Sony Handycam HDR-XR500V
Sony Electronics, Inc.
CNET Editors' Rating: 3.5 / 5
The good: First-rate video quality and performance; geotagging videos is fun, if limited.
The bad: Annoying menu system; no wind filter; no manual shutter-speed, iris, or audio controls; relatively big and heavy; expensive.
The bottom line: Though 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 options. Both are overpriced, but since 14 hours of recording time is plenty--especially if supplemented with flash media--the HDR-XR500V is the better deal of the two.
Design, Features & Performance (out of 10)
In what's probably the most interesting development in consumer camcorders thus far in 2009, Sony serves up the Handycam HDR-XR500 series, a pair of hard-disk-based AVCHD camcorders that integrate the dual firsts of built-in GPS and a new Exmor-R back-illuminated CMOS sensor. Though the GPS aspect isn't quite ready for prime time--because of a variety of limitations, it's more of a fun-to-have novelty than a reliable feature--the new sensor and G-series lens combination delivers great video quality. Toss in some advancements to its SteadyShot image stabilization system and a solid consumer-oriented feature set and you have a winning combination--albeit one dragged down by the awkward touch-screen interface and a high price.
There are two models in this series, identical except for the hard-disk size: the HDR-XR500V includes a 120GB drive (14.5 hours best quality video), while the XR520V doubles that for 240GB (29.3 hours at best quality). We tested the HDR-XR500V for this review.
|Key comparative specs||Sony Handycam HDR-XR500V/XR520V||Panasonic HDC-HS300||Canon Vixia HF S10|
|Sensor||6-megapixel Exmor-R CMOS||3 2.07-megapixel 3MOS chips||6-megapixel CMOS|
|1/2.88 inch||1/4.1 inch||1/2.6 inch|
|Lens||12x f1.8-3.4 43 - 516mm (16:9)||12x f1.8-2.8 44.9 - 539mm (16:9)||10x f1.8-3.0 43.5 - 435mm (4:3)|
|LCD||3.2-inch touch screen||2.7-inch touch screen||2.7-inch|
|Primary media||120GB/240GB hard disk||120GB hard disk||32GB flash|
|Maximum bit rate||16Mbps||17Mbps||24Mbps|
|Manual shutter speed and iris||No||Yes||Yes|
|Body dimensions (WHD, inches)||2.9x3.0x5.5||2.8x2.9x5.5||2.8x2.7x5.4|
|Operating weight (ounces)||20.4||18||17|
Bigger and heavier than most consumer camcorders, the XR500V/XR520V will fit in a loose jacket pocket but will probably drag it down a bit. Because of the size, though, it's as comfortable to grip as the camcorders of yesteryear, with a depression above the hard drive to sink your back fingers into, and it feels particularly sturdy. All the door covers feel very solidly attached.
The zoom switch falls directly under your right ring finger, which pushes the surprisingly small photo button to the very corner, where it's borderline difficult to feel. Though the record button falls under your right thumb, the mode button, for switching between video and stills, is oddly positioned; it's too high up to reach with your thumb and too far back to reach with your forefinger. I ended up using my left hand to switch modes. Toward the front top of the unit is the five-channel mic (I'd rather see Sony put that space to use for a stereo mic with good separation), and behind it is a clever sliding cover hiding the accessory shoe. And behind that is a vanishing commodity: an electronic viewfinder, which pulls out and tilts up.
On the right side, on either end of the hard disk under doors, sit a variety of ports and connectors. To the front is a proprietary jack for composite and component output, USB, and mini HDMI, and to the back are 3.5-millimeter headphone and mic jacks.
At the front of the camcorder you'll note the big-barreled lens with electronic lens cover flanked by a flash (there's no built-in video light) and manual dial. Though you select the default function for the dial in the menus, to switch among the adjustments the dial controls--focus, exposure, AE shift, and WB shift--you press the central button in and hold it. Figuring that out required a trip to the slim documentation. The dial operates sufficiently responsively to control these features. One disappointment, though, is the lack of direct control over shutter speed, iris, or audio levels as similarly priced models offer.
