Review: Sony Handycam HDR-PJ50
Record and project anywhere.
Compact; Full HD recording; Projector function; Swivel touch-screen controls; Excellent build; Crisp image quality; Crystal clear sound; Smooth and silent optical zoom; Good battery life; SteadyShot; Decent still photography; Wireless remote control.
A bit heavy, Touch-screen controls may be difficult to use; Projector only projects contents recorded by camcorder.
Sony Handycam HDR-PJ50
MRP: Rs 59,990
Street Price (As On 28-Oct-2011): Rs 59,500 (Letsbuy.com), (Flipkart.com); Rs 59,985 (Rediff Shopping); Rs 59,990 (Infibeam.com)
The Diwali vacations are already here and therefore it is time for us to start getting the goodies for the happy celebrations. Most people spend the vacations going to their native places or by going on a tour. Some like to spend it at home. No matter where you are, you surely want to capture the precious moments during happier times and what better way to capture them than by using state-of-the-art HD camcorder? When it comes to capturing the special moments of special occasions such as your vacation abroad, a wedding or a birthday, a camcorder can do a lot more than a digital camera. We have a brand new camcorder review, and this one from Sony has Full HD recording capabilities. An attractive proposition about this device is that it even packs a built-in projector to project captured content. The Sony Handycam HDR-PJ50 comes with 12x optical zoom with SteadyShot image stabilization. It packs in a 220 GB hard drive for recording, which can be augmented via a memory card of MS Pro Duo or SD type.
Sony Handycam HDR-PJ50
Wrist strap (attached)
Li-Ion Battery NP-FV50 7 Wh
Software quick start guide
Power cable and adapter
Remote controller RMT-835
The Sony HDR-PJ50 comes with all the bundle that is necessary and you will not need to purchase anything extra. Although the bundle did not include a carry pouch, a special promotion offer by the company is in progress, which gives one to anyone who purchases a Sony Handycam. The AV cable and Composite cable let you connect the camcorder to a TV to view videos directly on TV from the camcorder. Though a mini-HDMI port is present, a cable was not provided.
The small lithium button-cell powered wireless controller that comes with the HDR-PJ50 is a good addition and it is actually useful. You can attach the cam to a tripod, or just place it anywhere and start shooting - a good application for those who like spying. You can do just about everything; start/stop recording, zoom in and out, etc; except change the mode of the camcorder using the wireless controller. The wireless controller supplied with this cam can only be used when you enable wireless control in the camera. This is an IR wireless, so the IR sensor present on the left of the lens at the front of the cam needs to be in the line of sight.
Design And Features
The Sony HDR-PJ50 comes in a considerably compact body, is almost completely black, with some metallic parts, contrary to the usual shiny aluminum looks we have got accustomed to in recent times. The black color actually makes it look richer and stylish, although the piano black finish attracts fingerprints and dust easily. Though the body is largely made of plastic, the quality of the plastic seems to be very good and the build seems to be sturdy. There are a number of flaps on the camcorder (more on these later) and they seem to be durable as well. Overall, the camcorder has a rugged feel.
Weighing 400 g without batteries, and 440 g (almost half a kilo) with them, the HDR-PJ50 is pretty heavy, so holding it for a long duration can be difficult. The attached adjustable foam-filled leather grip strap makes it comfortable and easier to hold it and also makes it feel more secure. Left-handed people are left in the lurch as this design is aimed solely at the right-handed. Tucked into the strap, there is a short USB cable with a port coming directly out of the camera. This eliminates the need for you to take such a cable along to connect it to a PC. Since the cable is short, an extension cable has been provided. It also supports connecting directly to an external hard drive to transfer data or to a compatible optical drive to record it without using a PC.
Coming to the front of the camcorder, the lens is protected by a cover, which opens automatically when the camcorder is turned on. The coated wide angle Sony Lens G has a specification of 1.8/2.9-34.8 and an optical zoom power of 12x. There is a dual LED flash on the left of the lens, which lets you click snaps in low light conditions. Unfortunately, Sony has restricted this functionality to still photos only and it cannot be used to light up the subject when shooting a video in low light. The grill at the bottom conceals the microphones which record the sounds during movie capture.
While holding it, you can start or stop recording by pressing the Record button (seen on the right with a red dot) at the rear, using your thumb. The thumbwheel, which is so common in most camcorders, is not present in this camcorder as most of the controls are in the touch-screen interface (about which we will talk a little later).
The top has a Shutter button and a very responsive spring-loaded zoom rocker. You can also the change the recording modes between Movie and Still Photo, by using the Mode button situated above the Record button at the top. The currently active mode is denoted appropriately by two LEDs lighting up the respective icon. All of these controls can be easily controlled by the right hand. There is the Active Interface Shoe covered by an openable flap at the top, which supplies power to optional accessories such as a video light, a flash or a microphone. The power and A/V connectors covered by a flap are present near the rear on the left side.
