Whether you are targeting the average consumer or the dedicated video hobbyist, rolling out a new camcorder is pretty difficult these days. With the sales of smartphones peaking, tons of people already have decent camcorders that are able to record full HD video. Professional photographers wielding the latest DSLR cameras have access to high-end recording features too. The few things that dedicated camcorders have left include the form-factor advantage and the good price to performance ratio. Sony continues to capitalize on this advantage by launching a wave of camcorders for 2014 with the Sony HDR-CX900 leading the charge. Priced above $1,200, the HDR-CX900 is clearly tailored for advanced users.
The Sony HDR-CX900 sports an all new design that has some elements of the CX series but is a departure from the older high-end HD-TD30V model. It weighs close to 2 pounds which may not make it so inviting for beginners but it holding it gives that sense of quality and stability. It just feels very solid on the hand making you feel ready to take some serious videos. You also get access to a ton of manual controls to make professional recording a lot more flexible. Starting from the lens, you have a focus ring which you can either use for zooming or adjusting the manual focus. There is a switch on the side that lets you pick the desired mode. Most users should set it to focus since it is also possible to adjust the zoom using the zoom rocker on the top of the camcorder. Other available physical controls include an ND filter switch, focus magnifier, autofocus mode and dedicated buttons for iris, shutter speed and gain.
If that isn’t enough, Sony is bringing the nice 3.5-inch touchscreen display from the HD-TD30V to the HDR-CX900. It is also an Xtra Fine LCD display with a 16:9 aspect ratio so viewing HD videos look great and the 921K dot resolution adds far more clarity than the cheaper camcorders with smaller displays. The large screen also helps when navigating through the touch menus and using certain features like the focus magnifier which helps you pinpoint the exact area you want to focus. If you need more precision when shooting video, you can also use the 0.39-inch OLED Tru-Finder EVF which feels like an optical viewfinder and has a pretty wide viewing angle.
The top also features a cover that reveals the Active Interface Shoe. This allows you to an additional Sony accessory such as the ECM-XYST1M stereo microphone or the HVL-LEIR1 Battery LED Video and Infrared Light. Unfortunately, you will have to purchase the Vello Hot Shoe Adapter if you wish to use non-Sony accessories with the Sony HDR-CX900. The HDR-CX900 comes with a lens hood and lens cap as well.
The Sony HDR-CX900 is the first Sony camcorder ever to use a 1-inch ExmorR CMOS sensor. Lately, Sony has been on a roll in incorporating very advanced sensors in cameras like the RX100 III and even Sony’s highly innovative QX1 smartphone accessory. Having a high-end sensor in the HDR-CX900 instantly makes this camcorder a serious upgrade over just about any camcorder released in the previous years. It certainly won’t replace the RX100 III in terms of image prowess but it can manage to take 20-megapixel photos and they look pretty good. Unlike the Sony HDR-TD30V, the Sony HDR-CX900 only has one sensor eliminating the possibility of recording 3D video. But a single superior sensor is better than two and 3D recording didn’t really take off. The refined Exmor R CMOS sensor also improves low-light sensitivity and can better reduce noise. The 12x optical zoom on the Carl Zeiss VarioSonnar T lens may sound unimpressive on paper compared to the entry-level Sony camcorders but the Clear Image Zoom doubles the maximum zoom to 24x. This new technology works far better than the older extended zoom when it comes to image detail. You also get a good sense of stability thanks to the Optical SteadyShot Image stabilization although it is better to get a tripod to do things like recording slow motion video since the extra weight makes it trickier to hold the camcorder steady. Slow motion video recording maxes out at 120 fps and it is made possible with the BIONZ X image processor. This processor also helps with the noise reduction.
The HDR-CX900 is also one of the first consumer camcorders to have support for Sony’s new XAVC S format. This is an MP4 format so the files are smaller than the AVCHD format but not as web-friendly as the standard MP4 format. This is a preferred format for those that are into post-production as you can apply all sorts of edits easily. It is also a good high-quality format to consider if you want to record footage for extended periods and you lack space since the Sony HDR-CX900 lacks its own internal storage. AVCHD remains available as the best format for viewing on a TV and you have the option to pick either format and have it simultaneously record in the web-friendly MP4 format.
Finally, the HDR-CX900 has built-in Wi-Fi to make it easy to upload videos to the Internet or sharing them to a smartphone. Pairing the smartphone is quite simple and can be virtually effortless if the device has NFC. After tapping the NFC-enabled smartphone to the NFC logo, the devices pair instantly and you can proceed to downloading the Android app so you can remotely control the camcorder as well. An app is available for iOS too.
The HDR-CX900 is a product made for the present and it gives professional cinematographers a great degree of flexibility whether they wish to make a short film or just share awesome videos on social media. This is the kind of flexibility you cannot achieve using a smartphone or DSLR. It isn’t as forward-thinking as Sony’s flagship FDR-AX100 which boasts 4K Ultra HD video recording at 30 fps but the Sony HDR-CX900 costs about $700 less. $700 can buy a few accessories including a very fast and spacious SDXC card and after that, the HDR-CX900 should handle your professional video recording needs well.