Aside from a few minor issues with image sharpness and features, the CX110 is a great entry-level HD camcorder.
I've come to expect two things from the Sony Handycam line of HD camcorders: sizzling style and fun, innovative features. On paper, that even extends to the less-expensive end of the lineup, which includes the HDR-CX110, a compact high-definition camcorder sporting an Exmor R CMOS sensor and Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 25x optical zoom lens that shoots 1080/60i video and offers a deep menu of shooting modes and options.
With an MSRP of $500, it costs less than the flagship CX550 and the mid-range CX350, but it's definitely not cheap. Is it worth your money? Keep reading the CX110 HD camcorder review to find out.
BUILD AND DESIGN
With the exception of built-in storage, the CX110 (SD and Memory Stick only) shares the same specs, features and performance with the CX150 (16GB onboard memory) and the XR150 (120GB Hard Disk). For this review, I'll be working with a CX110.
As an aside and quick piece of buying advice, many professional photographers and videographers I've spoken with prefer models with less memory than those with high capacity hard drives. For starters, hard drives add bulk and weight. Also, it's never a good idea to have too much footage saved on one storage device. Hard drives can and often do fail. Any video stored on a failed hard drive will be lost, or at least potentially expensive to recover.
Lacking a hard drive, the CX110 is compact, measuring 2 x 2.25 x 4.5 inches and weighing approximately 9 ounces with its removable battery attached. It fits comfortably in the palm of my hand, with the large lens and two built-in mic inputs on the front end and the battery, start/stop record button and video mode/photo mode indicator lamps on the back.
The palm side sports a thin Velcro secure strap, charge lamp, manual lens cover switch and both the DC-in jack and A/V remote connector hidden underneath a small panel. The flip-out 2.7-inch LCD touch panel resides on the opposite side, and underneath it are play/view button, speaker, factory reset button, disc burn button, i-auto button, and the power button. Underneath a small panel are the USB jack and mini-HDMI out.
On top of the CX110 is the power zoom lever, photo button, and mode button for switching between stills and video. On the bottom is the tripod receptacle and the memory card slot underneath a small flap. The CX110 takes both Memory Stick and SD/SDHC cards up to 32GB.
The CX110 is available in blue, red and black, and has a glossy plastic finish that does little to hide fingerprints and smudges. That said, Sony has a well-earned reputation for producing great looking devices, and the CX110 is no exception. It just looks cool and more than one officemate swung by my cubicle to inquire about the slick HD camcorder on my desk.
Ergonomics and Control
The CX110 is light, compact and easy to operate out of the box. It will comfortably fit in a jacket pocket or small purse and is light enough for prolonged use. I've sent TechnologyGuide Assistant Editor Kevin Bierfeldt into the field to shoot test footage with every camcorder I've reviewed, and he claims the CX110 is his absolute favorite.
It's not perfect though. The manual lens cover takes some getting used to as similar lens covers on other HD camcorders automatically open and close. I forgot to close it more than once after use, throwing the CX110 with an exposed lens into my bag. Thankfully, the lens didn't scratch or get too dirty.
Menus and Modes
The CX110 has five recording modes, HD FX, HD FH, HD HQ, HD LP and STD HQ. HD FX produces the highest quality footage, 1920 x 1080 at 60 interlaced frames per second (1080/60i). HD FH also records 1080/60i but at a slightly lesser bit rate, 17 megabits per second (Mbps) to the HD FX 24 Mbps (a higher bit rate is ideal for active footage).
HD HQ (9 Mbps) and HD LP (5 Mbps) record at 1440 x 1080 at 60 frames per second interlaced a bit less than true HD - and I assume the CX110 interpolates the extra pixels for a full 1080 x 1920 picture during playback. STD HQ records at 720 x 480 pixels at 9 Mbps.
The camera is set to the HD HQ by default, so youll have to bump it up to HD FX or HD FH through the menu if you want to shoot true high-definition video.
Sony did something interesting with the CX110 menu system. At the top level are six common picture and video controls. Pressing "show others" on the menu reveals a host of other menu items in list form, all lumped together, including still modes, playback options and camera settings. Users can customize the menu to include their six most important items for easy access, and can still navigate and use the others buried in the show others list.
I assume Sony figured the average user rarely uses more than six menu items during a shoot. But this customizable menu option just doesn't work. Important controls are buried by default and navigating the long show others list is an exercise in frustration.
The menu items include:
That's an impressive list for what could be considered an entry-level Handycam, and many of the features, like X.V color, spot meter/focus, and tele macro are both useful and fun. I especially enjoyed smooth slow record, which records approximately three seconds of footage at 240 fps. Its great for analyzing a golf swing, or as I used it, for my rec-league basketball team highlight reel:
For stills, the CX110 offers a self timer, file number naming options (series or reset) and four images sizes: 3.1 megapixels, 2.4 megapixels, 1.9 megapixels and 0.3 megapixels. The CX110 also has an comprehensive set of general camera, power and playback settings.
At 2.7-inches, the CX110 LCD display is tiny when compared with others in the Handycam lineup, which sport screens topping 3.5-inches. I prefer a larger screen even it means a bulkier device, and the CX110 could benefit from an extra 0.3 inches of real estate.
That said, the touchscreen is extremely responsive, even when cycling through recorded clips, which often causes lag in competing devices. I batted a thousand accessing the larger top menu items, never once accidentally selecting an unintended option. However, I occasionally had trouble pinpointing an exact item in smaller show others menu.
Sony included plenty of display options to lessen glare from the bright sun, help with framing and keep the screen clear of information icons. Unfortunately, these options are all buried in the show others menu. Also, they do little to help you see through the fingerprints and smudges that build up from prolonged use.
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