In a world where DSLRs and mobile phones shoot most of the video we consume (at least it feels that way) is there still the need for small (pro/con)-sumer grade videocameras aka camcorders? I am not talking about any professional video or film productions here, mostly stuff like behind the scenes or quick videos, holidays and especially of yourself and in times where you don’t have the time to set something up. Mobile phones are awesome for the quick and dirty things, but a bit too dirty for my taste… the video quality of the front facing cameras isn’t all that good normally and if I am filming myself while talking about something it really helps to see what you are pointing at. A lot of people are starting to use GoPros for that, it has a extreme wide-angle lens, so you will most likely get a usable framing. Using a DSLR to film yourself is doable and gets a lot easier when you have a flip-able display, but that is often not the case with “pro” cameras.
So at some point I started to think about alternatives and saw McWinkel of Whudat.de running around with a Sony HDR-CX730 filming a segment for one of his posts… why didn’t I think of that before??? Well… I had camcorders before, so that wasn’t such a stretch, but with all the DSLR video hype I kinda dismissed them for a while.
I got in contact with Sony (thanks to MC for that again!) and they were kind enough to give me one to test for four weeks. Unfortunately it didn’t get to me in time for the Skywalker trip and it got quite hectic after that, so I didn’t have the time to shoot a specific video for this review. I used it a lot though and had it with me quite a lot, too.
It is a light and compact enough camera not to be a burden when you carry it with you in your backpack for example, but big enough to be held comfortably and used properly. The screen is nice and big, has a good working touchscreen interface that handles smudges quite well. And most of the bells and whistles Sony puts in its higher end cameras. One feature though caught my attention directly, its optical stabilisation system. It also features an electronic IS, but the optical is just way too funky and works actually very well. I really thought in the beginning that it is more of a marketing thing and will not perform very well, but I was wrong. The lens is basically pivot-mounted, it corrects sudden movement on two axis and it does that quite well. Obviously the system has its limits, but just walking around with the camera and filming with no support system like a shoulder rig, handle or even steady-cam is already much easier. You can do nice pans and simulate a little bit of dolly movement. Also in situations where you need to keep the camera really still, like for example filming someone in a driving car, on the Autobahn going over 180km/h. You can tell I am impressed. It of course takes a little time to get used to it and where the limits are, but then its a blast.
The camera records on SD cards and in 25 and 50 frames, at least for europe. There could be more in my opinion… especially a 24p mode would be extremely awesome. And I still haven’t understood why we still have an option for a 1440×1080 resolution, but I guess it doesn’t matter.
Another feature I enjoy and at the same time got frustrated with is the little wheel below the lens that lets you manually change different settings like shutter-speed, focus etc. I enjoyed it because it gives you more control over what you are doing and with that more creative possibilities. The downside for me was the usability… it has that one button you have to push to switch between auto and manual, but also use the same button to switch between what you want to use the wheel for. So far so good. A short push to switch from auto to manual a long one to get the list of options etc… maybe it was my unit, or me, but it never was that easy and quick to do these things on the fly, especially when you are in action and want to get moving quickly. I know, it’s not a pro camera, but also not a low level entry cam.
Another positive surprise, the microphone. For the recordings of someone talking that I did we always used an external recorder and mic, but used the cameras sound to sync everything up and I have to say it is really good. Maybe I am so surprised because I am used to recording video mostly with DSLRs and micro 4/3s cameras for some years now and there the sound quality out of the cam normally wasn’t any good. Obviously it records ambient noises and so for our recordings it wasn’t usable, but you can do some good work with it if the surroundings are quite. It also features 5.1 recording, which I didn’t use or care for.
I really like the Sony HDR-CX730. It is a fantastic small video camera that is well built with good features and is not frustrating to use. Obviously there is room for improvement with the wheel for example, having more precise control there and having physical buttons for some features that you would use more often.
I also think it could be a bit less expensive, especially in a market dominated by DSLR video ad cheaper options at the moment. I can see myself using one of these in my “daily” routine. Professionally and personally. But beside all the other equipment I have, need to update and maintain this is not in my budget at the moment. A real shame.
Another thought also for one of these… yes they are bigger than a GoPro or the Sony version of a GoPro, but light enough to be well mounted on a car and if there was a proper casing to protect it. I mean I also put my big DLSRs on car, but this would be great. Light, very good video quality, especially compared to small cams like a GoPro.
If you were looking for a more technical review, I am sure you there are enough of them out there, also more videos can be found all over. This is a series of shots I took on my Florence trip, but let me know what you think of the use of camcorders nowadays where our phones and DSLRs do mostly everything…