The XR500V/XR520V incorporates a large, sharp 3.2-inch display with Home, zoom, and record buttons on the bezel. In its recess sit the covered Memory Stick Duo Pro slot, display toggle, Easy operation button, direct-to-DVD button for use in conjunction with Sony's DVDirect Express VRD-P1 DVD Writer, and speaker. There are also direct playback and Power buttons; you use the latter to override the on/off operation when you close the LCD or pull out the EVF.
Two switches control the GPS and low-light shooting modes. GPS support, indicated by the "V" at the end of Sony's camcorder product names, comprises a built-in antenna and in-camera geotagging of videos and photos. Sony licenses NAVTEQ's Class 4 map data to provide embedded maps within the camcorder and links to GPS satellites. (Geotagging and map data isn't available for all locations, so check before you buy or travel.) The implementation is fun, but limited. You can use the geo data for a map display of all your videos, which Sony serves up in-camcorder on a map. The Class 4 data doesn't include street names or even a complete set of landmarks; for instance, here in NYC it shows the Flatiron building and Teddy Roosevelt's birthplace, but not the Empire State Building. It marks galleries and museums, but not parks. Once you download the video to a PC, your options for video are even more limited. Unlike with photos, there's no metadata standard for storing the information with the files. As a result, Sony has to store it in a sidecar file with data that can only be parsed by its eternally annoying Picture Motion Browser software.
Unfortunately, the camcorder couldn't get a GPS lock here in Manhattan. While that's an expected problem among the tall buildings, some devices do manage to get a usable lock. It worked fine further upstate on the banks of the Hudson river, however.
While the LCD is large enough to support the touch-screen operation, the menu system is poorly designed, as it's been for the last several generations of Sony camcorders. Sony is obviously aware of this, as it overhauled the user interface when it rolled out the HDR-TG5V this spring. It's split into two sections, Home and Options menus. The former is for settings you can't change while shooting, such as choosing HD versus SD, quality, 2-channel or 5.1-channel audio, or SteadyShot Active/Standard/Off. The latter is for those you might want to change while recording, including spot meter/focus, exposure adjustments, program scene modes, or toggling the flash. Quick--which menu do you pick for enabling Face Detection or Smile Shutter? I'd think Options, but it's Home. There's just too much head scratching and menu bouncing to find any given setting when you need it. (For a complete rundown of the XR500/XR520's features and menu system, you can download the PDF manual.)
The lens performance and video quality really stand out on this model. Its G-series lens, based off the same optics as Sony's dSLR lenses, seems to deliver as good (or even better) results than the excellent Zeiss T*-coated lenses on previous prosumer models. Video looks sharp, and there's no visible fringing or aberration. Plus, the lens focuses surprisingly close. I wish it could focus a little faster while panning, but that's not unusual. The AF and autoexposure systems operate pretty quickly, though as with most AF systems it frequently gets confused between foreground and background objects--that's where the touch-screen-based spot focus and spot meter come in handy.
The SteadyShot stabilization system works well as usual, and the new Active mode, which compensates for lower-frequency motion than handshake, like walking, makes a big difference (though not rock steady). It's optional because the larger coverage area can result in some resolution degradation around the edges of the images, though I couldn't spot any on my test shots. Even the LCD is better than usual; it's large and retains visibility in direct sunlight, and in combination with the manual focus dial is adequate for performing manual focus. While the EVF feels a bit small and coarse, the color and exposure appears relatively accurate. The only real weakness in the camcorder's performance is battery life, which in practice seems to last only about an hour.
Video quality, while imperfect, still ranks high for a consumer model. Its colors are bright, saturated, and accurate, and there's a fair bit of dynamic range; as is typical of its class, it still shows a tendency to blow out highlights, but with a lot less clipping of both the highs and lows than usual. The detail in extremely high-bandwidth scenes, such as a busy water fountain, can get a little mushy--a higher bit rate than its 16Mbps maximum might help in cases like these--and there's some jitter on rapidly moving subjects like a flag luffing in the wind.
