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Equipment Review

Sony HDR-CX7 Camcorder

The first thing you notice about this high definition camcorder is that it is small, incredibly small. The measurements are 5 1/4" long (with the stock battery pack) by 2 3/4" wide and 2 3/4" high. It is also very light, weighing in a less than a pound with the stock battery. The second thing that should be obvious is that its not going to be your primary camera if you're a professional. But for those unique wildlife shots, such as down in a burrow or in a nest cavity, the camera deserves a place in your arsenal.

The HDR-CX7 is a dramatic step forward for Sony being a flash memory consumer camcorder. Unfortunately, there is no built-in memory so your storage is limited to the largest flash memory card you can find. And being a Sony camcorder you are restricted to their proprietary Sony Stick Pro Duo memory cards. The camera records to the AVCHD wrapper at a maximum 1440x1080 60i format; at the highest quality setting the bit rate is about 15mb/second. With an 8gb card this will give you about 1 hour of footage. Lower quality high definition settings, as well as standard definition, are available allowing for longer recording sessions. The loss in video quality at the lower settings is negligible when using the infrared nightshot mode.


Sony HDR-CX7


To get down to palm-size Sony uses a CMOS sensor. In addition, they have done away with many professional features such as a rear viewfinder and external controls for focus, iris, shutter , white balance, and virtually everything else. Although some settings can ostensibly be adjusted using the touch-sensitive LCD screen its hard to imagine anyone plowing through the byzantine process to adjust focus. When it comes to manual adjustments one must accept and use the camcorder for what it is, a point-and-shoot consumer video camera. In fact, beyond the on/off switch and the rec button the useful external switches are limited to a switch for the nightshot feature, a backlight adjustment button, and a button for manual flash for still images (there is no built-in video light). The few other buttons mostly apply to playing back and managing the video or still images on the LCD screen.

However, the small size and infrared nightshot capability open up a whole world of possibilities for the nature videographer. The camera can easily be placed in many animal burrows and some good infrared video can be had (a lens filter is a good idea to reduce the liklihood of dirt scratching the lens or clogging up the lens cover mechanism). Drill a hole in the top or side of a bird house (preferably before the nesting season!) and you can get some good video of cavity nesting birds. In both cases a wide angle lens attachment may be necessary, but that will usually require the use of another infrared light source since the lens attachment will block the built-in IR emitter. Speaking of which, don't expect the IR emitter to get you quality video beyond just a few feet. Sony does sell an IR emitter that will get you out to about 30 feet. Beyond that you may need to buy an expensive infrared light source or customize your own (see our discussion of infrared wildlife videography under the Filmmaking Tips page). There is a Super Nightshot mode that will get you out slightly farther, but that appears to work by greatly reducing the frame rate resulting in mostly unacceptable video.

One advantage of the tapeless design is that camera noise is almost non-existent, meaning that the built-in microphone will give you acceptable audio when you are filming animals in burrows, nest cavities, or in other tight situations. Of course in the great outdoors you will have to contend with wind noise. Sony sells external microphones, but because the camcorder uses a proprietary hot shoe (known as the Active Interface Shoe) you are once again limited to Sony products.

Like most consumer camcorders, the CX7 allows you to take still images captured in the jpg format. However, the CX7 can capture very respectable 6.1 megapixel images (versus many other models which capture still images around 1 megapixel). The images are recorded to the Memory Stick, but in a different folder from the video. Both video and still images can be transferred to your computer via a HDMI connection (this connection is more likely compatible with your HD TV than it is with a computer), the Handycam docking station (which connects via a USB mini-port), component out, or by simply removing the memory card and placing it in a card reader.

Not surprisingly, the stock battery supplied with the camera is of limited duration (about 90 minutes), and is especially deficient for the nightshot mode. Fortunately larger batteries are available that will give you 6 hours or more of recording (and this time non-Sony equipment will work!), or the camera can be run off the AC power adapter. You can get even more life out of your battery by shutting the LCD door (or holding the Disp/Batt button to turn off the LCD display), of course you then have no way of seeing what is being recorded. The 2.7 inch LCD screen is serviceable, although it can be hard to see when bright sunlight is shining on it (which is where you really miss the rear viewfinder).




The 10x Carl Zeiss lens is very reasonable for a camcorder of this size (focal length of about 40-400mm). The lens has a 37mm filter thread so it should capture slightly more light than many other consumer models. There is a steady-shot setting to help reduce shakes although with the limited focal length its not critical.

The camera is not dustproof, nor is it waterproof, but being just so darn small and having infrared capabilities I can't help but seeing it used in many tough and unorthodox situations. At a retail price of about $800 its not a throwaway, but its also not the end of the world if one is lost. I like this camera and see it being used for unique shots such as tight settings and nighttime work and for being thrown iin a pack as a backup unit or when you're on that family outing but want a camera just in case that once-in-a-moment event comes by.


IIncredibly small and light. Very good picture quality. Uses flash memory. Has Sony's infrared nightshot capability.


Expensive Sony proprietary flash memory cards. No rear viewfinder. Limited controls for professional use. Marginal bit rate.

UPDATE - I've now used this camera for a couple of years. In addition to everything above I can say that the camera is tough, very tough. I've used it for night-time infrared videography, I've placed it in burrows and down in the dirt, I've had animals play and nibble on it, and I've used it in scorching hot and bitter cold conditions and its still working. True, the auto focus acted up a while back, but after a Google search I learned about the "2 hard knocks" method to fix it and sure enough it work! (It essentially consists of pounding the front of the camera down hard on the palm of your hand. Don't ask me, all I know is that it worked.) The lens cover stopped closing and opening when I turned the unit on or off (likely due to dirt), but its managed to work itself back into operating condition. More recently the camera began turning itself off prematurely. This happened whether I used batteries or the power cord. Sony wanted a flat rate of about $300 to fix it, but that didn't seem like a good option since used ones are now selling for that amount. After a fair amount of internet searching I learned how to manually reset the camera (turn the on/off switch to off, remove the battery and/or power cord, turn the on/off switch to on for 15 seconds, then back to off, and put a battery back in or attach the power cord). Its now working like it was new.

Note that the HDR-CX7 is discontinued. It has been replaced by the very similar HDR-CX12.

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