If you are subscribed to a telecom, you probably won’t think about purchasing a digital camcorder or camera because the smartphones that come with a lot of packages are affordable and have pretty advanced cameras. These phones let you record in 1080p and some of the modern models support 60 fps too. But dedicated camcorders still excel in usability and have superior optics for zooming. The Sony HDR-CX230 is just one of the examples on how budget camcorders can trample the latest smartphones and point-and-shoot cameras at least in some key areas. Plus, the HDR-CX230 is only priced at $279 which is considerably cheaper than an unlocked midrange phone.
The cheapness of the Sony HDR-CX230 really shows on the design. It is black and basic but it at least feels light weighing just 6.4 ounces. The hand strap is pretty comfortable and adjustable as well. The cool thing about this strap is that it houses a small USB cable so you can plug the camcorder straight to a computer for transferring videos and pictures or you can charge the unit all without the need for carrying a separate USB cable.
The screen highlights the low-end aspect of this camcorder. It is quite small measuring 2.7 inches and it isn’t a touchscreen but the screen does have Sony’s Clear Photo tech so you can still see video previews clearly even if it is very sunny outside. That could be fine since physical controls are more responsive but the HDR-CX230 doesn’t really have much controls. On the right of the screen, all you have available is the playback button and joystick control. You can depress this joystick to use as an “OK” button. With no other physical buttons, you really have to use the onscreen interface navigating stuff and setting options like manual controls using the joystick. This clunky way of navigating might make you wish this camcorder had a touch-based interface. The lack of touch also removes the ability to focus on a subject by touching the subject’s face. On the positive side, the Sony HDR-CX230 still features the power zoom lever and dedicated photo button giving this model the edge it needs over smartphones.
The optical zoom is really good considering the price of this camcorder. It has a 27x optical zoom which may sound poor compared to some higher-end Sony camcorders but it still allows you to zoom in much closer to a subject. With smartphones, you have to settle with a digital zoom and take a huge quality hit in the process. There is also an extended 32x zoom so you can go close to 1000 mm the video quality still looks pretty good. At high zoom levels, it takes a little bit longer to autofocus and it takes more effort in keeping the footage steady so it is most ideal to have a tripod.
But when recording stuff at the wide angle (29.8 mm) you can very much record naturally and have stable video thanks to the SteadyShot optical stabilization system. Video quality is pretty good when shooting in 1080p and a 60p mode is available for very smooth home videos. It may not have any fancy processing features but it does have that Carl Zeiss lens and Exmor R CMOS sensor for better low light performance. For casual users, the overall video recording experience is decent and you shouldn’t have to tinker with manual settings. Just stick with the Intelligent Auto mode because it tries to recognize the scene you are trying to record and then the camcorder picks an appropriate setting and scene preset. Presets including modes like Portrait, Landscape, Spotlight, Twilight and several more. When considering all the parameters, you end up with 60 different scene combinations. Quality is at its highest when shooting AVCHD video but an MP4 option is available too if you plan on uploading the video to Facebook or wish to edit it in iMovie or other Mac software. You can also take quick 8.9-megapixel still photos any time you wish.
The HDR-CX230 has 8 GB worth of flash memory so you might want to maximize the capacity by going not going for the highest quality recording mode. Otherwise, you will full up the 8 GB completely after 45 consecutive minutes of 1080p footage. You can extend that to around 3 hours if you pick the HD LP mode. Fortunately, you can enjoy extended recording sessions by adding a Memory Stick Duo card or SD card. Even high-capacity 32 GB SDHC cards if you really want 5 times as much storage space.
Running out of space is always the frustrating part if you need to record quickly without deleting stuff but the Sony HDR-CX230 makes it easy to offload videos and photos to an external hard disk thanks to Direct Copy. All you have to do is connect your hard disk’s cable directly to the camcorder and transfer away. You do not need a PC to do this although that option remains available.
Editing videos is quite simple with the HDR-CX230 if you can handle the limited things you can do. The Highlight Playback feature lets the camcorder do the work by combining key scenes together and adding background music and transitions to create a trailer-like presentation. The ability to customize what specific scene to include is pretty cool.
Audio quality is passable and there is this nifty wind filter option which you should enable to get rid of some of the background noise. This feature surprisingly works pretty well and functions best when shooting at wide-angle. Zoom in and the filter becomes less effective although it could be nice if you really want the camcorder to pick up the sound effects from further away.
Without the manual controls and touchscreen interface, don’t expect to make some professional videos with the Sony HDR-CX230. But for vacationing or making home videos, the HDR-CX230 can give you a lot of bang for the buck and you can forget about taking videos with your smartphone unless you really need to upload them to Facebook or YouTube quickly (no Wi-Fi for the Sony HDR-CX230).