Sony HDR-CX700V Camcorder Review
Ease of Use
Ease of Use
The CX700V is equipped with Sony's iAuto system, which is the camcorder's dedicated auto mode. The system works adequately for recording video, but our issue with it is that the iAuto button is somewhat hard to find. There's no dedicated lever or switch on the camcorder itself. Instead, the iAuto button is on the lower right corner of the LCD. It is small, hard to press, and hard to find if you don't know what you are looking for.
Once you are in iAuto, the camcorder works well. The auto focus and auto exposure controls are effective, but we did notice a few problems with the camcorder's auto white balance. We like Sony's new menu system on the HDR-CX700V—it is easier to navigate than the odd swipe-touch menu on last year's HDR-CX550V—but the smaller LCD screen can make certain touch-buttons difficult to press. At first, we were also confused by the quick-jump icons on the menu system that act as anchor links to different areas of the menu. We weren't sure what these icons corresponded to, but it makes sense after you use the menu a dozen times or so.
One thing we like about the new menu system on the CX700V is the large icon layout of the initial menu screen. Here, menu options are divided into succinct categories: Shooting Mode, Camera/Mic, Image Quality/Size, Playback Function, Edit/Copy, and Setup. After selecting one of these options, you are taken to a longer list menu setup, but these lists are far shorter than the multitude of pages you got on the Sony CX550V. Only the menu options that pertain to the initial menu selection (Shooting Mode, Camera/Mic, etc.) will appear in these lists. This makes finding a specific option a far easier task, and that is always a good thing.
If you want to put the HDR-CX700V on cruise control, you can switch the camcorder over to its iAuto mode. With this setting, the camcorder relies entirely on auto controls, so you don't have to worry about adjusting anything manually. We love having this dedicated auto mode, but we wish Sony would make it easier to find. To turn it on, you must press a small icon in the lower right corner of the LCD. There's no dedicated button or switch on the body of the camcorder, and that may be the first place new users are going to look.
Some dedicated auto modes lock you out from accessing the menu when the auto mode is engaged, but Sony's way is different. You can still access the menu system when iAuto is turned on, but if you change certain things a menu will pop up and tell you that iAuto has been turned off. We're not sure if we like this better than being "locked-out" from a menu system, but we do like Sony's helpful pop-up messages that let you know what is going on. At least the camcorder doesn't leave you in the dark.
Auto controls can be broken down into a few main categories: autofocus, auto exposure, auto white balance, and additional auto features. Autofocus is arguably the most important of the three, and the Sony HDR-CX700V appeared to have a good system in place. Focus was fairly quick, with the only slow points being when we used a ton of zoom or quickly switched between close-ups and far-away shots. Auto exposure was also very fast, but this may perturb users who like a slower, more fluid exposure response. If you like your videos to be a bit brighter or darker on average, you can bump the auto exposure shift a notch or two. This feature is a great middle-ground between using auto controls and full-on manual adjustments.
Auto white balance was okay, but it certainly wasn't perfect. We noticed a few times where the camcorder had trouble calibrating the color temperatures when we switched lighting environments. Still, the camcorder had better auto white balance than we saw from the Panasonic HDC-TM900 (the Canon HF G10 handled auto white balance better).
The HDR-CX700V has a ton of additional auto controls, the coolest of which is the auto tracking feature. Tracking features that follow around your subject and provide proper exposure and focus are very common on new consumer camcorders, so it would be a disappointment if Sony did not include this feature. The system works well, although it will occasionally "lose track" of your subject if they leave the frame for too long. This happens on all camcorders with tracking features, though, so it isn't an issue that is only a problem with the CX700V. The camcorder also has a good selection of scene modes, a number of face detection features, and a spot meter/focus option that allows you to touch the portion of the screen you want to focus or expose correctly.