It’s been over three years now since I upgraded my video camera to a CX 350 handycam. Read all about it here. I was very happy with the picture quality on the CX but for me as a one-man documentary producer there was one key feature lacking. The ability to monitor the audio, which the CX didn’t do.
So, over the last three months I’ve been looking around on the internet, mostly in the semi-professional area. I had already decided to stick with Sony because I’m familiar with their system, their cameras have a very effective range of automatic functions, and their colour quality is great.
The unit that caught my eye was the HXR NX30P. Aside from a built-in external stereo microphone, 3.5mm plug-in jacks for an external powered microphone and headphones, this beast comes with a two-socket XLR adapter with a manual control panel. And to top it all off an ECM – XM 1 shotgun microphone comes supplied. That pretty well covers the audio!
Most camera functions are controlled via a 7.5 cm LCD touchscreen. A Display button on the side of the camera toggles between three levels of screen indicators in recording mode and two in play mode. From screen full of information to zip. I found this very useful to check settings and then clear the screen for recording.
The main menu offers six categories. In Shooting Mode I choose between movies, photos, slow motion and Golf Shot. This last setting captures two seconds of real-time movement which it then divides up into frames. As the name implies it could be very useful for checking my golf swing or for any movement I need to analyse in detail.
Camera/Audio presents me with a wide variety of manual settings. These include the usual (white balance, focus, shutter speed etc.), Scene Selection where I choose a setting according to light conditions, and an interesting Cinematone function which warms up the colours to give a film look. I’ve had a quick play with this and I think it is something I might be using quite a bit. The only downside is that I have to adjust all other settings manually. But that’s not a bad thing – it might force me out of my lazy automatic habits!
In Rec/Media SET I select video and photo size and quality settings, and format the incredibly generous 96 gig internal flash memory or a memory card up to 64GB (not supplied).
The TC/UB mode is all about timecode settings. In Edit/Copy mode I delete recorded items, protect them to avoid accidental deletion, or copy them from the internal memory to the card or to an external USB storage device.
Set Up mode covers housekeeping type items such as display output, HDMI resolution, USB connection status, LCD brightness, GPS setting and battery information.
Expect to spend the best part of a day getting to know what’s on the Menu. Now for the camera itself.
A combined flash/video light is mounted above the lens and activated by a button on the side of the camera. I took some footage in a darkened room and the results were outstanding. Next to the Light button is a Nightshot button which activates the infrared port so I can shoot in total darkness. Once again excellent results.
Playback mode is accessed via an icon when the camera is in standby mode. All my movies and photos are presented as events on a scrolling timeline. Simply click to view.
I’m pretty impressed so far, but now it gets even better. The HXR NX30P has a projector built into the exterior of the LCD screen. Find a flat surface without too much illumination, turn on the projector, adjust the focus with a small slider on top of the LCD screen, back the camera away from the projection surface and there I have a nice clear image/movie up to 8 feet (250 cm) in diameter! Dismissed by some commentators as a cheap gimmick, I have already found it to be a really useful feature for previewing footage. I get a much better idea of what I’ve shot compared to viewing on the LCD screen, especially if there are other people who need to see or I’m out on location.
Back in the studio I use the supplied HDMI cable to preview on a high-definition TV. This works really well.
Sony’s proprietary SteadyShot technology does a great job of eliminating camera shake when I’m off the tripod. It even keeps the image stable while I’m zooming, which is something I’ve always had a problem with.
I shot some footage using the built-in external stereo microphone. Excellent quality with little camera noise. Apart from toggling between normal/low settings this audio uses automatic gain control, as does any microphone plugged into the jack input.
The supplied ECM – XM 1 shotgun mic is very easy to set up as is the XLR adapter which it plugs into. Mono only but very clear sound indeed. Much more control of the audio levels here through the compact panel on the adapter. Each channel can be set to automatic or manual. In manual mode I can control the level with a calibrated dial. I have a choice of line, microphone (battery-powered) or microphone (phantom powered). I also have a choice of input level; 0 dB, 10 dB or 20 dB. The HXR NX30P takes sound very seriously!
One small niggle. When I first got the unit to review I found I was unable to close the menu window. No matter how hard I pressed on the close icon nothing happened. I worked around it by closing the LCD screen each time. However, when I RTFM’d in detail I noticed a calibration feature to use when the buttons on the touch panel don’t respond properly. I quickly followed the instructions and all returned to normal. Most pleasing.
The HXR NX30P is very light and compact even when the XLR adapter and microphone are attached. The footage I shot under a variety of conditions using automatic settings exceeded my expectations. Vibrant colours, crisp definition and strong clear audio. The wide range of audio options, the inbuilt projector and light, the night shot function and the 96GB of internal flash memory are the cream on the cake. This is a really good camera which ticks all my boxes and then some. There are a wide range of other features not covered in this review which I shall explore in time but it already does what I need straight out of the box.
Now, where can I get a good deal?
PS. I’ve got some external mics coming from RØDE shortly and I’ll be reporting how they work with my shiny new HXR NX30P.