Official Sony CX550V Review and Discussion Thread

Discussion in 'Photography' started by Ronald Epstein, Oct 10, 2010.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Ronald Epstein
    I purchased the very first consumer HD video camcorder that Sony introduced back in 2005, the HC1. It was a beautiful well-built camcorder that I never thought I would end up parting with. The problem with the original HC1 camcorder was that it was tape based and it didn't reproduce great images in low light situations. I do a lot of video work for trade shows throughout the year. My job is to go out and videotape vendors and their products. I often work under low-light conditions and I do all my editing on a Macbook Pro. The editing process has always been somewhat tedious due to the fact that I had to transfer all the tape footage to the Mac in real time. Tape an hour of footage -- expect an hour to transfer it. I really needed to upgrade my camcorder to one that was better in low light and would transfer faster to my Mac. For the past two years I was hesitant to upgrade to a newer camcorder. There were horror stories about how AVCHD camcorders interacted with Macs. Still, every time I had to transfer footage from my tape based camcorder I found myself cursing under my breathe. I felt it was time to take the risk and upgrade to AVCHD. All in all, I think the upgrade was a good choice. Compared to the Sony HC1 the CX550V feels like a toy. It's certainly smaller and extremely more lightweight than its predecessor. However, the tradeoff is that it feels like a plastic toy. The one thing you immediately admire about this camcorder is the beautiful 3.5 LCD screen which is vivid and vibrant. It's a real treat being able to watch your live recording on this gorgeous screen that holds up well in bright light conditions. The menu system, however, is not the most intuitive to understand. You really have to dig through layers of menus to find things. As with everything else, the more I used the menu the easier it became to find everything. Just was never especially keen of touch menu screens. It gathers fingerprints rather quickly. A dial and button would have been a better choice. This camcorder has built-in 64GB flash memory as well as the ability to take SVCHD and Sony memory cards which really expands upon the amount of storage options you have here. The overall quality of HD recording you get from this camera is excellent. You get well detailed video reproduction with vibrant, natural colors. Image stabilization works exceedingly well. In low-light this camcorder really exceeds its predecessor, the HC1. There is far less noise introduced into the picture and much more detail to be seen. It's really astounding to see the quality of video this camcorder reproduces which rivals that of broadcast. Although I was disappointed that companies are still not incorporating 3CCD chips into camcorders at this price range the gap seems to be closing between consumer and prosumer camcorders as far as the quality of video is concerned. I can see how well consumer HD camcorder technology has evolved in the past 5 years. The wide angle video lens on this camcorder is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I love the fact that I have the ability to capture a wider range of video. The downside is Sony switching from its gold standard Carl Zeiss to its G lens. Hard to say how much the video quality is effected though I have read reviews by more discerning critics who say video quality is somewhat compromised by the change. Compared to my 5-year-old HC1 I find the video quality to be superior here, though one has to question if its the lens or the overall evolution of the technology itself. I will say that I'm not particularly happy about Sony dumbing down to 10x optical zoom in a flagship camcorder like this. The battery that comes with this camcorder will not get you more than an hour of footage. I purchased the NPFV70 battery instead of going with the larger NPFV100 which adds too much bulk and weight to the camera. I did notice that there is quite a heavy drain on the battery. I believe I only got under 4 hours of LCD viewed recording with the NPFV70. Also, found that unless the battery is totally recharged you will get a false reading on battery power remaining time. The camcorder went from indicating 2 hours to 10 minutes in mere moments. Have not had enough time to see if this a consistent problem with battery indication feature or perhaps the fact I did not have time to totally recharge the battery. I will say that I read on a discussion forum of another Sony CX550V owner having the same battery indication issues. As I noted, I think the NPFV100 is just too heavy and bulky. Buy two NPFV70 batteries for long days of recording just to be safe. The camcorder does include a 12 megapixel still camera which I totally have no use for since I usually carry around a DSLR on my other shoulder. Another feature I don't necessarily personally find useful is the built-in GPS. However, for those that take a lot of footage and forget the finer details of where it was taken, I can see how this feature might remotely be useful. Oh, and speaking of shoulder, this camcorder lacks the inclusion of a shoulder strap (and perhaps even the necessary brackets to accommodate one), making you rely on the hand strap instead. As far as working with a Mac.... I own a Macbook Pro 2.8 GHz Duo core 4GB Ram. Using iMovie '09 I plugged the CX550V into the USB port. iMovie immediately recognized it. Brought up all the segments I shot with checkboxes beneath them to indicate which ones I wanted to transfer over. Fortunately, all the clips were full-length. I heard other camcorders split everything up into 1-2 minute segments. Fortunately, if I took 10 minutes of footage, that was the length of the clip being transferred. My hopes were that the overall transfer time of AVCHD would be faster than TAPE. In reality, it could have been, if not for the fact that iMovie takes the AVCHD footage and then converts it into its own Apple Codec. This takes additional time. Overall, I would say that AVCHD to iMovie is faster than real-time tape, however on my Macbook only marginally. I expect once I move up to an i7 Macbook Pro the transfer speed will be even faster. The point I am making here is that this camcorder does play very nice with Macs. Even on my Duo Core Macbook which is now considered outdated technology, there was no sense of extreme resource hogging during the transfer. You will lose 5.1 sound with the Mac transfer as from what I understand, iMove '09 does not support it. I also understand that any footage taken with image stabilization may cause conflicts with video processing. For that reason I have chosen not to use image stabilization whenever I want to work with iMovie. Overall, I am extremely happy with the Sony CX550V. Compared to their first HC1 camcorder one can certainly say they don't build these things like they used to. However, one must admire that 5 years since, Sony has been able to manufacturer lighter and smaller consumer camcorders with improved video and low light performance.
  2. Sam Posten

    Sam Posten Moderator

    Oct 30, 1997
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    Aberdeen, MD & Navesink, NJ
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    Sam Posten
    Awesome bud, good luck!

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