Though the back-illuminated sensor isn't new, this is the first time we're seeing it in a product. The technology, which flips the layers so that the photosites are above the electronics where they can get more light, definitely seems an effective way to improve low-light performance, the continuing weak aspect of consumer camcorders. The camcorder really fares well in low light compared with all its competitors, maintaining a surprisingly sharp, saturated picture with only a modest amount of image noise. Low Lux mode seems more intelligent than most low-light modes, only gaining up if necessary. It definitely produces a brighter image than standard mode, with only a modest increase in image noise, no slow-shutter-speed artifacts (it won't drop below 1/30 sec), and very little desaturation. Compared with the current class leaders, all from Canon, the low-light video looks more pleasing; though there's a touch more noise, it produces better midtone and shadow reproduction, for better perceived sharpness, and with more saturated colors. However, none of them do a great job of maintaining white balance in low light.
The audio sounds good as well, and the mic is sensitive, though it could really use a wind filter. Still photos look OK, though as you'd expect at the touted 12-megapixel resolution--interpolated up from the sensor's native 6 megapixels--photos look overprocessed with occasionally ugly edge artifacts. The 6-megapixel shots look better. However, they should all print decently up to 8x10.
Aside from the irritating interface, the Sony Handycam HDR-XR500V and XR520V are burdened by a high price. They're full-featured consumer HD camcorders, but models targeted at home video creators are going for at least $250 less, especially since those users are usually willing to forgo the EVF. In their price class, you expect more prosumer-oriented manual controls. So despite being generally first-rate camcorders, you'll probably be just as happy with something a little cheaper.
Average User Rating: 3.5 / 5
User Rating Breakdown
5 Star: 7
4 Star: 2
3 Star: 2
2 Star: 2
1 Star: 1
The HD camcorder you cant use on a computer
Rating: 2.5 / 5
on March 22, 2009
12 out of 16 users found this review helpful
Pros: Easy to use menus, clear and sharp touch screen a plus. The fine tune focus knob up front can help in some situations where the camera focuses on what you dont want it to. Objects not moving (or very little) are very sharp and clear.
Cons: Despite changing settings through all of the 4 HD modes, and 3 SD modes, objects that are in motion show clear signs of interlace blurring when viewing videos on a computer. The 6mp sensor can take 12mp images??
Summary: I'm an engineer, and I set up a small test to see how well the HD would perform. I took 14 sequences of video shots of the same area, a busy sidewalk with two streets. The first 4 were in HD mode, and 5.1 ch surround. For each set, I went through each mode HD/SP (7m), HD/LP (5m), HD/HQ (9m), and HD/FH (16m). The next 4 were in HD mode, and 2ch stereo. The final 4 were a re-do of the first set, all in HD with 5.1 ch surround on. I also took two longer videos of the same scene on HD/HQ (9m) one with 5.1 ch audio, the other with 2 ch.
For HD/LP the default is 1440 x 1080 / h264 / 29.97fps / ~ 6.2mbps
For HD/SP the default is 1440 x 1080 / h264 / 29.97fps / ~ 7.9mbps
For HD/HQ the default is 1440 x 1080 / h264 / 29.97fps / ~ 11.2mbps
For HD/FH the default is 1920 x 1080 / h264 / 29.97fps / ~17mbps
I used Xilisoft HD to get the information on each of the files and put together averages. I'm sure that if I did more sequences I could get a better average for each of the HD formats.
Since all the videos are stored on either the HD or Memorystick PRO Duo, it *should* be easy to work with a computer for post processing. HD files are saved with an .MTS extension for AVCHD video files. Not every video program can handle AVCHD formatted videos, so make sure you have something that can handle them.
