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Sony appears to be distancing its consumer and professional ranges more and more these days. Its sub-£1,000 models are losing features which might appeal to the semi-professional, allowing Canon to sneak in behind its back and produce the best HDV camcorder for serious enthusiasts on a tight budget - the HV20.
But Sony is still taking the slightly curious strategy of releasing two versions of its highest-end models - one for rich consumers, and one for true professionals. In the days of DV, the ‘prosumer' VX range had its professional PD counterparts, and when HDV arrived, the prosumer HDR-FX1E was rapidly mirrored by the fully professional HVR-Z1. Likewise, the pro-grade HVR-V1 has its cheaper HDR-FX7 doppelganger, and recently we've noticed the latter has become available from some vendors for as little as £1,500. But it's still around three times the price of the HV20. So what do you get for the extra money, and how does it compare to the HDR-FX1E, which was the first HDV camcorder to hit the market in the UK?
Traditionally, one of the main distinctions between consumer and professional camcorders was the number of sensor chips. The consumer models used just one CCD, where the professional models used three, one for each colour signal. The distinctions have been blurred since then, with professional models like the HVR-A1E using one chip and Panasonic's sub-£500 consumer models sporting three.
But three decently-sized sensors are still the hallmark of a quality camcorder, and Sony's HDR-FX7E is no exception. Except that the FX7E sports three CMOSes instead of CCDs. Each one is 1/4in with 1.1-megapixels, which are actually smaller than the trio of 1/3in CCDs in its FX1E predecessor. This, in theory, will mean inferior low-light performance. But CMOSes do have their advantages - lower power consumption, and true progressive scanning, where video CCDs provide an interlaced signal.
The FX7E still records to regular tape-based HDV, using the usual 1,440 x 1,080 resolution with interlaced fields. Whereas the professional HVR-V1E version of this camcorder can take advantage of the CMOS's progressive recording mode, this feature isn't available on the FX7E. But one of the biggest differences between the two models is the audio provision. The FX7E offers minijacks for microphone and headphone, plus a standard accessory shoe. But the HVR-V1E provides XLR inputs, which are a must for connecting up professional audio gear (see our tutorial on video sound).