The Sony Handycam HDR-CX230 ($279.99 direct) is a no-frills camcorder that does its best to pack an impressive zoom lens and 1080p60 video recording into a compact package. Don’t expect a touch screen, Wi-Fi, or even an automatic lens cover on this one. Your money does get you 8GB of internal storage and a 27x f/1.9-4 zoom lens with the option to charge the camera via your computer or via a wall outlet. Video quality isn’t the best, and despite its attractive price point, it’s no match for our Editors’ Choice, the Panasonic HC-V720.
Design and Features
The CX230 measures 2.3 by 2.1 by 4.65 inches (HWD) and weighs just 6.3 ounces. There’s an adjustable hand strap on the right side; it has a pocket that houses an integrated USB cable that can be used to transfer videos to a computer or charge the camcorder. It can also be charged via an included AC adapter, which plugs into the right side (the connector is hidden by a flap). Also under that flap is the Multi connector that can accept a number of accessories, including a standard definition video output adapter; a micro HDMI port is located on the opposite side of the camcorder for HDTV connectivity.
There’s a standard tripod socket on the bottom, as well as a slot for an SD or Memory Stick Duo card. The 8GB of internal memory will record 45 minutes of the highest quality footage, but it’s easy enough to add a larger card if you want more recording time. When the battery is fully charged the CX230 displays 105 minutes of usage time available. There’s no shoe or shoe adapter, but there’s also no mic input so there’s no reason to mount an external microphone on the camera.
The lens is a 27x zoom that covers a 29.8-804.6mm (35mm equivalent) field of view at a variable f/1.9-4 aperture. An extended digital zoom is available through 32x, so the lens can effectively zoom to 953.6mm. There’s an optical stabilization system, but it struggled a bit to keep footage steady at the maximum zoom, which is not surprising considering just how long that is. Autofocus also seems to slow down when zoomed all the way in. When not shooting at such an extreme focal length the camcorder does do a good job keeping footage steady, and is reasonably quick to focus. Most camcorders of this type have automatic lens covers, but the one on the CX230 is manual—you’ll need to flip a switch to open or close it.
There are only very basic controls built into the camera. On the top there’s a zoom rocker and a photo button that is used to capture 8.9-megapixel still images, and the record button is located on the rear next to the battery. Operation is almost fully automatic, although you can adjust some settings manually. That’s a bit clunky to do, as it has to be done through the menu, and the options are basic—you can brighten or darken a scene or set the white balance pretty easily using a joystick controller to adjust sliders in the menu, but manually adjusting focus that way is an exercise in frustration.
The articulating LCD is 2.7 inches in size. Its resolution is only 230k dots, lagging behind camcorders with higher quality displays. It’s not touch sensitive, so you’ll have to rely on a small joystick control (on the bezel of the panel) to navigate through menus. A Play button is also on the bezel, making it possible to review video clips on the camera. The Panasonic HC-V520 has a sharper, larger 3-inch 461k-dot touch-screen LCD.
Video Quality and Conclusions
The CX230 records HD video in a variety of bitrates and formats. The top setting is AVCHD at 1080p60 quality, and while that’s great on paper, the actual footage captured by the CX230 has some issues. At its widest angle there’s noticeable barrel distortion—I shot some test footage of the Manhattan skyline as the sun set on a late-Autumn afternoon and the first thing I noticed was that the sides of the buildings on the left and right of the frame appeared bowed. The dynamic range is disappointing; the sky was a bit blown out using automatic exposure. Audio was good, as long as you enable the wind filter in the menu; at the wide angle the wind filter is quite effective and the sound of my voice was audible on the soundtrack with little distraction, but as I zoomed in the filter became less effective, presumably because the camcorder is attempting to pick up sounds from further away.
At the maximum optical zoom there is a noticeable softness to details, and it’s compounded by a loss of resolution if you enter into the digital zoom territory. It’s likely that the quality of the lens is at fault here, the Sony PJ380 uses the same image sensor, but its footage is sharper with more detail at comparable focal lengths. Still image capture, at 8.9-megapixel resolution, is also an option, but the image quality is just not that good. Photos look to be on par with cell phone shots, although the CX230 does add the benefit of an optical zoom.
The Sony HDR-CX230 is a no-frills digital camcorder that woos videographers with an attractive price tag and an impressive optical zoom range. Its interface is a little clunky, requiring you to use a small joystick to navigate through its menu system, and the video quality lags behind others in its class. It’s not a product we can recommend. If you’re on a tight budget and in need of a camcorder, you’re better off spending a little bit more for the Panasonic V520; its video quality is just a little bit better, and a sharper, touch-screen display and Wi-Fi add some value that the CX230 lacks.
|Mic Input Jack||No|
|Optical Zoom||27 x|
|Dimensions||2.3 x 2.1 x 4.6 inches|
|Video Resolution||720p, 1080p, 480p|
|Video Recording Format||Secure Digital, Flash Memory, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
|LCD Aspect Ratio||16|
|LCD size||2.7 inches|
|Focal Length (Telephoto)||804.6 mm|
|Focal Length (Wide)||29.8 mm|
|Interface Ports||micro HDMI, USB|
|Sensor Size||1/5.8" mm|
|Still Image Recording Format||Memory Stick Duo, Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Flash Memory, Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
|CCD Resolution||2.4 megapixels|
|Sensor Type||BSI CMOS|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc