Sony HDR-UX1 AVCHD  Camcorder Review

Break On Through

DVD camcorders have historically not been the ideal format for many intermediate level videographers, due to the lack of manual controls and difficulty in editing DVD footage. Sony’s HDR-UX1 shatters the DVD cam stereotype, offering more features on its semi-pro body.

Take It to the Limit

What does it take to entirely change the perception of DVD camcorders? The HDR-UX1 starts where no DVD cam has gone before: a new recording format that records 1080i. AVCHD (Advanced Video Codec High Definition) offers HDV-like image quality, with increased encoding efficiency. In other words, AVCHD can store more visual information with less data. If you’re a beginning or intermediate shooter looking for a new camcorder with some manual controls and big time resolution, the HDR-UX1 is shaping up to be a leader in the HD revolution.

Heavy Hitter

After taking the unit out of the box, one of our first impressions, other than it being a very nice looking camcorder, was its heaviness. It’s not too heavy (i.e., your arms won’t tire out quickly), but it’s certainly not as lightweight as most camcorders of the same size. Its weight gives it a solid, durable feeling, like something that could take some abuse. Furthermore, the HDR-UX1 is built fairly big, too.

One of the most noticeable of the oversized features is the lens barrel, much larger than the 30mm lens itself. This larger barrel gives you more room and control to manipulate the focus/exposure ring. This was one of our favorite features on the camcorder. The traditional focus ring has been enhanced so that it can adjust either the focus (obviously), the exposure, white balance and/or the AE shift.

ig, Big Screens

The next oversized, jaw-dropping feature is the 3.5″ widescreen LCD. If seeing is believing, then we believe this is one of the sharpest and easy-to-shoot-with LCD screens. The menu system is controlled using this same screen, which is somewhat unfortunate, now that you’ll cloud up the clarity of the LCD screen with your greasy fingertips, but the menu is sharp looking and impressive.

Unhappily, there is no quick way to change between focus and exposure on the focus/exposure ring.

The camcorder includes mic and headphone jacks. Unfortunately, there are no manual audio controls, so you’ll have to trust the AGC to record your sound accurately. The HDR-UX1 has a hot shoe on its top-front, allowing easy attachment of a variety of Sony accessories, including a 5.1-channel microphone. Overall, the onboard mic can pick up sounds from 20 feet away, but a shotgun is recommended for longer shots.


Big, Big Resolution

The big feature the HDR-UX1 touts is the 1080i Hi-def video acquisition using the AVCHD format. It can also burn dual-layer discs to increase record times. With so many new DVD camcorders this year, we think the dual-layer capabilities are a real bright spot for this medium. You can record up to 60 minutes of HD video onto an 8cm DVD.

Get Small to Get Big

Not too long ago a new codec was developed called H.264, which encodes to MPEG-4 files. H.264 compression is much more efficient than MPEG-2 compressed HDV files. This means that AVCHD should be capable of acquiring images equally as stunning as HDV, while using smaller files. This is something consumers can cheer about. However, like any new camcorder format, there’s usually a little lag time between its release and the ability to edit this new format or play it back in other devices. This is something consumers will have to patiently wait for in development. In our test we could playback the footage in Premiere Pro 2.0, but as soon as we began to cut and trim, we saw the playback jump and skip a few seconds before it ran smoothly again.

The edges of our test footage (especially high contrast edges) tend to have trailing compression artifacts (even in the highest quality mode) and less detail than what you’d expect from an Hi-def camcorder. The details in the highlights also suffer. When there’s not a lot of camera movement or your scenes is relatively static, the HDR-UX1 offers pleasing results.

The AVCHD format still needs some time to mature before we see images that look as good as the current HDV expectations. We expect most people interested in this camcorder will be doing some handheld shooting and recommend that you get a sturdy tripod or tone down camera movements. This is also not an ideal camcorder for people looking to record high action footage, such as sports.

The color reproduction has super-saturated reds and a significant amount of green saturation, so that the resulting image pops out. The color reproduction can seem a bit unnatural, but not far off our expectations for a consumer camcorder.

Overall, the HDR-UX1 is a power player in a rather mundane group of DVD camcorders. It’s an easy to use camcorder with a great set of features. Assuming Sony massages out the few compression kinks in the coming releases of AVCHD camcorders, this could be a great first HD solution for consumer and intermediate shooter.

TECH SPECS

Format: 3″ (8 cm) DVD (-/+R/RW, +R DL); AVCHD 1080i

Image Sensor: 1x 1/3″ 2.1-megapixel ClearVID CMOS

Video Effective Pixels: 1,076,000 (4:3); 1,434,000 (16:9)

Interchangeable Lenses: No

Lens f-stop: 1.8-2.9

Optical Zoom: 10x

Focal Length: 5.1-51 mm

Filter Diameter: 30mm

Focus: Auto/Manual (ring)

Iris/Gain Control: Auto

Shutter Speed: Auto/AE mode selectable

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/500

Minimum Shutter Speed: 1/4

Image Stabilization: Electronic

Internal ND Filter: No

Program Exposure Modes: 5

Manual White Balance: Yes

Zebra Stripes: No

Viewfinder: Color 123K Pixels (16:9)

LCD Monitor: 3.5″ 211K pixels (16:9) Touch Panel

Progressive Scan: No, progressive manual shutter (still only)

Video In: USB 2.0

Video Out: Composite, Component, S-Video (w/ optional cable), USB 2.0, HDMI

Color Bar Generator: No

Audio Modes: Stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1

Microphone In: 1/8″

VU Meter: No

Manual Audio Level Controls: No

Headphone Jack: Yes

Speaker: Yes

Wireless Remote: Yes

External Battery Charger Provided: No

Battery Type: InfoLithium

Form Factor: Standard

Disc Loading Config.: Side

Onboard Video Light: No

Accessory Shoe: Yes, Active Interface Shoe

STRENGTHS

  • Manual focus/exposure ring
  • AVCHD efficiency
  • Mic input
  • Headphone jack

WEAKNESSES

  • AVCHD early adoption
  • No HDMI cord
  • Some compression artifacts and trailing

SUMMARY

This is a powerful camcorder that could possibly lead a format revolution.

Mark Montgomery is Videomaker’s Technical Editor.

$1,400

Sony Electronics

16765 W. Bernardo Dr.

San Diego, CA 92127

www.sonystyle.com

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