The first thing that I noticed when pulling up the videos on the computer was very unexpected was the amount of blurring on moving objects (cars, people walking) that were crossing (left to right or vice versa) in front of the camera. People walking directly towards (or away) seemed less blurry, and static objects were very clear. Static objects looked great, incredible even. But the blurring of moving objects, was distracting. The issue of playing interlaced video (from the camcorder) on a computer (who is progressive scan) is likely the cause of being able to see the jagged lines.
I took more time to look at the videos on my computer, and in *ALL* HD modes, if objects are moving across the front (or worse when the camera starts to pan across a scene) the images show clear signs of interlacing/de-interlacing. People walking have a 'wavy' outline, while cars moving at 15 mph (or less, it was a stop light...) looked like a comb on the edges...like someone had pulled parts of the images in the direction of travel, but left the other part behind. I know what interlacing is, but I never expected it to be so clearly evident in this camera and on a computer. Since I intended to play/edit/reformat video on my computer first, this was a pretty unexpected downer. Doing more research on the internet and reading Wikipedia (as a start) for *interlace* and *deinterlace* will cover exactly what the issues are (the blurring that I'm seeing).
All video playbacks were performed on a computer with a Viewsonic VG2230wm monitor, and an EVGA GTX 280 HC at both 1400x1050 and 1680x1050, 32 bit, max quality. Next I played the videos on a Samsung LN52A860 52" 1080p LCD HDTV. The issues with seeing the interlaced/de-interlaced reduced considerably, but now seemed to show up with an odd coloring halo (green/red) around moving objects.
Since I wanted to find a way (any way) to see if this camcorder could play videos on a computer monitor, I switched to SD mode (aka non HD). I took a series of videos similar to the first tests in HD.
For SD/LP the default is 720 x 480 / Mpeg2 / 29.97fps / ~3.9mbps
For SD/SP the default is 720 x 480 / Mpeg2 / 29.97fps / ~5.6mbps
For SD/HQ the default is 720 x 480 / Mpeg2 / 29.97fps / ~9mbps
In the videos it appeared that the same interlace/de-interlace issue was present with SD videos, which leads me to guess (I couldn't confirm) that the 720 x 480 is also interlaced. The manual states Video Signal : HD: 1920x1080/60i; SD: NTSC color, EIA standards. Since NTSC = 486 interlaced scan lines, I'm calling SD mode interlaced as well.
The good things with this camcorder, the GPS feature is nice. I thought the steady shot/image stabilization system was very good. The ability to take pictures while taking a video...a sort of snapshot mid video...seems smart but I don't know if its a key item to purchase this camcorder alone for. I'm also a bit confused as to how a 6mp sensor can deliver a 12mp image without interpolating (ie filling in) by a factor of 2x. An unfortunate oversight is that the camera doesn't include a mini HDMI cable.
The bottom line is that this is probably a good camcorder for folks that want to take videos and watch them on a tv only, a tv that can display interlaced images. But I would *NOT* recommend this camcorder for folks that want to watch/edit/process these videos on computer monitors, or 1080p or any progressive scan only device. The edges will be very blurry, and distorted and the HD will only stand for HighDollar not HighDef. Even trying to process out the interlacing with post processing left artifacts that made the picture look distorted and low quality.
Great HD Camcorder
Rating: 5 / 5
on March 30, 2009
4 out of 4 users found this review helpful
Pros: Very light and compact. Very easy to hold. Nice touch screen menu navigation. Basic features are easy to understand for getting started. Comes with many advanced features. Takes great video. Hard drive based system so much easier than tapes
Cons: No mini-HDMI cable out of the box. For the price of this camera you would think they could include it. Stupid Sony proprietary memory cards and cable connectivity. Sound pickup is not at the same quality as the video.
Summary: I researched extensively. There are so many camera's on the market to choose from. All have their pros and cons. Overall this unit does very well. Sony is not my preferred brand (infact I typically try and stay away from Sony) but you can't beat the fact they make good camcorders. Definitly recommended if you got the $$
Easy to use and takes great quality vids & pics
Rating: 4.5 / 5
on March 18, 2009
4 out of 4 users found this review helpful
Pros: This camcorder is great for the entry and intermediate user. Perfect for the Mac user. Very clear LCD touch screen. Contains GPS. Takes good 12.0 mpixel pics for a camcorder. Can take pics while videoing. Has a manual focus control switch.
