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Sony Handycam HDR-CX130-160 review: Sony Handycam HDR-CX130-160

Sony Handycam HDR-CX130-160

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Advice

I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.

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6 min read

Sony Handycam HDR-CX130 (blue)
6.8

Sony Handycam HDR-CX130-160

The Good

A wide-angle lens, built-in USB cable, and consistently good automated behavior highlight the otherwise no-frills <b>Sony Handycam HDR-CX130</b>, <b>CX160</b>, and <b>XR160</b> camcorders.

The Bad

The sub-HD resolution sensor on these camcorders produces merely satisfactory video.

The Bottom Line

Typical for their price class, the no-frills Sony Handycam HDR-CX130, CX160, and XR160 produce generally subpar HD video, but if you're not picky you'll probably be fine. The CX130 is the best buy of the three, as long as you go cheap on the memory card.

There's not a lot to say about Sony's 2011 entry-level camcorders, the Handycam HDR-CX130, CX160, and XR160. With their no-frills design and feature set, I'd expect them to be a little cheaper, but they're definitely an improvement over last year's still-available-and-cheap CX110. The three models differ mostly by storage: the CX130 has no internal memory, the CX160 has 16GB built in, and the XR160 incorporates a 160GB hard disk and 5.1-channel audio. This review covers the CX130. (There's a fourth model, the PJ10, which is identical to the CX160 but incorporates a built-in projector; we plan to review that separately.)

In sunlight, with the subject filling the frame, the camcorder produces good-looking video that passes for full HD. But in many other circumstances, especially when there's a lot of background detail and motion such as grass or trees waving in the breeze, the low-resolution (in this case, less than the native 2.07 megapixels required for HD) sensor simply isn't up to the task of resolving all that and you'll start to see artifacts from the interpolation and video compression, despite the relatively high bit rates.

The colors look pleasing and sufficiently saturated, if a bit coolly white-balanced, and while bright highlights get blown out, that's an acceptable trade-off for the price that most users probably won't mind.

Moderately low-light video looks decent, albeit a bit soft and noisy, and in very dim living-room shadow-level light, the camcorder trades off color for visibility and sharpness, producing usable video with a not-unpleasant graininess reminiscent of black-and-white.

While the still photos are serviceable, you probably don't want to count on the camcorder as a camera. Photos are bright and colorful, but have that smeary, processed look of a cheap digital camera because they're scaled up from the native resolution of 1.67 megapixels to 1.9MP.


Sony Handycam HDR-CX110 Sony Handycam HDR-CX130/CX160 Sony Handycam HDR-XR160 Sony Handycam HDR-PJ10
Sensor (effective resolution) 1.35 megapixels 1.49 megapixels 1.49 megapixels 1.49 megapixels
1/4-inch 1/4-inch 1/4-inch 1/4-inch
Lens 25x
f1.8-3.2
37-1075mm
30x
f1.8-3.4
29.8-894mm
(31.2-531mm
17x with Active Steady Shot)
30x
f1.8-3.4
29.8-894mm
(31.2-531mm
17x with Active Steady Shot)
30x
f1.8-3.4
29.8-894mm
(31.2-531mm
17x with Active Steady Shot)
Closest focus (inches) N/A 0.4 0.4 0.4
Min illumination (lux) recommended: N/A
standard: N/A
low light: 5
recommended: N/A
standard: 11
low light: 3
recommended: N/A
standard: 11
low light: 3
recommended: N/A
standard: 11
low light: 3

EVF

None None None None
LCD 2.7-inch 230,000 pixels 3-inch 230,000 pixels 3-inch 230,000 pixels 3-inch 230,000 pixels
Primary media 1 x SDXC 0GB/16GB internal; 1 x SDXC 160GB hard drive; 1 x SDXC 16GB internal; 1 x SDXC
HD recording AVCHD:
1080/60i @ 24, 17Mbps; 1,440x1,080/60i @ 9, 5Mbps
AVCHD: 1,080/60p @ 28Mbps (nonstandard); 1,080/60i @ 24, 17Mbps; 1,440x1,080/60i @ 9, 5Mbps AVCHD: 1,080/60p @ 28Mbps (nonstandard); 1,080/60i @ 24, 1 Mbps; 1,440x1,080/60i @ 9, 5Mbps AVCHD: 1,080/60p @ 28Mbps (nonstandard); 1,80/60i @ 24,17Mbps; 1,440x1,080/60i @ 9, 5Mbps
Manual shutter speed No No No No
Manual iris No No No No
Accessory shoe No No No No
Audio 2 channels 2 channels 5.1 channels; mic and headphone jacks 5.1 channels; mic and headphone jacks
Body dimensions (WHD, inches) 2x2.3x4.5 2.1x2.3x4.9 2.4x2.6x5.1 2.4x2.6x5.1
Operating weight (pounds) 8 (est) 10.5 14.1 (est) 12.9 (est)
Mfr. price $399.99 $449.99/$499.99 $599.99 $699.99
Ship date January 2010 March 2011 April 2011 March 2011

The CX130 autofocuses quickly and accurately, even in dim light, though like all camcorders it occasionally chooses the wrong subject or jumps into face-detection mode when you don't want it to. Its metering and exposure decisions are mostly correct. You can always turn IA off and use touch focus or touch exposure to force it, though I rarely found the need to. If you find yourself working out in the last 90 percent of the zoom range or tend to hold the camcorder with outstretched arms, you probably want to keep the camcorder set on Active Steady Shot all the time, but overall the standard image stabilization seems to work pretty well.

