Sony HDR-CX900 camcorder: Why do I still choose to buy a camcorder now

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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 However if you use camcorder to shoot a film or music video now, people think you are outdated.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.

MIS-SHOE – Universal shoe mount for Sony cameras with MIS mount

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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.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. James说道:

    Great read. I am on the fence post right now. CX900 for reasons you already know. PJ810 you loose the big sensor but the OIS is amazing. Last would be the new A7 II that is a full frame with 5 axis OIS. Again being a new camera overheat is a serious concern. Most of my video is less than 30 min but I really dont want that to be a concrete limit for me. Also invest $100 in a 4000Mah Sony made battery would really hate to see that go to waste. So a big question I have for you though is the CX900 how does it perform with stills? normal and low light or even city skyline type shots. Google it there is NO ONE with still image samples from this camera and with a 1 inch sensor similar to the one used on the NEX lines and 20Mp I would expect some pretty sharp results. Really wish the CX900 had fell OIS like the PJ and Alpha.

    1. liukaitc说道:

      Hi, James. I do not take still with this camera. From my brief experience, this camera take long time to write to SD card. I think I need wait 2 second to take each shot. For this reason I would not recommend it for still. Image quality is ok. Is it the same 20mp sensor being used in many Sony camera? Although no Raw.
      At last, I just sold this camcorder 2 days ago. I am not sure what camera will be next or maybe not going to buy one. As I already have two camera for video now (Panasonic gh3 and af100a). This sony camcorder is still very handy in many situation, but it does not match the color of my Panasonic camera, it is a pain. So I just get rid of it.

  2. Hi thanks for sharing this. Really useful. I’ve been struggling with a DSLR Nikon full frame because it’s very tricky – if not impossible – for spontaneous, hand-held video shooting. I’m debating whether to take the plunge and get the sony hdr-cx900e. Like you I think they both have their uses – the Nikon’s lovely if you have time to set up the tripod ensure the ND filter is set right etc etc and obviously it’s fantastic for photography.

    How do you find the viewfinder on the Sony? One serious shortcoming for video-making with the Nikon DSLR is all movies are recorded in Live View so I had to get a Zacuto eyepiece to be able to see what I was doing when shooting outside – another obstacle to spontaneity. Am considering whether to sell this kit to fund the Sony or keep the two running side by side for a while.

    Good luck with the movie making!

    1. liukaitc说道:

      Hi, Deborah. The viewfinder is fine.(not the best) Thanks to focus peaking, it is very easy to use the viewfinder.
      But honestly, if you are using Nikon full frame to film, I would not recommend sell them and get this sony one. The image quality you get from your Nikon full camera is better for sure. I am not sure which model you are using. The flat picture profile from d810 and d750 is really amazing. It give such high dynamic range. Plus high ISO, shallow depth of field. Overall the image quality is much better than this Sont cx900.

      The benefit of cx900 as my article says are the smooth zooming, parfocal, etc.

      But I would not make it the only camera to film. You understand it.

      By the way I no longer have this camera. One thing bother me most is the inability to change any picture parameter. I can not adjust contrast, saturation, sharpness, noise, color. It is hard to match color with my other camera.

      If you really like the formal factor of cx900. Take a look at the Sony PXW-X70. Basically the same as cx900 with added feature like xlr input, sdi out input, and able to change picture parameter.

      Hope this helps.

      1. Thanks for the reply! I really appreciate it. Unfortunately the PXW-X70 is out of my budget. The cx 900 is pushing it… I’m happy with the Nikon D600 for landscape / tripod shots but if I’m talking to people and trying to film them at the same time it’s hopeless – it’s just not intuitive enough for filming on the hoof. It’s probably a compromise for me between missing out altogether or filming people spontaneously but not having such rich nuanced footage. My sense is that the CX-900 is probably the best I can do at that price range. I think you’re right I should try and hold on to my DSLR and use both. Thanks again!

  3. Gene Guerrero说道:

    Main Zoom/Panning Camera used for these videos: Sony HDR-CX900 – https://youtu.be/RNDcyaQIA6c – Perfect for concert video, 3-5 hours (I need to film to sets a night at this club) … Also, this short business promo was shot using the XAVC-S format with high quality results – http://bit.ly/1MreHD8 … But bokeh blur for an interview will need a decent expanse behind the subject and zooming in to at least a mid closeup shot. My only complaint is that the zoom motion starts and stops on a dime. No feathered, speed ramp on the zoom… so those need to be concealed with editing. Otherwise, very happy with it for all the above mentioned reasons from Kai. One thing Kai and other might want to try in order to nail focus while shooting is to use the touch spot focus feature of the CX-900, found under the focus settings, allows you to rack focus nice, smooth, and easy like a feature film. You’re gonna love it! When it comes to stills, try this approach – extracting freeze frames from your XAVC-S footage, not good for print purposes (1920 x 1080), but with a little sharpening and color enhancements, your facebook fans, family, and even clients will be happy enjoying these on the web. The following still shots were all pulled from the CX900 XAVC-S footage: http://www.revealingmodesty.com/photos/

    1. Gene Guerrero说道:

      Yet, when comparing the look of the footage with this camera with a DSLR, you will notice that the DSLR will still come through with a more “filmy” quality. Motion may be more smooth, better ability to blur out background, more dynamic range, less blown out highlights. So, for any planned, staged video where you can do multiple takes, I’ve got my eye on either the Canon 70d (has touch focus) or Canon 7d Mark II (can shoot 1080p @ 60fps = great HD slow motion in post. I’m hoping within 3-5 months, these camera bodies will be on the marked as used or refurbished.

  4. Chris Seow说道:

    Hi, may I know what do u use to mount the mic onto the camcorder’s hotshoe?

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