In what's probably the most interesting camcorder announcement of 2009, Sony proffers the Handycam HDR-XR500 series, a pair of hard-disk-based AVCHD camcorders which integrate the dual firsts of built-in GPS and a new Exmor-R back-illuminated CMOS sensor.
Though the sensor isn't new, this is the first time we're seeing it in products. The technology, which flips the layers so that the photosites are above the electronics where they can get more light, may prove an effective way to improve low-light performance, the continuing weak aspect of consumer camcorders. Sony claims an 8dB increase in sensitivity, for a 50 percent reduction in noise. Annoyingly, Sony continues to overstate the resolution of its sensors. This one's 6 megapixels, though you'll see the company claiming 12mp--its interpolated resolution--all over its marketing materials.
As if that weren't enough, the XR500's also incorporate a built-in GPS for geotagging video and photos, another first for consumer camcorders. While I'm a big fan of adding geotagging to imaging equipment, video isn't quite ready for geotagging; unlike photos, there's no metadata standard for storing the information with the file. As a result, Sony has to store it in a sidecar file with data that most applications won't know how to parse.
The new 15X zoom lens on the camcorder also offers increased optical stabilization coverage area for better compensation while walking, in an optional Active Mode. It's optional because the larger coverage area results in some resolution degradation around the edges of the images. It also incorporates Sony's latest Smile Shutter and face detection technologies.
The two models differ only by hard drive size, and of course, price. The HDR-XR520V has a 240GB drive and will run $1,500; the 120GB HDR-XR500V will cost $1,300. Both will be available in March.