Thursday, April 26, 2012

Product Review: The Sony HDR-CX160 Handycam

The very compact Sony HDR-CX160
Hunting and fishing video is big right now, and I've been in the market for some time for a good, compact camera for filming my adventures.  Anyone that knows me knows that I can be fairly indecisive when it comes to spending money.  Needless to say I spent nearly 6 months doing research on the web, asking friends, and looking for deals.  Now, I would like to go top-of-the-line, but who am I kidding?  The life of a firefighter doesn't exactly pay the big bucks!  Ideally if I could I would be looking for the sweet cameras in the 1,000 to 1,500 dollar range, but that's not reality for me.  I told myself that about 400 dollars was my limit, with hopes I could find a much better deal.

So, what do I know about video cameras?  Well, that's just it, I've never been known to be much of a "tech specialist" so I really had no idea what I was looking for.  Simply put, I know I want a really good zoom, a good amount of memory, something compact and easy to use, and a very durable product.  I think that I found just that. 

I bought the Sony HDR-CX160 about 3 months ago, and so far I have been very impressed.  Now let me break it down for you, based on the criteria above that I was looking for:

Zoom:  Here's the technical specs of the zoom: 42x extended zoom, with a 30x optical zoom.  What does that mean?  Well, I could explain, but why don't you check out this article for yourself on just what optical and digital zoom are: http://cameras.about.com/od/buyingguide/a/zoom_lenses_und.htm
The short story?  This camera has some of the highest zoom ratings in it's class/price range.  What about in the field?  How about bringing a very small deer shed into focus, sticking up out of the brush at 300 yards?  I was very impressed!  I don't think I will have any trouble reaching out to game animals at that distance, and I feel like it will pull them in very nicely at 500-600 yards.  Now, I don't think you are going to get this camera to give you a lot of detail of a trophy's rack at that distance, but to get a decent shot, and for some great footage of a kill shot, I think you have a great camera here.  If you want a great closeup at 500+ yards, you had better plan on spending another 1,000 dollars!

Here's a couple of still photos I shot today with the camcorder.  Rattlesnake point (center of the photo, on the small hill just in front of the bigger mountain) is 3/4 of a mile from my house.  This was taken from my driveway, only using the camera's zoom!  Imagine if you coupled it with a spotting scope!
Check out the point in the center of the picture, on the hill in front of the mountain...

The point is 3/4 of a mile from my house (google earth) and this is a shot at not quite full zoom.

Memory:  OK, this is where you are going to find the CX-160 falling a little short of other cameras.  You are only going to get 16GB of memory, while other cameras of the same price may have double that, or more.  So you are most definitely going to need a SD card to boost your memory if you are planning a long weekend of shooting.  Don't let this get you down!  After talking with a camera specialist, this is not a bad thing at all for outdoor applications.  Less memory equals less moving parts, giving you a smaller camera, and giving you that durability you are looking for.  If you bump this camera hard, or maybe even drop it, you stand less of a chance of breaking something internally that will result in an expensive repair. 

Compact:  This camera is tiny!  It fits very easily in one hand, and the adjustable hand strap is comfortable and secures the camera to my hand very well.  The controls are in convenient locations for single hand operation.  I can fit this camera in some of the smallest compartments in my hunting packs.

Features:  This camera is loaded with features, and is very easy to use.  First of all, this camera does shoot full HD video, and I am very impressed with the quality of the shot, and the sound.  The battery life of this camera has also been a big plus to it's quality, as we head camping for a weekend and have no way to charge it up if it dies.  It comes equipped with a still photo mode in addition to the video capabilities.  Flip open the LCD screen and the camera powers itself to life automatically.  Once powered up, you will find a very convenient touch screen menu on the screen.  It also comes with a short USB cable built in that tucks away nicely in a small pocket on the hand strap.  An additional port for USB, an external microphone, DC power (for charging or extended shooting ability) and audio/video leads (the cables come with the camera) are also great features for playing back your video with ease on a TV or computer screen.

Here's a little bit of video we shot over the weekend:

video 

This compact video camera shoots stunningly clear video in low light situations.  Now, the best feature I have found on this camera is how steady it shoots while you are walking.  This is another feature of fewer moving parts.  I'm far from a great camera man, and I can't begin to tell you how easy this camera is to operate, and shoot smooth video with this steady shot feature.  The only blurred or unsteady shots I have had were due to my "operator error" of running the zoom in or out too fast, but I'm getting better with it.

Now, what are the damages to the wallet?  Well, a quick check of bestbuy shows a price of $449.00.  Yeah, a little higher than what I was looking for.  Well, I did get this camera from BestBuy, but I did not pay that much.  How about $349.00?  That's what I payed, base price (plus insurance and a camera case).  Check out the Sony store for this same deal right now www.store.sony.com.  I imagine if you keep your eyes open, you may see this deal at BestBuy again, or at other camera stores.

I haven't had the opportunity to record the perfect scene while hunting yet, but I look forward to it.  You may notice a few short video clips on a couple of my latest blog posts that were filmed with this camera: http://www.suhuntandfish.com/2012/04/piute-reservoir-gill-net-and-of-course.html 
and:
http://www.suhuntandfish.com/2012/04/good-weather-good-times-lower-bowns.html

I can't wait to couple this camera up with a Tines Up camera adapter!  I think some great video is to come this summer!  http://www.tinesup.com/scope_cam.html

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