Looking for a little help with your backswing? Want to electronically annotate everything you film with detailed information about your location? If so, this could be just the camcorder for you. If not, don't worry. Sony's Handycam HDR-CX550VE still has plenty to offer. It's available now for around £1,050.
Let's get those two slightly unusual aspects out of the way first, shall we? As you may already have guessed, the HDR-CX550VE has a built-in GPS receiver that can geotag your video clips in the same way that some GPS-enabled phones can add location metadata to photos you take.
Additionally, the camcorder's 'Golf Shot' mode can record short bursts of high-speed video at 200 frames per second (compared to the standard rate of 50fps), which allows you to play back a detailed, slow-motion version of your shot, or view it as individual JPEG images. You wouldn't want to use it for normal filming, but this mode can be useful if you have a particular need to capture a fast-moving subject in high detail -- in order to analyse your golfing prowess, for example.
Image is everything
While these features certainly set the HDR-CX550VE apart from the crowd, we can't imagine either of them is the sort of function the population at large has been chomping at the bit for. Thankfully, the HDR-CX550VE has more than just a couple of flashy tricks up its sleeve.
For starters, it's capable of recording high-definition AVCHD video at up to a 1080i resolution (1080p progressive modes are only just beginning to creep in at the top end of the camcorder market, so this isn't necessarily a deal-breaker). The top-quality mode sets the bit rate to 24Mbps, which is the highest for any consumer video device we've seen so far.
Although there's only a single image sensor at work here, the performance of Sony's large (1/2.8-inch) Exmor R CMOS compares exceptionally well to that of three-chip models, providing high levels of detail and rich, even colours. A clever back-illuminated design means the Exmor R sensor is surprisingly adept in low-lighting conditions. We have to say we were particularly impressed by the HDR-CX550VE's indoor abilities in our tests.
Also notable is the camcorder's strong still-photo performance. Its 26.3mm wide-angle lens is very useful for squeezing more friends and family into group shots, for example, while the 12-megapixel images stand up very well next to their equivalent from a dedicated digital still camera. We noticed a slight soft quality to the snaps we took with the HDR-CX550VE but, other than that, their detail, colour reproduction and lack of artefacts were all far superior to those of the average video device.