Pros: Lightweight, image stabilization, stereo mic, mic input
Cons: aliasing, mts format, bad software, proprietary formats, no Mac support
I bought this cam to record live shows as I play in several bands and in the promo video it showed it capturing wonderful band quality sound and picture. This as it seems happens only in commercials.
The main selling points of this model are the 1920 x 1080 Full HD 60p video recording, 3MP still images camera, wide angle G lens, 42x extended zoom, "Exmor R" CMOS sensor, Optical SteadyShot™ image stabilization, 3.0" touch screen.
The user interface is very easy to understand and navigate via the built-in 3" touch screen, which provides ample room for adjustments. The battery has a long charge. The cam comes with 16GB memory which can do up to 6 hrs of video at the HD LP mode.
I have to say that out of the cams I've worked with the sound is truly good, even with the built-in microphone and it has several levels so you can adjust it if the music is really loud. This cam also has input for external mic so you can attach a mic via 1/8 stereo jack and record in even better sound quality, depending on what you use.
The picture looked sharp on the screen and when projected via the analog RCA connection to a TV set, but when it got transferred to PC it had heavy digital aliasing and seemed to be refocusing every few seconds.
I tested it on several gigs and I applied the Intelligent auto (tm) mode, which was supposed to analyze the scene and pick the best option for capturing the recording.
On the first gig I was shooting a band by holding the cam in hand. I tried the high quality setting (one level below the highest setting available). I have to say the shock absorption and hand jitter correction was pretty good and better than on my older JVC cam. The shot was steadier than I've seen on other cams as well.
The band I was recording had a strobe light that generated lots of light changes and the CX160 didn't capture that well as it was always pixelated and the image broke down.
The venue was kind of dark so I attributed it more to the light conditions but I wasn't pleased with the outcome, especially considering that Sony touts its Exmor sensor as superior in low light conditions. The sound was quite good at the default setting for live club shows so I was at least partially happy.
For the other test I used my band's show. I brought my camera tripod and set it up next to the mixing board where the sound is great. This venue has lots of light so I expected better results than the previous show. I set it at the highest video setting as I wanted it to capture as much detail as possible. This video came out a bit better but still there were lots of digital artifacts on the screen. The sound was great on this video as there was no clipping, even considering the high sound levels.
What I mean by digital artifacts is the following - imagine capturing a performance, then someone moves suddenly and their image re-adjust, becomes pixelated then it gets sharp again. I could notice that as performer's silhouettes moved, audience members jumped in front of the band, the drummer was hitting the cymbals that were moving and changing lights from the overhead lighting system.
To be on the safe side I also created a video in different light conditions. I wanted to see how it will capture a picnic in the park and again, the aliasing reared its ugly head, although not as bad as in concert conditions.
By now, I was pretty sure that this cam wasn't so hot on image quality.
I tested the still camera as well and it takes decent pictures, so this can double as two in one, even though the camera is an afterthough. I liked the images that it captured - they were sharp and crisp but didn't get a chance to try it in dark conditions so I am not sure how it will fare.
I have a Mac that I do my editing with but Sony decided to exclude Mac owners from this, probably because they also make the VAIO PC so probably they figured that it would eat in their revenue stream. Some people have reported that it works with OS X 10.5 and up. I tried it on mine and it wouldn't run so the Mac was out.
So I was to edit on my Windows workstation, which is not a problem as I have a good spec Windows XP machine that is optimized for recording and video.
To transfer the files to PC the user has to run Sony's proprietary software, built into the camcorder drive itself. All that this does is copy the given files to PC, then you have to edit them with something else (i.e. buy or find freeware converter).
The mts files are not read by Windows Media Player or iTunes which are the two most popular programs out there. The only played I could find that can play them in their native format is the VLC media player.
Honestly, I am not sure if it was the proprietary mts video format which is a nightmare to work with or the conversion program that I used (FREE HD Converter) at its highest settings but there were lots of artifacts and the image looked cheap, definitely not worth the camera price.
I tried all kinds of settings on FREE HD Converter and the results were always subpar. I generated a DVD out of the .avi files that I converted from the cam at the highest settings and the artifacts were all there, worse than my aging JVC DV camera. I am not sure if the software is to blame or the camera but this showed up at the highest recording setting in the camcorder and in the converter software so I am guessing it was the camera. After a few days trying conversion qualities I didn't feel like tinkering with this further, as you feel that you've spent too much time for something that should've been much simpler, like it is on my JVC DV camera - you plug it in, select quality of transfer and the file is generated for you, readable in the format you choose. In the case of the JVC cam it takes to transfer as long as it takes for your camera to play the film. The mts format transfer is faster as it copies digital files already stored on your disc but the re-encoding process is a nightmare, especially on high settings as it could take from one to ten hours (depending on the PC specs) to encode an hour of video, something that a home user will find very annoying.
After reading more on the mts format I found out that it could be imported directly with the newest version of Vegas Video (by Sony) as well as Adobe Premiere but we're talking $600 and up for specialized software, or one of their lite version equivalents which are still not cheap.
The mts format also failed to be recognized by Roxio Media Creator 10, which also has camera editing and burning capabilities and so far has recognized my other cams.
After some more reading and friends' suggestions I am thinking of trying a Canon cam instead as supposedly their software is better as it records to .mov (quicktime) format which has been around for quite a while and I won't have to re-render to another format just so I can see my videos on the PC.
This camera had the possibility to become something special but by making it as close-system as possible Sony dropped the ball as far as I am concerned. According to a media professional that works in TV, all cams in this price range will have some kind of digital aliasing but they deal with it differently so it is more apparent in some and less in others. This one was glaring, and according to him as well it was quite annoying.
If you get this cam expect countless hours of re-converting your videos just so they can play on your PC, and then you might not even like what you see.
What would also happen in a few years when Sony decided not to support the cam software? You'd have to buy a new one. No, thank you - mine went back to the store for a full refund.