Most helpful positive review
266 of 273 people found the following review helpful
Excellent product for the right user
on 14 April 2013
The Sony HDR-CX280e camcorder turned out to be just the right camera for me. Being much more from the still DSLR digital camera background as a former professional and now enthusiast photographer, I would not pretend to be a great videographer and could honestly admit to only using a real video camera half a dozen times or so in my whole life hitherto. The arrival of baby Thomas changed all that. I did take some very good videos with my Canon DSLR but I needed something altogether more compact and dedicated to the task.
The little Sony is very light and ideal for travel. It really is palm-sized and simplicity itself to use. There are very few hard controls, most of the set up and management is software driven via the menu on the flip-out LCD screen. Opening the screen turns on the camera, which immediately gives you a Live View and then there is as just a zoom toggle switch, a still frame capture button and a record stop / start button in terms of finger controls. In that sense the camera can be used straight from the box (aside from inserting a SD memory card - not supplied, of course) though when you start for the very first time, you need to go through the typical language and region and date / time set up screens. There is also a `pull out' USB 2 connector lead next to the grip which can be plugged into your computer to transfer across files and also as a back-up charger (the battery is charged on-camera - see below). Other than that, there is just a connector slot for the battery charger and one for a mini USB multi-connector, both covered by a single, shared fiddly plastic cover. Underneath the screen there is a separate socket for a mini HDMI connector. The only other control of any description is the slide switch which opens and closes the iris shutter to protect the lens - no small lens cap to lose, thankfully. The lens is Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar and optical quality seems to be as you would expect of this quality marque. Build quality is good - good enough for everyday use - though I wouldn't go mountaineering or white water rafting with it!
In terms of features and functionality the camera is pretty much idiot-proof but for the intended market it offers excellent bangs-for-bucks and must be very good value in the grand scheme of things. There is a 50x extended digital zoom (I shut this off and relied on the built in optical zoom and stabilisation), a stereo microphone that works well enough and doesn't pic up any system sound - the camcorder is completely silent in operation, a standard ¼" female tripod bush on the base and the usual wrap-around leatherette palm grip. File (quality) selection gives the option of AVC HD FX file format, with FH, HQ and LP versions giving progressively longer record times but poorer quality. MPEG4 format (non-HD) can also be used for recording. There are a good range of features buried in the menu, like HT TV set up for playback (e.g. 4:3 or 16:9, etc), editing and highlight functions. Manual override is available for things like exposure, low lux, white balance, etc but I left these alone, as I am sure most users will.
Using the camera is a breeze. There is face recognition functionality that focusses on faces automatically and generally the optical and autofocus system is very good. The optical stabilisation works very well and resulting playback quality is excellent, viewed either on the built in LCD screen or when connected to a full-sized TV. My friend who works in media says the files are near-broadcast quality - though I am sure the functionality of the camera would be laughable for a professional, it certainly provides good-enough quality for me. Low light images are commendable noise-free.
As other reviewers have commented, the battery supplied is a stingy 500mAh one, giving barely an hour's recording on HD, so my first task was to buy a spare battery. A genuine Sony 980mAh higher capacity one was less than £20, so a good investment. This gives about 2.5 to 3 hours of use. There are also several others available with even higher capacity but the penalty is a more bulbous lump sticking out of the back of the camera, I guess. Batteries are charged on-camera using the USB connector (slower) or the dedicated supplied Sony charger (faster). I find charging on-camera a faff, so my second purchase was an after-market travel charger that allows the spare battery to be charged off-camera. My third purchase was the bespoke Sony camcorder case.
You'll need to buy an SD card for recording images - or poach one from one of your other devices. There are three main things to consider. Firstly, the brand. I would advise keeping to SanDisk, Lexar or similar. Mainstream manufacturers make the best quality cards that are least likely to get corrupted. There are also a lot of forgeries online, so beware. Buy direct from Amazon or one of the reputable Marketplace retailers (etc). Secondly, you need to consider the card capacity. Most SD cards these days are of the SD HC (high capacity type) and given their relative cheapness, buy at least 16GB - this size gives about 1.5 hours of recording at highest quality on the Sony. Lastly, you need to consider the write-speed. Don't look at confusing terms like 144x (etc) - look for absolute write speed, like `30mbs' of '45 mbs' (mega-bytes per second). 30mbs should be enough but 45mbs is better given the Sony's HD file size output. Avoid cheap card bargains or slower versions of the mainstream manufacturers' cards, as they often have a slow write speed and are not suitable for video recording. There'll be a bottleneck in recording and you may get drop-outs as the camera cannot write to the card quick enough. I didn't have this problem with a SanDisk 45mbs card Extreme 3 version, which can be bought for a very good price online. Finally, remember that the cards should be used for temporary storage only - back up every day - don't leave the SD card as the sole repository for your work or you'll regret it. I used an external card reader rather than connecting the camera to the computer.
The instruction manual is quite poor. The written English is fine but there is very little in the way of in-depth information - it doesn't tell you much that can't be worked out from the onscreen menu. I would have preferred some more technical discussion of file types and pros and cons but I guess Sony don't think this is important for the intended user.
Software. There is no CD supplied with the device, you need to go online and download Sony Play Memories software. I also got a PDF version of the instruction manual. The software is really for the `home user' and I found it frustratingly simplistic. I used Adobe Photoshop Elements and found this much more useful and I was able to splice together and edit videos easily and output in many file formats.
In conclusion, the HDR-CX280e (the `e' denotes external storage - i.e. the SD card rather than internal memory storage) is a fine piece of engineering and I would recommend it strongly for non-professional use or for a first foray into videography.