When digital camcorders first went on sale around a decade ago, they cost thousands. Amazingly, the first high-definition camcorder to arrive in the UK comes in at a similar price. Factor in inflation and Sony's HDR-FX1E seems cheap for such groundbreaking technology.
The FX1E is an incredible piece of kit. Lurking inside is the ability to capture video at nearly four times the resolution of standard DV.
This model supports HDV, the new cross-manufacturer standard which specifies a number of resolution options. Sony uses the top one: 1,080i. This records at 1,440x1,080 using 25 frames a second, made up of two interlaced fields per frame. In comparison, DV offers only 720x576.
But the FX1E doesn't just capture high definition. HDV uses MiniDV cassettes and FireWire to transfer to a PC so the Sony can record DV as well. It can transcode HDV to DV on the fly, so you can use DV-editing software to capture HDV footage, although you'll lose the high resolution in the process. You don't get any still image capture capabilities, but the target buyer is unlikely to care.
Befitting its 16:9 picture, the FX1E has a high-resolution 3.5in widescreen LCD panel. This is strangely placed on the carry handle. It's designed to make shooting from the hip easier and works very well in tandem with the second set of controls nearby.
There are lens rings for both focus and zoom, plus discrete switches for all other functions - iris and electronic video gain, shutter speed, and white balance. There are even two levels of neutral density filter. The end results are every bit as good as you'd hope. An HDTV is required to see the pictures - and these cost £1,500 plus. Editing the footage is also far from easy (see Video Advisor on page 152). But HDV is in a totally different league to DV.