Sony PXW-X180 Camcorder Review

Recently, I had the opportunity to test-run Sony’s x180 Pro Camcorder, during a recording session with singer Anthony Hamilton. I work with Anthony on a regular basis, capturing photos and video content - normally, with a DSLR or a mirrorless compact. That’s mainly because it’s a lot of run & gun work.

This was my first attempt at documenting his journey, the exact same workflow that I normally would, but with a much bigger camera. I felt like this camera offered the right features for a documentary project. It gave me the “all around camera” feel, but came equipped with features that are probably found on more expensive cameras, normally. That was a plus to me right away.

HANDLING

Recently, I somewhat abandoned my heavy DSLR, and adopted a compact mirrorless, for video coverage. It has been an extreme lifesaver, and I can pack light. Of course, for this documentary project, I would not use the mirrorless because the image quality isn’t quite there, compared to a pro-level video camera. Handling the x180 only had a slight learning/comfort curve. 
The majority of the time, I carried it by the handle on top. Even when I used the shoulder-mount approach, I still held onto the handle on top. That was because the strap where you place your hand, on the right side, to control the zoom and record, was awkward for me. My hands are kinda big, so I struggled to actually press the record button when I needed to.
I didn’t feel like the camera was heavy, because I’ve grown used to a good amount of weight with my DSLR, a big lens, and other accessories attached to the rig. 

SENSOR

The camera has 3 sensor chips, which record Reds, Greens, Blues, to separate chips, producing more precise colors. I was satisfied with the dynamic range, and the overall resolution the sensor provided. I have reviewed the raw footage over and over, and am totally pleased. I look forward to grading the flat footage.

ZOOM

The Sony PXW-X180 doesn’t include the detachable lens option, which I’ve grown used to with my DSLR and mirrorless. However, It has a fixed lens, with an incredible zoom. The astonishing 25x zoom, may be my favorite feature, because of the distance I was able to cover, all while maintaining the quality I needed. Even at the highest magnification, it was crisp and clean. I also noticed how extremely smooth it was. 

The space that I used the camera in, during the studio sessions, did not restrict me much, but it certainly helped, having the option to work at a distance from Anthony, when he was at eh microphone recording, and zoom in and out for the desired framing.
It felt like I was working with about 24mm - 600mm, in focal length.
I also had a chance to appreciate NOT changing lenses throughout the shooting process. Don’t get me wrong, I love my detachable lens systems, but for once, I didn’t have to worry about missing a magical moment, because I was in the middle of a lens change. Ugh! That has happened to the best of us, and it sucks.

FOCUS

I’m guilty of using the autofocus the entire time I used it, because I was pleased with it that much. 

LOW LIGHT PERFORMANCE/NOISE

While in the recording studio, the lighting was somewhat low, and moody. Once I found the dimmers, I cranked the lights up. Every time I left the room to go to the bathroom or grab a beer, someone would dim the lights again. Thankfully, the camera handles noise quite well. I flipped the gain switch a few times, as needed, and was satisfied with the results.

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FILES 

When I adopted the mirrorless camera, some months ago, I encountered a hurdle, with a file type, that I wasn’t familiar with. So, I had to install some plugins on my laptop. Thankfully, when I started using the x180, I already expected to have to deal with plugins and file conversions. It sucks, but it’s a part of the job. I had to install Sony’s Catalyst Browse to review and handle the video files.

The files were larger than I’m used to of course, but I wasn’t surprised. It just meant that I had to be ready for hard drive space to be eaten up. It seemed to average about 1 gig per 1 minute. It definitely made me shoot smarter, to avoid capturing useless content.

VARIABLE ND FILTER

As a DSLR user, having the ND filer at the click of a button was great. However, the majority of my captures too place indoors, so I didn’t get to use it much.

BUTTONS

The buttons on the left side of the camera are all placed in a good location, with ample space between them, to avoid accidentally hitting other buttons. 

AUDIO

The camera has 2 XLR ports for external microphones, as well as a built-in mic on the front. I did not experiment with the XLR ports for audio because of the run & gun style shooting I did. I didn't want to add more weight, by mounting a mic. With that said, the audio recorded by the built-in mic is really good. I've listened back to some of the footage of Anthony singing, and I'm satisfied with what the microphone picked up.

CONCLUSION

Because of the type of coverage I was doing, and the location, several of the features I didn’t explore. We had planned to film a music video, but ran short on time. I wish I had more time with this camera, to test it our in other applications.

I think this camera is for you if you're looking to do documentaries, or interviews in controlled environments, and if your budget is low, but you still want great quality.

I wish I could share some of the footage I captured, for you to analyze, but it contains music that hasn't been released yet.