The FX7E is about half a kilo lighter than its FX1E predecessor, but at around 1.5kg it's still much larger than a consumer camcorder. However, this is a very nice middle ground. If you're lugging the thing round all day you want it to be light as possible. But it's a proven fact that paying clients - and the people you interview - react better to a camcorder which ‘looks professional'. The FX7E still satisfies this need, but comes in much lighter than most camcorders in its class, except Sony's own HVR-A1E.
The FX7E has a full complement of manual controls. There are not one but two lens rings - one for focusing, and another for operating the capacious 20x optical zoom, which is a huge step up from the 12x provided by the FX1E. The FX7E isn't entirely brimming with buttons, though, unlike some professionally-oriented camcorders. For example, manual audio levels don't have their own dials as they do on high-end Canon camcorders. But there are still plenty of discrete controls.
On the camera body near the lens is a button and wheel combo for controlling iris, exposure, or AE shift - you have to choose which via the menu. In iris mode, you can select apertures from F/1.6 to F/11, and this can either function independently of shutter speed or in aperture priority mode, where the shutter speed adjusts automatically to compensate. Next to this control are three buttons, the function of which can be assigned via the menu. Another nearby switch can also engage two levels of Neutral Density filter, which reduce the amount of light passing through the lens - useful if you want to use a wider aperture in bright light for a narrower depth of field.
Three more assignable buttons can be found under the LCD panel on the side. Instead of the program auto-exposure modes familiar with consumer camcorders, the FX7E offers Picture Profiles, which are presets for colour level, colour phase, sharpness, skin tone detail, white balance shift and cinematone gamma. Four standard presets are included - portrait, cinema, sunset and monotone - and you can create two of your own. The button for the Picture Profiles is found underneath the LCD.
Finally, on the rear of the camera can be found a few more buttons for gain, white balance and shutter speed, plus a jog wheel which controls the settings of each when selected. The shutter speed can be varied from ¼ to 1/10,000, and gain up to +18dB in 3dB increments. A button for calling up the full menu can also be found on the rear. Although this is a well organised menu system, some cameramen might wish more of the menu options had been broken out onto discrete buttons - such as the manual audio level control we mentioned earlier.