This, in a nutshell, is the Sony DCR-VX2100, a modest but likeable upgrade to the venerable VX2000. The VX2100 will do little to upset the balance of power in the prosumer camera realm; those already considering the VX2000 will find more to like, while those looking for high-definition or 24 or 30fps progressive scan modes will still have to look elsewhere for these capabilities.
That said, to a great degree, this positions the VX2100 squarely in the sweet spot of mainstream prosumer DV camcorder usage, and is the perfect vehicle to discuss two related issues. First, what features should a professional or corporate videographer demand in a DV camcorder?
Second, with street prices for the VX2100 ($2999 MSRP) already skirting the $2,000 price point at the time of this writing, when does it make sense for the well-heeled consumer to consider purchasing a camera like this for personal use? We'll start with a quick fly-by of the camera's new features; then we'll consider both issues. Note that Sony supplied a pre-production camcorder for our tests. While this felt fully functional and certainly performed exceptionally well in most regards, your mileage may vary.
The camera body itself is almost identical to the VX2000, but Sony changed the casing from a smooth silver to a slightly gritty dark grey exterior that's easier to grip and feels more secure. The new lens hood has internal doors that shut to protect the lens, a definite improvement over the large, dangling lens cover on the VX2000. By the way, the new lens hood is backwards-compatible to the VX2000, so if you're looking for a gift that a current VX2000 owner will love, this is definitely it.
Sony upgraded the 2.5" LCD to a hybrid LCD which is much easier to view in direct sunlight. The viewable area in the viewfinder has been increased from .22 to .28 inch, and the eyecup is now much larger. Shooters who prefer the viewfinder over the LCD for framing shots will find the new combination a definite improvement. In addition, if you like shooting from below the waist, you'll enjoy the new two-speed zoom controls and record button on the handle, with a convenient off switch to ensure you don't inadvertently brush against it.
Like the VX2000, the VX2100 includes three 1/3" CCDs, each with 340K effective pixels for video and stills. Attributing manufacturing efficiencies, Sony claims to have made the CCD more sensitive, and the VX2100 has a lux rating of 1 compared to 2 for the VX2000. Other quality-related features include a superior signal to noise ratio that reduces the noise level by 6 dB.
First and foremost, the VX2100 offers only 15fps progressive scan mode, inadequate for most uses, especially filmmaking. Also unchanged from the VX2000 is the 640x480 maximum still-image resolution, irrelevant given that no one buys this class of camcorder to capture still images.
In terms of perceived negatives compared to other camcorders like Canon's XL1S, the VX2100 still doesn't offer interchangeable lenses, and the VX2100's 12X zoom is still less than Canon's 16X.
We ran a complete battery of tests on the VX2100, comparing it to a Sony TRV 9, an older model representing the capabilities of lower-cost camcorders, and borrowed a VX2000 and several other still and video cameras as detailed below. Since we'll be using most of these tests going forward on additional cameras tested in 2004 and beyond, we'll explain them thoroughly here.
For the record, we performed all tests with the cameras in fully automatic mode, capturing with the video camera that shot it using Adobe Premiere Pro. We also extracted all comparative test frames in Premiere Pro.