Digital Home Thoughts: Sony HDR-FX1: High Definition Without Breaking the Bank

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Monday, January 17, 2005

Sony HDR-FX1: High Definition Without Breaking the Bank

Posted by Doug Johnson in "HARDWARE" @ 11:00 AM


Introduction to the HDR-FX1
Sony is marketing the HDR-FX1 as a "consumer" HD camera, though its $3,700 street price, relatively large size, and its apparent complexity put it out of the reach of most consumers. In my opinion, this camera was really aimed at a semi-pro market. After having using the camera for a while, I believe that its picture quality and features are more in line with professional cameras, and that it could be used professionally in many (though certainly not all) situations.

The camera itself is specified at four pounds, four ounces, which is quite heavy for a "consumer" camera. In practice, though, I found that I wish it was a little heavier, as heavier cameras are easier to hold steady without shaking. Sony has announced that it will be shipping a shoulder brace to help steady it, but its street price of an additional $400 may discourage many would-be purchasers.

When handheld, the camera feels well balanced. The tripod mounting socket, however, seems to be mounted a bit too close to the front of the camera. While mounted on a tripod I found the front of the camera wanted to drift upward slowly.

A new feature of this camera is an integrated lens cover. A switch at the back of the attached lens hood opens and closes the cover, which comes in the form of two plastic flaps inside the lens hood that swing up and down, in and out of the way.



Figure 1: Lens cover closed and open; just flip a switch to open and close the integrated lens cover.

Physical Arrangement
The physical arrangement of the camera is somewhat different than what we are used to seeing. For example, the flip-out 3.5" widescreen LCD is actually placed on the top almost at the front of the camera, mounted on the front of the carrying handle instead of on the left side of the camera body. When the display is closed it covers numerous buttons including the VCR style transport controls, which are revealed when the display is opened.


Figure 2: Huge 16x9 LCD screen and tape transport controls.

In addition to being placed in a new location, the LCD displays a very high resolution of 250,800 pixels. Because HD video utilizes a much higher resolution than any small LCD can display, accurate manual focusing is accomplished using a feature Sony calls “Expanded Focus.” When engaged, the LCD shows the center of the image at full resolution without affecting the image being recorded on tape. This allows for precise focusing without having to include an extremely expensive (and large!) LCD screen. This works fairly well, except you can’t see anything other than the center portion of the image when the feature is engaged.

The viewfinder has a very similar 252,000 pixel resolution. Visually it appears to have the same resolution as the LCD. It comes with a standard rubber eyecup, as well as a much larger professional eyecup. I found the standard eyecup comfortable, but too soft.

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