Sony HDR-CX5 review: Sony HDR-CX5

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.6
  • Design: 7.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Performance: 8.0
  • Image quality: 8.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Compact design; first-rate video quality and performance; geotagging videos is fun, if limited.

The Bad No SD card support; awkward control layout; no wind filter; no manual shutter speed, iris, or audio controls; expensive.

The Bottom Line The geotagging capability remains mostly a novelty, but the top-notch video quality of the Sony Handycam HDR-CX500V and HDR-CX520V make them worthy options. Because internal memory is overpriced, the HDR-XR500V is the better deal of the two, though you may want to opt for a 2010 model that supports SD cards rather than Sony's Memory Stick.

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With a six-month lag behind their hard-drive-based siblings, the HDR-XR500V and HDR-XR520V, the HDR-CX500V and CX520V promised some much-needed interface enhancements over their solid-but-flawed brothers. While I don't think the interface and control layout changes make much of an improvement, many people will probably feel the operational annoyances are worth the trade-off: the same high-quality video and performance of their hard-disk-based counterparts in more compact packages.

The two models differ only by built-in memory--the CX500V has 32GB, while the CX520V includes 64GB. While these flash models retain most of the capabilities of the hard-drive versions, Sony did jettison the EVF, moving that into the newer CX550V along with the microphone and headphone jacks (since the CX550V uses a different lens, we don't consider it part of the line from a testing perspective). However, that leaves the Panasonic HDC-TM700 as the only sub-$1,000 model with an EVF.

Comparative specs: Sony models Sony Handycam HDR-CX500V/CX520V Sony Handycam HDR-CX550V Sony Handycam HDR-XR500V/XR520V
Sensor 6-megapixel Exmor-R CMOS 6-megapixel Exmor-R CMOS 6-megapixel Exmor-R CMOS
1/2.88 inch 1/2.88 inch 1/2.88 inch
Lens 12x
43 - 516mm
29.8 - 298mm
43 - 516mm
Min illumination (lux) rec: n/a
low light: 11
night: 3
IR: 0
rec: n/a
low light: 11
night: 3
IR: 0
rec: n/a
low light: 11
night: 3
IR: 0


No Yes Yes
LCD 3.0-inch 230,000-dot touch screen 3.5-inch 921,000-dot touch screen 3.2-inch 921,000-dot touch screen
Primary media 32GB/64GB flash; Memory Stick Duo 64GB flash; SDHC 120GB/240GB hard disk; Memory Stick Duo
HD recording AVCHD:
1080/60i @ 16Mbps; 1440x1080/60i @ 9,7,5 Mbps
1080/60i @ 24, 16 Mbps; 1440x1080/60i @ 9,7,5 Mbps
1080/60i @ 16Mbps; 1440x1080/60i @ 9,7,5 Mbps
Manual shutter speed and iris No No No
Accessory shoe Yes Yes Yes
Audio 5.1 channels 5.1 channels; mic and headphone jacks 5.1 channels; mic and headphone jacks
Body dimensions (WHD, inches) 2.5 x 2.6 x 5.4 2.6 x 3.0 x 5.8 2.9 x 3.0 x 5.5
Operating weight (ounces) 15.8 17.0 (est) 20.4
Mfr. Price $999.99/$1,299.99 $1,199.99 $999.99/$1,149.99

While not as compact as a lot of flash-based camcorders, that's due in part to the CX500V/CX520V's excellent and necessarily large lens. It's still relatively small and light, fitting into a large jacket pocket. Overall, the camcorder feels very solid and well-constructed. It's generally comfortable to shoot with, but I still felt frustration with some of the operational quirks.

For example, Sony moved the manual dial from the front of the camcorder to the back, where you still operate it with your left hand. You hold down the button to bring up your manual choices: Focus, Exposure, AE shift, and WB shift. But both the location and feel of the dial's design means it can only be rotated in small increments, and it's tight and doesn't feel terribly responsive. Worse, because of the location, your left hand blocks the LCD while you're operating it.

In the LCD nook are the power, playback, Night Shot, and disc burn buttons as well as the switch for the GPS. Under a cover you'll find the Mini-HDMI and USB connectors as well as the Memory Stick Duo slot. While this is a relatively traditional control layout, I kept hitting the buttons when picking up the device (as it sat on my desk before or after uploading video).

The zoom and photo buttons on top of the camcorder fall comfortably under your right forefinger. The zoom control feels exceptionally well-balanced, neither too loose nor too tight, and it's very easy to maintain a slow, steady rate. As usual, the 5.1-channel mic sits in the front of the camcorder--there's no separation, one of the reasons I find the 5.1 recording no more than a marketing gimmick--and the accessory shoe lies under a sliding door. Sony got rid of the zoom and record buttons on the LCD bezel, opting to make them part of the touch-screen display. While I don't mind that for record, which is a touch-and-release operation, I don't like using the touch screen for zooming, where you have to hold it down.

In the revised menu system, you can put six menu choices on a custom menu that pops up before you enter the full menu listing, with different custom menus appearing for video, still, and playback modes. While it's nice that the old Home/Options menu dichotomy has disappeared, I still found the more straightforward endless scrolling list confusing and tedious to navigate.

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Where to Buy See all prices

Sony HDR-CX520V

Part Number: HDR-CX520V Released: Sep 1, 2009
MSRP: $1,299.99 Low Price: $1,603.19 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Sep 1, 2009
  • Optical Sensor Type Exmor R CMOS
  • Type built-in flash
  • Effective Sensor Resolution 12 megapixels
  • Width 2.6 in
  • Depth 5.2 in
  • Height 2.6 in
  • Weight 13 oz