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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Not a compact

Manual controls

In the mode

Zoom switch

Switches

Because of its hard disk, substantial lens, and large LCD the XR500V/XR520V is bigger and heavier than most competitors. It's still pretty comfortable to hold and relatively well designed.
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The XR500V/XR520V have a manual control dial that you can program for focus, exposure, AE shift, and WB shift. The slim, low-detail documentation isn't clear on the difference between exposure and AE shift, but the former seems to be overall brightness/darkness control while the AE shift is a step-based program shift (i.e., it adjusts autoexposure by a certain number of steps).
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The mode button, which switches between video capture and photos, is awkwardly placed--it requires some contortions of your right hand, or left-handed operation.

The EVF pulls out and tilts up, a welcome design we rarely see anymore, and pulling it out can also turn on the camcorder. Unfortunately, because of the touch-screen operation, it's hard to use the EVF without perpetually opening and closing the LCD door.
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We find the zoom switch and photo button to be a little too far to the back, but not unusably so. You may want to do a comfort check before buying, though. While the zoom switch operates smoothly, and it's easy to maintain a constant rate, there's no option for varying the zoom speed setting.
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The new Low Lux mode produces very good low-light video, though in really dark scenes you will see color shifts. However, unlike most competing low-light modes, it doesn't drop the shutter speed. The XR500V/XR520V also includes Sony's NightShot infrared mode, which the company has dropped from a lot of its lower-end products.

There's a manual switch to turn the GPS on and off, to save power, but the camcorder could use a dedicated switch for the various SteadyShot modes as well. Or at least to not leave them buried in the menu system.
Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET
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