|Comparative specs: competing models||Sony Handycam HDR-CX500V/CX520V||Panasonic HDC-TM700||Canon Vixia HF S200/S20|
|Sensor||6-megapixel Exmor-R CMOS||3X 3.05-megapixel 3MOS||6-megapixel CMOS|
|1/2.88 inch||1/1.4 inch||1/2.6 inch|
43 - 516mm
43.5 - 435mm
|Min illumination (lux)||rec: n/a
low light: 11
low light: 1.6
low light: 4
|LCD||3.0-inch 230,000-dot touch screen||3-inch 230,400 dot||3.5-inch 921,000-dot touch screen|
|Primary media||32GB/64GB flash; Memory Stick Duo||32GB flash; SDXC||None/32GB flash; SDXC|
1080/60i @ 16Mbps; 1440x1080/60i @ 9,7,5 Mbps
1080/60p @ 28 Mbps
1080/60i @ 17, 13, 9, 5 Mbps
|AVCHD: 1080/60i/30p/24p @ 24, 17Mbps;
1440x1080/60i @12, 7, 5 Mbps
|Manual shutter speed and iris||No||Yes||Yes|
|Audio||5.1 channels||5.1 channels; mic and headphone jacks||Stereo; mic and headphone jacks|
|Body dimensions (WHD, inches)||2.5 x 2.6 x 5.4||2.6 x 2.7 x 5.4||3.0 x 2.9 x 5.5|
|Operating weight (ounces)||15.8||15.4 (est)||17.0 (est)|
The GPS support, indicated by the "V" at the end of Sony's camcorder product names, hasn't changed at all from the earlier models. It comprises a built-in antenna and in-camera geotagging of videos and photos. Sony licenses NAVTEQ's Class 4 map data to provide embedded maps within the camcorder and links to GPS satellites. (Geotagging and map data isn't available for all locations, so check before you buy or travel.) The implementation is fun, but limited. You can use the geo data for a map display of all your videos, which Sony serves up in-camcorder on a map. The Class 4 data doesn't include street names or even a complete set of landmarks; for instance, here in New York it shows the Flatiron Building and Teddy Roosevelt's birthplace, but not the Empire State Building. It marks galleries and museums, but not parks. Once you download the video to a PC, your options for video are even more limited. Unlike with photos, there's no metadata standard for storing the information with the files. As a result, Sony has to store it in a sidecar file with data that can only be parsed by its eternally annoying Picture Motion Browser software.
Unfortunately, the camcorder couldn't get a GPS lock here in Manhattan. While that's an expected problem among the tall buildings, some devices do manage to get a usable lock. We couldn't test it out of town, but I assume it will work in more rural areas as the previous models we tested did.
There are a couple notable features carried over from the rest of Sony's camcorders. Smooth Slow Record lets you get brief, slow-motion captures; it's the fun and useful predecessor of the Golf Shot mode from the newer CX550V. My one disappointment with SSR is that because of the fast frame rate it needs, it's relatively unusable in low light; I tried to record some slo-mo footage of a kitten playing in living-room lighting, and it came out muddy and dark compared with standard footage. And these models include Sony's infrared Night Shot mode, which the company dropped from a lot of its models. It's definitely a specialty function, but can come in handy on occasion. Aside from those and the GPS, with an implementation that still rates as a novelty, the CX500V and CX520V don't have any other particularly notable features, especially given their prices. Other updates over the hard-disk versions: Face Touch for face detection, the capability to upconvert to 60p playback when connected to a TV via HDMI and in-camcorder downconverting to MPEG-2 for direct-to-DVD transfers. (For a complete rundown of the XR500/XR520's features and menu system, you can download the PDF manual.)
The CX500V and CX520V use the same Exmor-R back-illuminated sensor and G-series 12X zoom lens as the XR versions, and unsurprisingly deliver similar video quality and performance. They also incorporate Active SteadyShot image stabilization, for improved stability while walking. And, as usual, it works very well, producing steady video out to the end of the zoom range. Focus and exposure were quite responsive, down to relatively dim indoor lighting. In general, though, automatic exposures looked a bit darker than expected, especially in backlit situations, even with the auto backlight correction turned on or using spot exposure. As is typical, focus wasn't quite as zippy in low light as in bright, but it was better than average. Plus, the lens focuses surprisingly close. I wish it could focus a little faster while panning, but that's not unusual. The AF and autoexposure systems operate pretty quickly, though as with most AF systems it frequently gets confused between foreground and background objects--that's where the touch-screen-based spot focus and spot meter come in handy. However, though the LCD is only a hair smaller than that of the XR models, it has a much lower resolution and I found it frustrating for manual and touch focus. And if memory serves (compared to the XR models), it's not quite as dependably visible in bright sunlight.
Though not perfect, the video looks very good; in bright light it's fairly sharp, and there's no substantial fringing or aberration, and most users will be pleased with it even in low light. The automatic white balance looks good, as does the color rendering. In living room light it delivers a surprisingly good dynamic range without too much color desaturation. There's the inevitable visual noise in low light, which becomes more obvious if you bring the video in for postprocessing, but nothing atypical for its class. On the downside, even with deinterlaced playback you can see lots of rolling edges and there's a slightly mushy overprocessed look on details like fur when you're not zoomed in close.
Low Lux mode seems more intelligent than most low-light modes, only gaining up if necessary. It definitely produces a brighter image than standard mode, with only a modest increase in image noise, no slow-shutter-speed artifacts (it won't drop below 1/30 sec), and very little desaturation. Compared with most models we've seen, the low-light video looks more pleasing; though there's a touch more noise, it produces better midtone and shadow reproduction, for better perceived sharpness, and with more saturated colors.
The audio sounds good as well, and the mic is sensitive, though it could really use a wind filter. Still photos look OK, though as you'd expect at the touted 12-megapixel resolution--interpolated up from the sensor's native 6 megapixels--photos look overprocessed and quite mushy. However, they should print decently up to 8x10.
If you're looking for the same high-quality video as the hard-disk models in a more compact design, and don't mind forgoing features like an EVF and audio jacks, the HDR-CX500V and CX520V are fine options. Given what's left out, though, they're a bit expensive compared with their siblings and more recent competitors from Panasonic and Canon (as well as the newer CX550V). Of the two, the CX500V is definitely the better deal.