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


Picture Quality
So is this camera really high definition? Yes, it is. The resolution of the CCD image sensors is 960 x 1080 pixels, but the 960 lines are converted to 1440 lines (using a special CCD and a much more sophisticated method than just stretching), resulting in about 1.55 million pixels per video frame, approximately 5 times the resolution of SD. The footage I recorded isnít quite as good as broadcast HD: the picture is slightly softer, but the colors are as vivid, and the overall image is very smooth. Occasionally I could see a little bit of a moirť effect on the tightest repeating patterns, but other than that, the image recorded by this camera is excellent!

On this camera the video format used for HD is called HDV, and it is stored on standard off-the-shelf MiniDV tapes. This format was developed by several big-name video companies, and is based in MPEG 2. The combination of higher resolution and higher compression used by HDV over MiniDV results in an identical data recording rate, so recording times for the two formats are the same. Overall I would say that HDV has fewer unwanted artifacts than DV. The main problem with HDV at this point is that few video editing packages support it, though support from the major players is on the way. With the HDR-FX1, however, you can export HDV as DV, and use your existing editing software until the appropriate HDV plug-in arrives: shoot HD now, edit in DV now, re-import in HD later.


Figure 7: Crop of sample HD image. Click for full image (2.8MB).

When switched to DV mode the camera is very, very good. I would rate the resolution and color accuracy at least as high on this camera than previous Sony cameras, definitely higher than the Canonís XL-1, and somewhat higher than Panasonicís DVX series of cameras.


Figure 8: Same size crop of SD image. Click for full image.

One feature that this camera has that its DV competitors do not (other than the Canon XL2) is the ability to record in true, native anamorphic DV widescreen without a lens adapter. Even if you donít take advantage of the high definition capability of the camera, having native 16x9 widescreen makes it worth serious consideration.

The optics of the non-removable Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 12x zoom lens ( F1.6-2.8 ) are very good. In subjective tests I did not detect any traces of image distortion because of the lens. The lens features a 72mm filter thread diameter, so it can accept a wide variety of available filters and adapters. Sony will be making a 0.8x wide angle adapter lens specifically for the HDR-FX1, and should be available soon.

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