX150, and XR150 represent Sony's budget priced HD triumvirate. The two flash products are nearly identical. The CX150 has 16 gigs of built-in memory, while the CX110 has none. Their sibling, the XR150, incorporates 120-gigabyte hard disk, and is therefore necessarily larger than the other two, and it has a slightly different design. I tested the CX150, but consider it quite representative of what you can expect from the other two camcorders. So, if you reach this video while looking for one of those products, don't get confused. You're still in the right place. Though more expensive and larger than a mini-camcorder, these models have a lot of things those lack, including the 25X zoom lens and the ability to capture three megapixel stills. The flash models each fit quite comfortable in a jacket pocket, and they're more attractive than the XR150, with its odd upward projection on the right side. But if you have big hands that extra bit should make it easier to grip than its smaller, rather slippery siblings. Like many ultra-compact models, they really do seem optimized for shooting below eye level, or at least as if you're gonna hold the camcorder like that. The traditional grip simply isn't comfortable. The 2.7 inch LCD is small, which is understandable given the unit size, but it's hard to view in direct sunlight, and through all those fingerprints the touch screen accumulates. You'll find the usual set of buttons, direct DVD burn, playback, power, and iAuto on the body inside the LCD. Instead of physical buttons from the bezel, they use virtual zoom and record buttons on the touch screen. While I don't mind that for record, which is a touch and release operation, I don't like using the touch screen for zooming, where you have to hold it down. There are also the usual touch screen enabled niceties, such as spot metering and spot focus. The SD memory stick duo slot sits under a door right next to the tripod mount. So, if you'll be doing a lot of tripod shooting, you may wanna consider the hard drive based XR150. The zoom control feels very well-balanced. It's neither too loose, nor too tight, and it's very easy to maintain a slow, steady rate. As usual, a stereo microphone 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 in playback modes. I find the straightforward but endless scrolling list confusing and tedious to navigate, just as I did on other models. 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 "C" 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. However, I can't imagine what possessed Sony to default to the fake HD 1440 by 1080 nine megabit per second video quality. The 17 megabit per second full HD should be playable on most systems, and it's only the higher 24 megabit per second bit rate that may hang you up. It doesn't really matter why they did it, though, all that matters is that if you don't change to a higher quality setting from the default, you'll find yourself wondering why you paid HD prices for only slightly better than standard definition quality. Regardless of output device, PC or HD-TV, the video looks soft with various edge artifacts, sometimes glowy, sometimes smeary. When you bump up to the higher resolution and better bit rates, it is a little sharper and better defined, though the edge artifacts remain. The color rendering and exposures are pretty good, though. And while low-light video isn't great, it still looks relatively noisy, soft and smeary it's pretty typical for its class. The lens does focus pretty quickly, but it really could use some better codings. Just like the smaller lens in its predecessor, it just displays unusually serious lens flare from bright light coming in from oblique angles. The image stabilization works fine though. I'll issue you 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, or shoot on a tripod, you shouldn't be choosing a model with the intention of leaving all your videos on the camcorder. That said, while it's hard to get excited about these models, they're pretty competitive in their price class from a feature standpoint. But if you're picky about video quality and can stretch your budget up by a couple hundred dollars, I really suggest it. And if you buy one of these, change your default video settings. [Music] ^M00:04:37 I'm Lori Grunin, and this is the Sony Handycam HDR-CX150.