The LCD is on the small side--as befits the compactness of the camcorder--and like many is hard to see in direct sunlight. It's serviceable as a touch screen; not wonderfully responsive, but there's so little to navigate that I didn't mind too much.


Canon Vixia HF M300/M30/ M31/M32 Panasonic HDC-SD80/TM80 HDC-HS80 Sony Handycam HDR-CX130/CX160 Sony Handycam HDR-XR160
Sensor (effective resolution) 2.99-megapixel CMOS
1.3-megapixel CMOS 1.3-megapixel CMOS 1.49 megapixels 1.49 megapixels
1/4-inch 1/5.8-inch 1/4.1-inch 1/4-inch 1/4-inch
Lens 15x
f1.8-3.2
39.5-592.5mm
34x
f1.8-4
33.7 - 1240mm (16:9)
12x
f1.5-2.8
35 - 420mm (16:9)
30x
f1.8-3.4
29.8-894mm
(31.2-531mm
17x with Active Steady Shot)
30x
f1.8-3.4
29.8-894mm
(31.2-531mm
17x with Active Steady Shot)
Closest focus (inches) 0.4 1.2 1.2 0.4 0.4
Min illumination (lux) recommended: 100
standard: 5.5
low light: 0.4
standard: 1400
low light: 7
Color Night View: 1
standard: 1400
low light: 7
Color Night View: 1
recommended: N/A
standard: 11
low light: 3
recommended: N/A
standard: 11
low light: 3

EVF

None No No None None
LCD 2.7-inch 211,000 dots 2.7-inch 230,400 dots 2.7-inch 230,400 dots 3-inch 230,000 pixels 3-inch 230,000 pixels
Primary media 0GB/8GB/ 32GB/64GB internal; 1 x SDHC (SDXC on M32) 0GB/16GB flash; SDXC 120GB hard disk; SDXC 0GB/16GB internal; 1 x SDXC 160GB hard drive; 1 x SDXC
HD recording AVCHD: 1,080/60i @ 24, 17Mbps; 1,440 x 1,080/60i @ 12, 7, 5Mbps
(also encodes 30p and 24p as 60i)
AVCHD:
1,080/60i @ 17, 13, 9 ,5Mbps
AVCHD:
1,080/60i @ 17, 13, 9 ,5Mbps
AVCHD: 1,080/60p @ 28Mbps (nonstandard); 1,080/60i @ 24, 17Mbps; 1,440 x 1,080/60i @ 9, 5Mbps AVCHD: 1,080/60p @ 28Mbps (nonstandard); 1,080/60i @ 24, 17Mbps; 1,440 x 1,080/60i @ 9, 5Mbps
Manual shutter speed 1/6 - 1/2,000 sec Yes Yes No No
Manual iris f1.8-f8 Yes Yes No No
Accessory shoe Yes Yes Yes No No
Audio 2 channels (5.1 via optional mic);
mic, headphone jacks
2 channels 2 channels 2 channels 5.1 channels
Body dimensions (WHD, inches) 2.7x2.4x4.8 2.0x2.3x4.3 2.6x2.8x5.8 2.1x2.3x4.9 2.4x2.6x5.1
Operating weight (pounds) 13.1 8.2 (est) 10.8 (est) 10.5 14.1 (est)
Mfr. price $549.99/ $599.99/ $699.99/ $999.99 $449.99/$499.99 $599.99 $449.99/$499.99 $599.99
Ship date March 2010 March 2011 March 2011 March 2011 April 2011

The CX130 and CX160 are small, but not the smallest in their class, and the XR160 is larger and heavier because of the hard drive; if you have big hands, that can be an advantage. On top of the camcorder are mode and photo buttons, which feel too close together, and the rather loose zoom switch. It was hard to precisely control both the speed and amount of zoom. The tiny captive USB cable tucks into the strap, and comes in handy when you're on the road.

While not fully automatic, the camcorder comes close. You have a choice of four shooting modes: movie, photo, Smooth Slow Record (3 seconds of motion played back at 25 percent speed), and Golf Shot (2 seconds of motion captured as multiple frames). The "manual" settings are white balance, spot meter/focus, and exposure compensation. But they're in the menu system and not accessible enough to be very useful. The camcorder is really intended to be used in auto, and it fares pretty well from that perspective. Its best feature is the relatively wide-angle lens, which starts around 30mm-equivalent.

Conclusion
Because of the trend in this price class to use underpowered sensors overwhelmed by long lenses, it's hard to make an unreserved recommendation in the category. If you're not picky about your video, you might not notice the difference, and in that case this series is a fine choice that's not much different from the rest. I'd opt for the CX130; it's just not worth paying extra for the built-in memory or the hard drive.

Sony Handycam HDR-CX130 (blue)
6.8

Sony Handycam HDR-CX130-160

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 8Image quality 6
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