CNET First Look
Sony Handycam HDR-XR500VThough their geotagging capabilities are mostly novelty and their interfaces could use a complete overhaul, the top-notch video quality, performance, and consumer-friendly feature sets of the Sony Handycam HDR-XR500V and HDR-XR520V make them worthy camcorder...
[ Background music ] >> Lori Grunin: Hi, I'm Lori Grunin, Senior Editor with CNET and this is the Sony Handycam HDR-XR500V. The XR500V is identical to its sibling the XR520V. They only differ by hard disk size. 500 is 120 GB and the 520 is 240 GB. The 500 and the 520 are Sony's first camcorders to use the new back illuminated sensor which Sony designates the Exmor-R CMOS. In addition to the new sensor, the camcorders also feature all of Sony's latest technologies. That includes GPS, so that you can geo tag your photo and videos as well as a new lens. Sony has brought its G series dSLR lenses into its camcorder line replacing the Zeiss T star coded lenses which were pretty good to begin with and the G-series lenses seem to be just as good. Also, Sony incorporates its new active steady shot technology. Active steady shot is basically an enhancement to its existing optical stabilization system which can cover a broader area and therefore can compensate for lower frequency vibration such as when you're walking. They have very nice build quality and a lot of nice touches such as well designed doors over the ports, they include microphone and headphone jack which you'd really expect from the top of the line personal camcorder. However they lack some manual features that you expect such as direct control over iris and shutter speed. The GPS while a nice novel feature is a bit problematic. For instance we couldn't get a GPS lock anywhere in New York City however the real problem is that there is no mediated standard for handling the geo tagging information that you put on the video files. So what happens is in order to use that geo tagging information anywhere other than in the camcorder you have to use a PC because you have to use Sony's Picture Motion browser software which frankly I don't suggest installing. That means that if you use a Mac you're out of luck. You can still use the video files of course but you have no access to the video geo tagging information. In camcorder however you get a nice display showing where the video was shot. You can use it as a type of index. The camcorder itself is overall very nicely designed. It's slightly heavy but it feels well built. Lots of controls on the outside however you do have to use the touch screen. Now the camcorder has 3.2 inch display which makes the touch screen useable but it uses the old fashion touch screen menu system with the home and the options menu that's really difficult to navigate and frankly it's a big pain. It replaces the older cam control dial with a manual dial that you use by pressing the button in in order to change what it controls and then rotating the dial to change any given setting. One thing it does have that's really nice is an electronic view finder. A lot of camcorders these days are dropping it and using that as a way of cutting prices and it has a zoom switch that's very easy to control. You can get a nice stable variable rate zoom from it. The placement of the mode dial to switch between still and video is kind of odd and I ended up having to use 2 hands to do it, kind of defeats the purpose. And as you'd expect from a camcorder that you pay over $900 for the video quality is very good. In fact the low light video quality probably it edges out canon for best in class simply because it's brighter with about the same amount of noise but it retains saturation and you don't get any low shutter speed artifacts. If you're trying to decide between the 500 and the 520 I'd say go for the 500, it's cheaper and I think 9 hours of video is plenty to store on a camcorder you really don't want to leave it there forever. [ Background music ] >> I'm Lori Grunin and this is the Sony Handycam HDR-XR500V.