For a company that's long been entrenched in the camcorder space, Sony's pocket video cameras have always been off target in terms of features and usability. The Bloggie MHS-PM5 minicamcorder, however, at least shows improvement and a better understanding of what consumers are after with these devices. The Bloggie matches up well against competing models when it comes to shooting movies, offering good features and decent results. Sharing your clips, on the other hand, is not as user-friendly as cams from Flip Video, Kodak, and others.
Also, the product name, however silly it sounds, is an accurate descriptor. Its clips are suitable for Web sharing and nondiscerning TV viewing. Just because it's capable of recording at 1080p doesn't mean it can replace larger full HD camcorders or that the video is "Blu-ray quality."
There are two versions of the Bloggie PM5 available; one is only the video camera, whereas the other comes with a 4GB Memory Stick Pro Duo card and a snap-on 360-degree lens for an extra $20. The lens is fun, but the outcome is definitely more arty than useful, and Mac users can't take full advantage of the clips.
|Key specs||Sony Bloggie MHS-PM5 bundle|
|Dimensions (HWD)||4.3 x 2.1 x 0.7 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||4.6 ounces|
|Storage capacity, type||Memory Stick Pro Duo or SDHC cards|
|Resolution, sensor size, type||5 megapixels, 1/2.5-inch CMOS|
|LCD size, resolution||2.4-inch LCD, 230K dots|
|Lens||Fixed focus, f3.6, 47mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (video, audio)||MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (.MP4)|
|Resolution||1,920x1,080 pixels at 30fps (progressive)|
|Recording time at highest quality||40 minutes per 4GB|
|Image stabilization type||Digital (640x480, 1,280x720 30p modes only)|
|Battery type, rated life (typical use)||Lithium ion rechargeable, 1 hour|
The PM5 is a candy-bar-style camcorder that's slim and light enough to keep in a pants pocket; it's available in blue, white, pink, and dark purple. One of the main differences this Bloggie has over similarly designed cams is its rotating lens. When closed, the lens is protected because it is aimed down into the top of the body. Swivel it out and the minicamcorder turns on; the lens rotates up to 270 degrees, allowing you to record yourself while looking at the 2.4-inch LCD. It also lets you hold the device horizontally, which makes recording below eye level possible. This is especially nice since the LCD becomes difficult to view off angle. (Seeing what's on the screen is tough in direct sunlight, too, even with the brightness turned up.)
To the right of the LCD is the shutter release for capturing photos up to 5 megapixels, and below it is the video record button. Though this puts them in easy reach of your thumb, it might be difficult for some to press them accurately one-handed. Next to them on the right side of the body are a power button and a zoom rocker. Don't get excited, though: it's only a 4x digital zoom that makes things look so bad it's basically useless. Plus, it's not available when recording at the highest resolution. (If you want an optical zoom, check out the Bloggie CM5.) Below the LCD is a five-way joystick flanked by playback and menu buttons. (Pressing in on the joystick will bring up the menu system, too, but it's otherwise used for making selections.) Only the top half of the screen is available for framing shots; the bottom displays information like video and photo resolutions, remaining storage amounts for photos and video, and the time of day. The full screen is used when viewing your recordings, though.
A slider on the bottom pushes out the PM5's built-in USB connector from behind a door on the right side. (The sole AV connector is here as well.) A door on the left side hides a memory card slot and the removable lithium ion rechargeable battery. The card slot accepts both Memory Stick Pro Duo cards and SD/SDHC cards. The battery gets charged in camera via USB. The positioning of the USB connector might be a bit tricky to use for some computers, but Sony includes a short extension cable.
The PM5's shooting features are above bare bones but below well equipped. It's pretty much an automatic point-and-shoot video camera, so you don't get a lot of options to tweak and experiment with. Nonetheless, you do get four video resolution options, electronic image stabilization, face detection, fluorescent-light flicker reduction, and a self-timer. The video resolutions include 1,920x1,080 pixels, 1,280x720 pixels, and 640x480 pixels at 30 frames per second (progressive) and a 1,280x720-pixel mode at 60fps (progressive). With a 4GB card you'll get up to 40 minutes at 1080/30p, 1 hour and 20 minutes at 720/60p, and 2 hours at 720/30p. Continuous shooting is possible for approximately 29 minutes. In the 1080/30p and 720/60p capture settings, the electronic image stabilization can't be activated.
