The Sony Handycam HDR-CX110 and XR150 are Sony's budget HD duo. They differ only in storage media — the CX110 has no built-in memory, while the XR150 incorporates a 120GB hard disk and is therefore necessarily larger. They are both part of the first generation of Sony camcorders to almost universally support SD cards.
The CX110 fits quite comfortably in a jacket pocket. Though more expensive and larger than a Flip-style camcorder, the CX has a lot of things those cameras lack, including a 25x zoom lens and the ability to capture 3-megapixel stills. The flash memory-only CX110 is far more attractive than the XR150 with its odd upward projection on the right side. Although if you have big hands, that extra bit should make it easier to grip than its smaller, rather slippery sibling.
Like many ultracompact models, the CX110 really does seem optimised for shooting below eye level or at least holding the camcorder as if you are; the traditional grip simply isn't comfortable. It is improved over the CX100 it replaces, though, with a more rounded top.
The CX110's flip-out LCD screen is small, which is understandable given the unit's size, but it's hard to view in direct sunlight and through all those fingerprints the touchscreen accumulates. You'll find the usual set of buttons: direct DVD burn (via software when connected to a PC), playback, power and intelligent aAuto on the body inside the LCD.
Instead of physical buttons from the bezel, they use virtual zoom and record buttons on the touchscreen. While we don't mind that for record, which is a touch-and-release operation, we don't like using the touchscreen for zooming, where you have to hold it down. There are also the usual touchscreen enabled niceties, such as spot metering and spot focus.
Beneath a door you'll find the USB and mini-HDMI connectors; the charging connector and proprietary AV jack are under a door on the outside of the body. To the right side of the lens is a switch for the built-in lens cover. The SD/Memory Stick Duo slot sits in a door right next to the tripod mount, so if you'll be doing a lot of tripod shooting you may want to consider the hard-disk-based XR150.
The zoom control feels very well-balanced, neither too loose nor too tight, and it's very easy to maintain a slow, steady rate. As usual, a stereo mic sits in the front of the camcorder under the lens.
In the menu system, you can put six menu choices on a custom menu that pops up before you enter the full menu listing, with different custom menus appearing for video, still and playback modes. We still find the straightforward but endless scrolling list confusing and tedious to navigate.
This year's models have the same basic feature set as last year's CX100. With the exception of the face detection, Smile Shutter and scene modes, the camcorder has no bells or whistles to speak of. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it could use a wind filter.
Like more and more of the Handycam line, it forgoes 5.1-channel surround in favour of a more typical stereo microphone — no great loss there. Smooth Slow Record is a low-resolution, fast frame-rate buffered recording mode that is good for analyzing golf swings and the like, but because of the long time it takes to save the buffered video, it's not very good for ad-hoc slo-mo shooting.
At its highest quality, the 24Mbps mode, you can record about 5 minutes of video per gigabyte of storage. At the 17Mbps mode, that increases to just under 6 minutes per gigabyte. Sony warns you that you won't be able to record AVCHD discs of the 24Mbps video — Blu-ray discs are okay and the 17Mbps 1920x1080 should be playable on most systems, it's only the higher bitrate stream that may hang you up. We still can't imagine what possessed the company to default to the fake HD 1440x1080 9Mbps video quality mode.
It doesn't really matter why, though; all that matters is that if you don't change to a higher quality setting, you'll find yourself wondering why you paid HD prices for only slightly better than standard-definition quality. Regardless of output device, PC or TV, the video is soft with various edge artefacts — sometimes glowing, sometimes smeary.
It's a bit sharper and better defined, though the edge artefacts remain, when you bump up to the higher resolution and better bit rates. The colour rendering and exposures are pretty good, though. And while low-light video isn't great — it looks relatively noisy, soft and smeary — it's pretty typical for its class.
The image stabilization works fine in tandem with the long lens.
It's hard to get excited about these models, they're pretty competitive in their price class from a feature standpoint, especially since Canon's Vixia HF R series interpolates up to 1080i rather than capturing it natively.
If you're flipping and flopping between the flash memory-only CX110 and the hard drive XR150, remember that unless you're planning on shooting day-long videos that require a hard disk's worth of capacity, you shouldn't be choosing a model with the intention of leaving all your videos on the camcorder. Like forced savings, smaller capacity removable media keeps you from getting into trouble.