This article is not mainly about product review, it is more about my insight and experience.
A few weeks ago when I was trying out this cx900 camcorder at b&h store, a couple past by and the wife said to the husband, “we need a camcorder to shoot video for our son.” The husband respond, “We can just buy a DSLR camera, it can do both photo and video.”
Ok, if you shoot video, you know nowadays everybody use DSLR to shoot video and short film. DSLR video is quite new 5 years ago. At that time most people use camcorder and Eng style video camera to shoot video. However if you use camcorder to shoot a film or music video now, people think you are outdated. The main reason why people shifted to DSLR video is the shallow depth of field.
I had three DSLRs for shooting video before purchasing Sony cx900. I had Canon 7d, Panasonic GH2 and GH3. I sold Canon 7d along with my Canon lens. And I purchased cx900 camcorder. I have been thinking over and over which camcorder to purchase at max $2000 budget. I eventually got this one. First let me talk about why do I need a camcorder.
I do many events video now. such as party, concert, fashion show these kind of videos. In other word: uncontrolled environment. DSLR is ideal for controlled environment such as interview video, short film and music video. You need time to switch lens, to nail focus, to set up rigs and so on. For events, I just find it is a pain to use DSLR to shoot video. For example, you are shooting a dance performance, the performers move away and your 3x zoom lens not longer enough to capture them. You need to switch lens to a telephoto lens. Can you do that during the show? Not possible. Second you have very narrow depth of filed. You need to constantly pull focus to keep focus with the performer. Even if you are a skilled manual focus person, it is still a pain to do it. By the way you also need to control zoom in and out. Plus focus….Can you imagine how difficult your duty is??
There are certain advantages using camcorder over DSLR.
1. one lens cover big zoom range. at least 10x zoom. Yes you can get a superzoom lens for DSLR. but aperture is small and you can not zoom in and out smoothly.
2. zoom in and out smoothly thanks to the zoom rocker. Too hard to do with DSLR lens.
3. change the speed of zooming seamlessly thanks to the zoom rocker again. Too hard to do with DSLR lens.
4. easier to focus, because of the smaller sensor size, more depth of field. So hard to keep subject in focus with DSLR.
5. auto focus. however this camcorder cx900 is not that good at this aspect. Certainly very useful and good for event. But it will hunt and miss focus sometimes. For controlled situation, better use manual focus.
6. The lens on cx900 is parfocal. That means when I zoom in and out, the subject will always be in focus as long as he does not move. Not the case with DSLR lens.
7. can do zooming and manual focus at same time because the way we operate the camcorder. One hand control the zoom rocker and the other hand control the focus ring. Can only do either focus or zooming at one time with DSLR.
8. no record time limit, no overheat issue. I think Panasonic GH series are the only DSLRs that has no record time limit per clip, as well as no overheat issue. Try use Canon DSLR shoot video outside during summer time. After half hour shooting, you are done…No kidding. Newer models tend to cope overheat better.
9. image stabilization and much better than image stabilization found on DSLR lens.
9. control and operation. Much comfortable than using DSLR.
I did a quick test for my cx900 that cover basic features like ND filter, zooming, image stabilization. Take a look at it. If you miss these feature on your DSLR. You are likely need a camcorder too.
Here is a small part of my recent work. Used three cameras. GH3 for wide view, cx900 for half body to close up shots and sony nex-ea50 for side view and other shots. Very easy to use my cx900 for this type of work.
It is a joy to use camcorder to shoot video. The way you hold it and operate just feel a lot better than holding a DSLR. I think I will use this camcorder more and more often.
One thing you need to pay attention if you consider purchase this camcorder. It use irregular hot shoe mount. I believe it is called Multi interface shoe mount. You need two Sony adapters together in order to mount regular accessory on it. I find a product that can solve the problem. You just need this one adapter.
I do not believe that one tool can do everything. I think every shooter need a camcorder for certain type of work.
ps: It seems I did not talk much about the video quality of this camcorder. It is very good at low gain/ISO. Above gain 18 it is getting bad. Gain 18 is about ISO 1600-2000 on my GH3 based on my rough estimate. Overall I feel the low light performance is very similar to my GH3.