The HDR-FX7 is roughly the same size as the older DCR-VX2100, making it a bit stockier but still lighter and shorter than the HDR-FX1.
The HDR-FX7 doesn't have the HDR-FX1's cornucopia of controls on the lens barrel, but much of that comes from Sony's consolidation of the functions rather than jettisoning capabilities. In fact, the HDR-FX7 has some capabilities that the HDR-FX1 lacks: manual iris control, more granular control over peaking (sharpness), and the ability to save two custom settings. Gone are analog input, audio dubbing, and personal menus.
Playback controls (top) and connectivity options (bottom) abound. The HDR-FX7 offers HDMI output and USB in addition to the standard choices--the HDR-FX1's best options are component video and FireWire. If you plan to play your videos directly from the camcorder to a TV, HDMI is your best choice.
The handle zoom, like the main zoom switch, can be set to a fast or slow constant rate or to operate at variable speed. However, I found both controls too low-profile and thus more difficult to operate than necessary.
The battery lasted a surprisingly long time, especially given the chilly 30-degree weather in which I was shooting. The Gain, Shutter Speed, Wht Bal (white balance), and Menu buttons work in conjunction with the jog dial at the bottom. The Auto Lock temporarily overrides all custom settings with automatic adjustments, while Hold temporarily remembers custom adjustments. The unmarked middle option simply turns both options off.
A release mechanism allows you to remove the eyecup to blow out dust between the magnifier and the LCD.
When zoomed in, the HDR-FX7 produces very sharp video. (Frame grab; insets at actual size.)
The HDR-FX7 generally delivered excellent exposures as well as accurate hues. Like most camcorders, it did have problems with our faux oranges--there are some artifacts on the rearmost one--and tended to have chromatic aberration when high-contrast edges appear on the sides of the frame.
In general, the HDR-FX7's video is pretty clean. I cranked the exposure down on this shot for better rendering of the projections on the walls of Grand Central Station, which increased the appearance of noise. But this is about as bad as it gets.
Using a slow shutter speed and the slow, fixed-rate zoom made special-effects zoom shots very easy.
This frame grab illustrates two artifacts caused by the HDV format's use of MPEG-2 compression: jaggies (left inset) and color shifts (right inset). This type of shot is very difficult for an MPEG to record and compress in real time.