Entry-level high-def camcorders don’t get much better than Sony’s HDR-CX130. While it's light on bells and whistles, the lens and sensor alone are worth the price tag. This camcorder delivers some stunning, stable shots throughout a wide zoom range and in all kinds of lighting.
The footage the CX130 delivered was thoroughly impressive. We've reviewed several camcorders at this price point and none have shot videos that look this good. The backlit Exmor R sensor is designed to optimize light-gathering space in a compact camera body and it shows.
In bright light, details were clear, colors were vivid and contrast was sharp. Highlights in the afternoon sun became somewhat hazy, but the CX130 still whitewashed colors less often than other HD camcorders. In dim and low light, the CX130 captured vibrant color and sharp detail with very little grain, although it had a noticeably harder time auto-focusing when zoomed.
This nimble performance comes courtesy of the Exmor sensor and the wide Sony G lens, as well as the CX130’s quick-thinking intelligent auto mode. The intelligent auto transitioned smoothly between different levels of light, switched easily from wide to macro focus, and managed to generate a good-looking, shallow depth of field in certain conditions. There are few affordable camcorders out there that can make that claim.
The CX130 sports a 30x optical zoom range, expandable to a software-assisted 42x with essentially unnoticeable image degradation. This should be ample for just about every situation, but digital zoom does reach to 350x (with severe image degradation, of course).
The zoom motor is smooth (if a bit slow) and the controls are responsive. The highlight here is that even at the 30x (or 42x) end of the zoom range, images stay smooth and stable -- Sony’s active optical image stabilizer is impressive. Throughout zooms, pans, walking shots and quick action, there were essentially no shakes, shivers, or bends in the video. Everyone can appreciate being able to shoot steadily without having to set the camera down on a table or use a tripod.
The CX130 actually looks and feels like a $400 camcorder. While many plastic-bodied cameras look and feel like toys, Sony has incorporated different finishes and materials to produce a well-balanced, professional looking machine. Most of the hinges, doors, and buttons feel tight and solid and the body doesn’t feel flex-y or cheap. Physical buttons are laid out well and limited to a power button, record button, zoom tilter, still-photo shutter, still/video toggle, and record/review toggle. This un-cluttered interface makes basic operation simple for just about anyone, so the whole family can enjoy shooting.
More advanced controls, along with duplicates of the physical controls, are located in the touchscreen interface. This display is large, bright and responsive, and menus are fairly simple to navigate and understand. The CX130 supports touch-to-focus, as any camera with a touchscreen should.
Unfortunately, scrolling through menus requires pressing small “buttons” on the screen instead of a finger drag or swipe, so navigating the advanced settings menus is not inviting. It's a good thing Auto mode is so effective.
The built-in USB cable makes charging the CX130 extremely convenient. The short cable stores neatly in the hand strap yet offers enough length and flexibility to easily connect the camcorder to a laptop for charging. A USB extension cable is included for desktop computers. Also, the CX130 uses a pro-style rear mounting battery, so if you have two batteries charged, swapping is quick and easy so you won’t have to miss any action.
The Not As Good
The CX130 is more of a Porsche than a Mercedes: It packs a lot of power, but there aren’t any cup holders. While the image quality is pretty much the best you’ll find for the price, the CX130’s sparse feature set may disappoint some buyers. When it comes to “looks” or “filters” there simply aren’t any. There’s no black and white, no sepia, and certainly no “Animated Stamps.” There’s a “Smooth Slow” mode that shoots at a very high frame-rate and produces some pretty nice slow-mo shots. There’s a “Golf Shot” that produces up to 22 still images from a short video clip to help analyze the sequence of fast action. The intelligent auto can switch to specific scene modes like Beach or Fireworks, but while all of these features are useful and effective, they are not a ton of fun. So if you’re looking for a camera your kids will want to play with, or one that has pre-packaged film looks a button away, this is probably not the camcorder for you.
There is also one useful feature that Sony isn’t ready to give you at the CX130’s price: built-in memory. It only records to SD/SDHC/SDXC cards and Sony Memory Sticks, though the CX160 packs 8GB of flash memory for a few extra dollars, and the XR160 comes with a spacious (though bulky) 160GB hard drive. Both are otherwise identical.
Though the USB cable is built in, kind of like a pocket cam, uploading and sharing are not as easy as they are with shoot-and-share models. The CX130 works with bundled Windows-only software, or iMovie for Mac users.
Sony’s CX130 is a high-performance machine, with a few effective features, at a very affordable price. If video quality is your main concern, this camcorder will give you well more than your money’s worth. However, if you want all the bells and whistles, you’ve still got some shopping to do. All in all, the only thing “entry-level” about this camcorder is its price tag.