Pros - Image Stabilization capability is best in class
- Wide(r) angle lens (28mm equivalent) then competitors
- SDHC cards now accepted
- Best in class low-light performance
- 24 MB/sec recording rate now standard for 1080i filming
Cons - No wind filter, which is frustrating for outdoor use
- Does not include 24p Processing
- Panasonic 700 Camcorder includes Time Lapse Recording, which is neat but not present on the Sony. And yes, the Panasonic TM700 includes a Wind Filter as well.
Summary No offense to the CNET reviewer, but the quality of this review is very poor and even inaccurate. CNET's camcorder reviews are now significantly lacking, and I strongly recommend potential buyers read such websites as SlashCam or CamcorderInfo (CCI) for more detailed reviews, and empirical test results. CCI (as is CNET) is incorrect in their low light performance measures, as the test performed was flawed (see User Comments for F-Stop errors), but SlashCam has an accurate review related to Low Light Performance, and the Sony's single chip actually outperforms the 3 chips of even the Panasonic TM-700. Sample images are provided to prove the performance statements, which are given here.
Now to the camcorder: The low-light performance and better image stabilization as well as wide angle lens combination sealed the deal for me after a lengthy research period over this camcorder's main competitor, the Panasonic HDC-TM700. The Panasonic includes 1080p60p recording, and a 3 chip sensor which offers better colour accuracy and sharpness (marginal, and likely indiscernible to 99% of viewers). But the Panasonic's 1080p video will seriously slow down all but the fastest of computers for editing, and the Panasonic version is getting reports of fan noise from the camcorder creeping into the audio mic on the cam when the scene being filmed is quiet.
The Sony cam is not perfect, and I would like to see them add in some of the features now being offered by their competitors, but the image stabilization and low light recording (2 very important performance aspects of a cam) make this the cam to beat in 2010, from my perspective.
Pros The best Features, ranked in order of what I thought was best for my needs.
1. the wide angle lens (29.8-298mm).
2. large 3.5 inch screen
3. Very good Low Light / IR Night Mode
4. 64 GB Flash Memory
5. EVF at high quality
6. 5.1 Stereo Mic
Cons Features I wished the Sony had:
1. 8 or 12 Megapixel CMOS instead of the 6 Megapixel. HD still looks amazing though
2. 12x or 15x zoom I like the wide angle more so not a big deal to give up big zooms.
3. No wind screen
4. Dont find GPS useful
Summary I was looking for a camera that had the most features, for the best price. I ended up looking at Panasonic HDC-TM700, Canon Vixia HF S20 and Sony HDR-CX550V. I actually went to a store that had all 3 models so I could compare.
All were around $1000-1100 in price, but I found the Sony to be the most comfortable, and had the best overall features. The features that sold me on the Sony was the wide angle lens (29.8-298mm), the good low light/night shot IR mode, 3.5 inch screen, 64 GB Flash memory, EVF, and Comfort in my hand.
The Canon has a 43-435mm zoom, not wide enough for my taste, but good zoom for distance. Anything beyond 200mm does not interest me as I am rarely that far away to make that matter.
Touch Screen / EVF
The large 3.5 inch screen was amazing, sharp and easy to use for my fat fingers, compared to the Panasonic and Canon. Panasonic being the worst of the 3 for size, and the Canon touch screen was hard to use I thought.
EVF is a must, Panasonic had it but the Sony looked sharper and cleaner. Canon only has it on the S21 model for $300 more
I tested the low light option by having the sales guy take all 3 cameras into a back stock room and shut off the lights, then recorded some footage, then turned on my cell phone as a low light source in the room, and shot some more footage. The Sony did the best overall with this test. Sharp clear well lit images compared to the other two, but the Panasonic did a decent job as well.
Autofocus was great on the Sony, and image stabilization worked better than I expected.
I cannot speak to the quality of the pictures from the Canon/Panasonic on my home TV, but on a 42" HDTV the Sony playback looks amazing. Sharp, clean, and clear.
I also liked the 5.1 audio, which the Panasonic had, but Canon did not. Outside the Sony does pickup wind if it is a particularly windy day (20+mph winds) The Panasonic seems to have a wind screen feature that the Sony Lacks.
Optical SteadyShot image stabilization w/ Active Mode
64GB on the Sony, 32 on the Panasonic and 32 for Canon unless you go with the HF S21 but that model is $300 more, and not worth that price for only 32 more GB and nothing else that I could see.
All of them take still photos while recording, which is also nice.
To re-cap, I went with the Sony cx550V because in every category that I could see, Sony tied or exceeded the other camcorders in the same price range. And my number one feature was the extra wide angle lens and built in light and night mode ability. For me these are most important. 64GB is more than enough, but I have a 8gb backup chip in the camcorder. It was the most comfortable in my hand as well, and feels like a solid camera. Hope this review helps you out, as you will not be disappointed with the Sony CX550V if you have ~$1100 or so to spend.
Pros Good customer support from Sony, large screen, plenty of flash memory.
Cons Viewfinder could be a little larger and with rubber cups versus hard plastic, intellifocus and image stabilizer works but not suitable for action sports, video software is very limited in what it can do. Factory battery lasts less than an hour.
Summary I am very disappointed in this camera's ability to record action sports. Tried using both viewfinder and screen to track the action. Tried using all three image stabilzer settings, using monopod and tripod. The software is very limited in what it can do compared to off the shelf software video software. Contacted customer support and they were helpful but acknowledged software cannot do many things I was wanting to do with video clips.Just got done reviewing 16 hours of game footage to put together a collection of video clips for the team. Converted the AVCHD video clips to high quality DVD and I was surprised at the poor quality of the DVD when played on my 1080 HDTV. Called customer support and they acknowledged that the conversion process degrades the quality of the video and the larger the screen, the grainer the picture will be. Should have a bought a Canon.
Updated on Nov 9, 2010
Pros Wide lens. Touchscreen easy to use. Viewfinder nice to have. Image stabilization top notch. Compact size and weight.
Cons Lens cover mechanism. Image quality when played back on HDTV not as great as expected. Windcutter helped with wind noise reduction. Occasional infamous blue dot problem. Photos- eh. PMB software limitations. Could use lens hood accessory.
Pros Excellent automatic white balance - colour is actually better than real life when shooting under incandescent lights. The zoom microphone works well - no need for a shotgun mic to pickup speakers over 50' away.
Cons PBM software isn't great. It takes a long time to download the images to the computer - would have been better to have USB 3.0 connections. When shooting spinning objects, you have to remember to switch to manual focus mode.
Summary I have used camcorder for capturing demonstrations at woodturning symposiums, and with the extra capacity battery (that actually fits better than the supplied one) I was able to record over 8+ hours without changing battery or having to find a plug.
The video and audio quality was so good, that we were able to produce commercial DVDs. The remote works great when you can't get up on a crane to shoot down on a subject.