HandlingThe CX700 is Sony's latest luxury camcorder. For the same price, a lot of digital cameras can shoot great HD video, so Sony has had to up its game a little bit. The interface has been simplified with a new, more intuitive touchscreen menu. The colourful icons are now accompanied by explanatory text: the 24 Mbps HD FX mode is labelled as 'highest quality' to distinguish it from the 17 Mbps HD FH mode. The excellent 3'', 921 600 pixel LCD screen is as impressive this year as it was when we first saw it.
Once you open the screen, you only need to wait four seconds for the camcorder to start up and be ready to film. The CX700 is one of the few camcorders that still uses an electronic viewfinder. Some of you will no doubt be thrilled, but don't get carried away: it's so tiny that it's hard to fit it next to your eye and the picture looks like it's miles away at the end of a dark tunnel. Worse still, the diopter adjustment is very stiff. In short, it's uncomfortable, if not unusable. That's something Sony seriously needs to work on for next year.
|The viewfinder is too small and the diopter adjustment dial is too stiff
||The LCD screen has an excellent display and has two speakers
Fortunately, the CX700 has a number of other points in its favour, like the ports for the mic, headphones and video output which are all stashed away under a flap on the right hand side. That means the most commonly used ports are all easily accessible during filming, rather than squashed underneath the handle covered by a rubber plug as is often the case. The finish is excellent: it might not quite have the magnesium body of a Nikon SLR, but the smooth plastics on the CX700 feel very solid. Your video is recorded onto 96 GB of internal memory, which is enough room for 9 hours 15 of 1080i video or 7 hours 50 of 1080p. And if that still isn't enough, you can add an SD card or Memory Stick!
One last detail impressed us: like all of Sony's camcorders for this year, the CX700 has a mini USB cable that you can pop out to copy your files onto a computer or recharge it wherever you are. This nifty idea is a welcome borrowing from pocket camcorders and we really like it.
The CX700 delivers the best results when light levels are low—and that's compared to plenty of stiff competition. The combination of an f/1.8 lens and a 1/2.8'' CMOS Exmos R sensor works wonders. When we tested it in the lab at 3 lux—virtually total darkness—the picture suffered from very little distortion and was perfectly visible. That's exceptional for such difficult conditions, and we've not seen any other mass-market camcorder match those results, except for the earlier CX550. The Nightshot mode means you can film in infrared in the dark. If you have normal lighting conditions, colours are reproduced accurately and there is plenty of detail.
There's even a touch more detail in the 1080/50p mode, but it uses a lot of memory and is harder to work with on a computer. This is the first time Sony has included a 50p mode, something that Panasonic has featured since last year on the TM700 for instance. Don't be taken in by the 25p mode that's already available on digital cameras and pocket camcorders which often leads to jerkiness. A genuine 50p mode, with fifty 'full' frames a second is still something of a rarity as it requires a bitrate above the 28 Mbps maximum supported by AVCHD. You can't copy this format to Blu-ray either.
|Great skin tones in this zoom shot
||Our test scene in 1080i
Back in AVCHD mode, the CX700 films in 50i with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels and the results are great. The excellent quality pictures are complimented by great sound from the 5.1 microphone at the front. Sony has also included new s-master amps to create a more dynamic sound. If you would rather use your own mic, there's a mini-jack line in next to the line out for the headphones.
The CX700's wide-angle lens startes at 26.3 mm as a 24 x 36 equivalent, the widest field of view on the camcorder market. The optical zoom goes up to 10x and the 'active' image stabilisation is still there and leaves the camera 'floating on air' as you walk along. Here's a little reminder of how it performs on video.