Cons: Wife says that it is a little difficult to hold, not for me. Does not include mini HDMI cable. Due to HD quality videos the load time does seem to take a while, almost double the time of the recording.
Summary: This camcorder replaces Sony's HDR-SR11 & SR12's. A little more expensive than it's counterparts, but has added GPS, a 120GB HDD, and still images at 12.0 mpixels. I bought mine for $1099 at a local retailer. This is a hybrid so you can insert a Memory Stick Pro Duo, but most will have no need for that with the already large HDD. It does very well in low light situations and the its ability to stabilize videos while you are moving or even running is very good. The touch screen is great, it is not too sensitive or not sensitive enough. At first a touch screen sounded bad to me, now I don't want a camcorder without one. You will need a large backup hard drive to store these files or you need to purchase a Blu-ray burner to backup the videos, if you burn the videos onto a regular DVD then you lose the HD quality. I have an 5 month old iMac (fall '08) and this camcorder works very well with it. I had read that the SR11 & SR12 worked well with Macs and so does this one.
You really can't get much easier than this camcorder. It has great quality in it's video and pictures while allowing for some adv. settings to be manually changed. If you are looking for a camera on a more professional level or with a lot of advanced features that you can play around with then this is not your camcorder, but for the rest that want a good investment for their families home memories this is great.
This is a good camcorder that works on a Mac
Rating: 3.5 / 5
on June 26, 2009
3 out of 3 users found this review helpful
Pros: good low light and night performance
works on a Mac
nice user interface/touchscreen
Can't quite utilize the HD video with my non-pro computer
Summary: I've read the other reviews. I've tried both HD and SD modes on this camcorder. The quality on my 32" LCD TV is quite nice. Really looks like high definition in HD mode.
The camera works with my 3 year old MacBook and iMovie '09. Downloading the videos is just like they show on the iMovie '09 tutorial. I've used both HD and SD modes in iMovie '09. SD video upload work the most smothly with some quality reduction from what you see when watching this straight from the camera to the TV. I think some of this is expected. Backgrounds and objects in motions appear to be crystalline in form. But the quality for me is still acceptable. Exporting the video using the best settings to iTunes creates a video that is pleasing to watch and better than 90% of videos you see on the internet or digitized. I've seen some videos on Vimeo.com that are better.
I've tried using the HD mode with iMovie. The software actually warns me that this option may result in poor playback on my computer. Once in iMovie the HD files are more crisp but have some trouble playing smoothly. I suspect this is a problem of software and computer power. I intend to get a better computer and possibly Final Cut in the next year so that I can edit in HD. For now I am using SD and am basically satisfied.
One of the key reasons I chose this camera was for the low light performance. It blew away the Canon in its class in this metric. I could see the Canon start to grain up even in the stores lighting. I have taken video in very low light that were great quality. There is also a night mode that uses infrared to capture video. This is a neat feature.
Rating: 5 / 5
on May 19, 2009
2 out of 2 users found this review helpful
Pros: Optical Viewfinder
Low Light just Rocks
Optical SteadyShot does a great job
Color reproduction accurate
5.1 is amazing on a 5.1 system.
LCD is big and looks great
Camera has a solid, well-built feel
GPS integration with Google Earth
Cons: Interal GPS map is pretty worthless
LCD Viewfinder can be hard to see in sunlight
Should have inlcuded a mini HDMI cable
AVCHD files take a lot of PC Horsepower to edit
No 24Mbps recording
Manual controls lacking for more pro-level users
Summary: This is a great camera and a great buy. Sony's new flagship camera uses it's new back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor for increased low-light sensitivity without the extra noise.
I am not shill for Sony and I actually have owned my XR500v for over a month now and have recorded many hours of high-def. No camera is perfect and no camera does it all, but the Sony is worth a detailed look.