Like all of its competitors, Sony has driven its flash and hard-disk high-definition camcorder development in two directions: one road leads to compact and less powerful models, and the other to larger but better-equipped products. At around £400, the Handycam HDR-CX100 is the first of Sony's AVCHD models to head down the budget path. The inevitable question is: how much of a sacrifice in video quality and usability are you willing to make for size and price?
Measuring 58 by 61 by 114mm and weighing 332g with battery and Memory Stick Duo, the CX100 certainly qualifies as compact for its class. Although it's no , it fits quite comfortably in a jacket pocket, and it has many things those models lack, including a 10x zoom lens and the ability to capture 2-megapixel -- or 4-megapixel interpolated -- stills.
We like the look of the CX100. Although it's rather boxy, it has clean lines, and the combination of its heavy weight plus textured matte and glossy plastics keeps it from seeming cheap. It comes in , and .
While it's pretty enough to look at, the CX100 is slightly uncomfortable to shoot with. Unlike its older, more expensive sibling, the , the top is relatively flat, which makes it difficult to grip while managing the zoom switch and photo buttons -- you have to really squeeze with your back fingers to keep the camcorder from moving. Shooting stills required two hands: one to hold the camcorder and the other to press the shutter. The 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD is small, which is understandable, given the unit's size, but it's hard to view in direct sunlight and through all the fingerprints that the touchscreen accumulates.
The CX100 has the usual set of buttons. The direct DVD burn (via software when connected to a PC), playback, power, display info and full-auto 'easy' buttons are on the body inside the LCD, while the 'home', zoom and record buttons are on the LCD bezel. The buttons are very flat, but good enough. Beneath doors in the same location you'll find the Memory Stick Duo slot -- any Memory Stick Pro Duo or better works fine -- and USB and mini-HDMI connectors. The charging connector and proprietary AV jack are under a door on the outside of the body. To the right side of the lens is a switch for the built-in lens cover.
The menu system can be quite frustrating. Although the touchscreen is, for the most part, sufficiently responsive, the menus are structured in such a way that it's almost impossible to remember where to find some of the settings. For example, while you select movie settings in one spot on the 'home' menu, and standard or high definition elsewhere in the same menu, you select movie quality in the options menu.
At the highest quality, the 16Mbps mode, you can record almost 7 minutes of video per gigabyte of storage. That's about 55 minutes in the 8GB of internal memory. If you drop to the 9Mbps mode, that increases to about 10 minutes per gigabyte.