During CES 2014, 4K resolution was once again one of the main focuses. Just about every major TV manufacturer introduced a new 4K display and a couple of them are even reasonably priced. If that isn’t convincing enough, Netflix and Amazon recently announced 4K content and a few other companies including Sony introduced some new camcorders that can record in 4K. As some of the insiders predict, 2014 might very well be the year 4K takes off but will the average consumer care? Probably not. There is no getting around how big 4K videos will be and most people buying these camcorders probably don’t have a 4K display. So it is natural for older camcorders like the Sony HDR-CX380 to still be up for consideration.
In terms of looks, the HDR-CX380 is beginning to show its age but in the world of camcorders, a fancy design isn’t really a huge deal. What matters more is comfort and the Sony HDR-CX380has a pretty comfortable hand strap. Sony camcorders including the Sony HDR-CX380 are known for their built-in USB cables which is nice because you can travel with the camcorder without worrying about bringing a separate USB cable for data transferring. The surface of this camcorder is glossy to the touch so you will find yourself wiping those fingerprints away but at least the camcorder has a premium look.
One of the most common attributes of a basic camcorder is the barebones screen and it looks like the trend isn’t changing anytime soon because the 230k-dot resolution is quite fine for the HDR-CX380’s 3-inch LCD display. The nice thing about this display is that it uses a Clear Photo Plus LCD panel. All of Sony’s modern camcorders have this type of display and they manage to show off clear previews even under bright sunlight. This display also serves as a resistive touchscreen so it does eliminate the need for buttons but don’t expect the quick responsiveness that you normally get from a modern smartphone. Opening this LCD display reveals the power and playback buttons along with an input where you can plug in an external microphone or charge the camcorder using the included charger. It also has an HDMI mini input where you need a mini HDMI to HDMI cable if you want to hook up the camcorder to the TV. Fortunately, Sony supplies this cable right out of the box.
The Sony HDR-CX380 is considered a midrange model but don’t let that fool you because this camcorder has the ability to record not only in Full HD but also at 60 frames per second. A few years back, this was the kind of specification you would expect in a high-end model. This is an ideal setting to use if you want to just have fun and record videos in the standard non-cinematic style. It is also capable of capturing 8.9-megapixel still images eliminating the need for taking out a separate camera to snap photos. HD quality is obviously the best recording setting to use if you want those crisp HD shots. Switching to the MP4 setting will also get you pretty good shots but MP4 videos are easier to share thanks to compression and it has better support for Mac users if you wish to do some post-production.
Like previous models, the Sony HDR-CX380 features 55x Extended Zoom which allows you to get so close to the action from afar. It is best to stop at 30x or less to maintain the high quality although going all the way to 55x (Extended Zoom) keeps the HD video quality pretty good too. The HDR-CX380 is adept in recording great landscape videos too because the camcorder’s Wide Angle G lens can go as wide as a 26.8mm equivalent focal length.
While holding the Sony HDR-CX380 is considerably easier than holding a smartphone or point-and-shoot camera, keeping the camcorder very still while recording without a tripod can prove to be quite difficult for certain people. Fortunately, Sony continues to add the Optical SteadyShot image stabilization technology to many of their products including the HDR-CX380. As you try even just little a bit to keep your hands steady, you should be able to capture very smooth video because the technology uses 3-way shake cancelling to smoothen out those unwanted instances of your hands shaking. Zooming the camcorder completely in can make these shakes more defined but Optical SteadyShot can tackle those issues too so you should be able to shoot video a bit better even when working with telephoto lengths.
Another nice strength of this camera is in the low light performance. This is all because of the back-illuminated Exmor CMOS sensor and it helps the camcorder handle darker environments a bit better than other similarly-priced midrange camcorders. Of course, having more lighting, especially when recording suspects is ideal as it allows the Face Detection technology to go to work. Activating it is simple since this camcorder has a touchscreen so all you have to do is touch the person’s face you want to lock focus on. Once locked, the face will stay focused even if the subject leaves and returns to the viewing area.
The Sony HDR-CX380 features 16 GB of internal memory which is pretty spacious if you will stick to recording MP4 formats. Otherwise, you might want to add a Memory Stick PRO Duo or any SD card to expand the storage space. Battery life is pretty good although you might run out of battery before you run out of memory if you plan to use those high-capacity memory cards. Fortunately you can still use the HDR-CX380 while it is charging.
The Sony HDR-CX380 is proof that 1080p is still a beautiful resolution to see especially on a large TV screen. It has a minimal set of manual controls and doesn’t come with the projector either. This is why the HDR-CX380 can cost as low as $550 and you might even find it for cheaper if you look at other online places because Sony now considers this camcorder as a discontinued model.
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