Sony's spring camcorders: Changes at the extremes

Sony innovates on its prosumer HD models, jumps on the mini camcorder bandwagon, and waves goodbye to MiniDV.

While Panasonic and Canon look like they're delivering a solid, if somewhat uninspiring, line of camcorders for the first half of the year, Sony emerged from CES with the most newsworthy set of models--newsworthy for what the product line doesn't include, as well as what it does.

What's missing? MiniDV camcorders, for one. While last year's DCR-HC52 and HC62 remain on the market, Sony didn't announce anything relevant to MiniDV--no consolidation of the existing models, as Canon did, or outright declaration of dropping models, as with Panasonic (if not publicly, then at least in conversation). Nor are there any DVD-based AVCHD camcorders for 2009. Those seem to have quietly slipped away from Canon and Panasonic as well.

In my opinion, the highlight of Sony's spring line is the HDR-XR500 series , the top of the prosumer HD line. These models include a first-to-market implementation of the rather misleadingly named back-illuminated CMOS technology, which promises much better low-light recording quality, as well as geotagging capability. One of the lower-end models, the XR200V , includes geotagging but not the new sensor, and a straightforward replacement for the low-end hard disk-based model. The geotagging has potential, but lacks the metadata support to do anything useful with the tags outside the camcorder.

At the other end of the spectrum, Sony jumps into the cheapo, direct-to-Web camcorder market with its so-called "Webbie HD" models . A notable move on two fronts: first, Sony becomes the first major camcorder manufacturer to produce one of these camera phone-like models; and second, Sony just entered a race swimming with cheap products--not exactly the company's usual pond.

In the middle, we've got the usual solid but unexciting standard-definition models in flash , hard disk , and mini DVD flavors. Have fun with that 60X zoom lens, folks.

 

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