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The 5 new camcorders that matter out of Sony's 13

Sony announced Too. Many. Camcorders. Here are the five that matter.

No, that lens isn't askew; that's Sony's new Balanced Optical SteadyShot at work. The entire lens housing moves, not just a single lens element. And it's not purple--that's just the reflection of my shirt. Lori Grunin/CNET

LAS VEGAS--Sorry, Sony, you may have some really good camcorders, but you have too many. Thirteen new models between $300 and $1,500 is simply overkill.

Normally, I'd break Sony's camcorder barrage into three posts and attempt to meaningfully differentiate the two midrange CX models from the four entry-level models from the five projector-enabled models from the one hard-drive model...but this year, I'm just going to hit the highlights of the models that I think deserve to exist.

Handycam HDR-TD20V. Notice how small it is. Lori Grunin/CNET

There are a couple notable updates for 2012. The first is Balanced Optical SteadyShot (BOS), a major enhancement to the high-end models. Unlike most optical image stabilization systems, which move a lens element or two in response to camera movement, BOS moves the entire lens housing. I have no idea if it will make a significant improvement over the existing (and pretty good) SteadyShot system--Sony claims up to 13x improvement--but I'd think it would solve the problem of shooting on boats, for example, and it's certainly amusing to watch that lens wobble around like Jello in the housing.

The other update of note is Sony's rolling GPS support way down the product line--9 of the 13 models now have it, at prices starting at $549--with more-detailed maps. Also beefed up is the direct copy to hard drive, which now supports incremental transfers, and the noise reduction for the audio system.

In addition to offering more projector models, Sony has enhanced the projector within. Maximum projection size is up to 100 inches, with brightness increased to 15 lumens, and easier operation. Sony will also offer a neat 360-degree speaker that slides into the accessory shoe. The price premium for the projector models over the nonprojector versions shrinks to about $100 based on MSRP, so street prices should be pretty attractive.

Handycam HDR-PJ710V Lori Grunin/CNET

So from the top down:

  • Handycam HDR-TD20: If you're into 3D, this rev of the prosumer 3D camcorder should appeal. It's much smaller and less dorky-looking than last year's, with a shorter focal length that should provide a little more shooting flexibility.

  • Handycam HDR-PJ710V: This is the bottom of the top of the prosumer line, and at $1,299 it's got everything the others do, just with less memory: 32B vs. 96GB, for which you'd pay an extra $300 just to get it baked in. It's got GPS, BOS, 10x wide-angle zoom, EVF...all the bells and whistles Sony offers.

  • Handycam HDR-PJ580V: If you're going prosumer, skip the nonprojector version. At $899 the price differential means relatively little. This (and the CX580V) are the cheapest "serious" models, with the wide-angle 12x G-series lens, 16GB memory, 3-inch high-rez display, and advanced features like zebra stripes, the only thing this model lacks is an EVF and BOS.

  • Handycam HDR-PJ260V: This is my choice for a mainstream model. With a wide-angle 30x zoom lens, GPS, and 16GB internal memory at $649 it's got just enough frills to justify the price, and though it's more expensive than the nonprojector version, I think the projector is worth it if you're going to be spending that much money.

  • Handycam HDR-CX190: Though it will likely be just as merely adequate a camcorder as the CX160 it replaces, at $299 Sony will probably sell gazillions of this frill-free model. It's got no internal memory and a 25x zoom lens.