This Bloggie's input and output offerings are anemic. You get the aforementioned USB connector for use with a computer and some HDTVs and a proprietary multiconnector output for composite and component video out to a monitor or TV. A composite cable is included, so you'll have to pay for a component cable if you want to connect to an HDTV. There's also no HDMI output for an easy single-cable connection for audio and video to an HDTV. There are no mic or headphone jacks, either, and the built-in mic is mono only.
Overall, video quality is very good for its class. Colors look oversaturated, but video at the full 1080/30p resolution is nice and sharp. The 720/60p mode produces slightly softer clips; however, the increased frame rate makes movement much smoother. Like most pocket camcorders, there are visible blocky artifacts and trailing with moving subjects. Shooting indoors or in low-light conditions will result in quite a bit of noise, though that's typical of these little devices, too. Again, this HD video isn't what you'd capture with a full-fledged HD camcorder, but the 1080/30p setting will keep a good amount of detail and sharpness when played back on large screens.
Photo quality is on par with a good camera phone; it'll do if you just want a quick snapshot, but it won't replace a digital camera. The shutter lag feels fairly long, too, so don't plan on using it for moving subjects. Lastly, because of the placement of the shutter release high on the right side and how light the PM5 is, it can be difficult to get a blur-free photo shooting one-handed. To help, take advantage of the 2-second timer, which lets you hit the shutter release and then concentrate on keeping the PM5 stable.
With pocket video cameras, easily sharing the video is equally as important as shooting it; this is where the PM5 mostly falters. Sony unfortunately uses two versions of its Picture Motion Browser software for organizing and sharing: a Portable basic version embedded on the device (Windows and Mac) and a full-featured version that comes on an included CD (Windows only). The problem is that the Portable version lacks too much, like the capability to e-mail clips, trim video, and extract still frames, whereas the full version is sort of an unnecessarily bloated mess. Both versions do allow for one-touch uploads to YouTube, DailyMotion, Picasa, PhotoBucket, and Shutterfly, however, so long as you've stored your username and password for each service.
The software isn't compatible with Windows 7 Starter Edition, 64-bit Windows 7, or OS X, though as always you can drag and drop the files and edit using another package, like iMovie. But you'll likely get confused when you plug the camcorder into your system for file dragging. Because it's got internal memory (only 26MB, though) and virtually two card slots, it mounts three different drives onto your system, forcing you to click through each one looking for your files. Two of them have identical file structures--the SD card and Memory Stick--but if you, for example, recorded to SD the "drive," the Memory Stick will simply look like it's got empty directories. This isn't a deal-killer--once you've figured it out it's just an annoyance--but it's not terribly user-friendly.
As mentioned earlier, the PM5 bundle (MHS-PM5K) includes a small snap-on lens for shooting a 360-degree video. Pop it on and the Bloggie instantly enters a 360 mode that records at 1,280x720 pixels at 30p only; stills can be taken at 5 megapixels. The lens is basically a dome with a round mirror in it, but the only way to get it currently is in this bundle. The recorded result with the lens is a doughnut-shaped video that looks cool, but the quality isn't great. It's fun and suitable for Web sharing and that's really all that should be expected. (A quick YouTube search of "Bloggie 360" will return a lot of sample clips.) Using the full version of Sony's PMB software you can convert the 360-degree video into a panorama movie. However, since that version is only available for Windows computers, Mac users are out of luck.
Minicamcorders such as the Sony Bloggie MHS-PM5 are primarily designed with Web sharing in mind. If you're looking to record potentially precious memories to view on a large screen, it and actually the entire category are not for you. It's certainly capable of capturing at HD resolutions, but more goes into getting high-quality video than the sensor. The PM5 is at least competitive with pocket video cams from other manufacturers, but Sony still needs to straighten out its sharing software, and not having an HDMI output at this point is just silly.
The bundle with the 360-degree lens is truly only worth picking up if you have regular access to a Windows computer and aren't expecting high-quality video. It's basically a toy lens and if that doesn't appeal to you, go with the standalone version and spend the $20 difference on a memory card.
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