The LCD display at the side flips open to expose the different ports and buttons as shown in the above photo. There is a Power button, Play button, and a Projector button to switch to the projector mode. A flap covers various ports. While an external USB port is there, there is another USB port present inside the flap, which is an awkward placement for this port. The mini HDMI port is not compatible with normal HDMI cables we easily get. Hence, you will have to hunt for an adapter or purchase one from Sony in order to view HD videos on your HDTV. The headphone connectivity is a much wanted feature as it lets you monitor the audio while the movie is being recorded. You can even connect an external microphone, thanks to the mic connector. The well-constructed flaps are much easier to open and most importantly, to keep open.
The 3.0" wide touch-screen LCD can be flipped open at right angles to the optical axis of the cam. It can be rotated 180 degrees anticlockwise and 90 degrees clockwise allowing you to shoot at awkward angles. When flipped 180 degrees, the image is automatically flipped 180 degrees as well, to keep it upright from the user's point of view.
The screen looks a lot better than what you see in the photograph above. It is clearly viewable even outdoors, though not on a sunny day, but then you can use the optical viewfinder. The two sieves on the bottom bezel are the speakers to produce sound.
The projector lens window is present on the outer side of this LCD. Not much information is provided about the specifications of this projector except that it can project on a screen as large as 60". A slider control has been provided at the top of the LCD to control the focus of the projector.
Moving towards the front on the underside, there is a threaded metallic tripod socket to mount the cam on a tripod. This is especially useful when you use zoom and need to keep the cam steady. The tripod socket is meant to last, so it is made of metal. The battery is attached at the rear of the cam. The rechargeable Li-Ion battery is held on to by means of a latch. The battery is of NP-FV50 high capacity InfoLITHIUM type. A memory card slot protected by a flap is present nearby, supporting SD, SDHC, MS Pro, and MS Pro Duo card types.
Using the touch-screen UI, you can control functions such as choosing between recording formats, backlight compensation, setting exposure compensation, shutter speed, playback settings, etc. The HDR-PJ50 also features Face detection (which detects faces in the scene and focuses appropriately) and Smile Shutter (which clicks photo instantly when the subject smiles). Using the UI did seem to be a little uncomfortable, especially because you have to use the other hand to manipulate the controls instead of the conventional one hand controls.
You can shoot movies at either HD resolution or SD resolution, depending on your need. In the HD mode, you can record at 25p, which is like film, 50i, which is twice the frame rate, although interlaced, and 50p, which is twice the full frame rate. In 25p, you can record in the highest quality FX mode at 24 Mbps, and in high quality FH mode at 17 Mbps, 50i lets you record in FX, FH, standard HQ at 9 Mbps, and long play LP at 5 Mbps, while 50p only records at Quality mode PS, which is the highest possible recording mode at 28 Mbps. SD mode recording is available in widescreen or 4:3 aspect ratio. Photos can also be simultaneously shot while shooting videos, except in the 50p mode. Also, 50p mode cannot be directly saved to a Blu-ray or DVD without prior conversion.
The 1/4" Exmor R CMOS sensor with ClearVid array, features a back-illuminated design to maximize and efficiently utilize the amount of light it receives. Working with the high speed BIONZ image processor found in Sony Digital SLRs, the CMOS sensor should be capable of delivering image with reduced noise and rich colour.
The camcorder also sports a special super-slow motion video recording in which you can record a video for 3 seconds and view it in slow motion for 12 seconds, which means at a quarter of the speed. It contains a 220 GB hard drive with mechanical shock protection to protect it in case you accidentally drop the camcorder. That being said, it is not really a good idea to drop it because the optics is always more susceptible to permanent damage.
On powering on, it takes just about 4 seconds for the camera to become operational. After powering on, you need to choose and set in the Handycam's setup menu, whether you want to capture to the inbuilt hard drive, or to the memory card, if one has been inserted. If one of these fills up, the capture doesn't automatically spill over to the other medium; you have to manually do it.
The maximum image resolution for snapshots is a huge 3072 x 2304 at 7.1 MP in 4:3 while in still mode. The image quality is pretty good while shooting well-illuminated subjects and does not become noisy even under dim-lit conditions. The colour tone is very natural and the image quality crisp. The autofocus adjusts very fast and nicely so you will probably never miss on recording some precious moments. The FH and HQ modes should be the modes of recording if you want to capture really good quality video. As the quality is lowered, compression artifacts start appearing.
The zoom works pretty well. The zoom rocker key is very responsive and a slight flick is enough to get it started, zooming very smoothly. The zoom motor is so silent that we could not hear it even in dead silence. Also, the zoom button is smooth and doesn't cause any disturbing noise that may get recorded during operation.
The HDR-PJ50 sports optical image stabilization (SteadyShot), and this works quite well as expected. In optical image stabilization, the lens elements move in such a way as to compensate any movements of the camera to produce a stable image on the sensor. Optical SteadyShot (with lens shift mechanism) is available in Active mode, when a strong image stabilization is required or in Standard mode (with software image stabilization) when the camera is supported in some way and does not require much stabilization. It can be completely turned off to save battery, though this is not recommended.
Audio capture is absolutely brilliant. 5.1 channel audio is recorded as Dolby AC3 48 KHz Stereo at a bitrate of 256 Kbps by capturing audio from all the directions. You can also choose to record in stereo mode if 5.1 channel is not required and to save space.
The still snapshot button can be pressed midway to focus the camera on the subject and then you can press it further to take a snap. Still photography during video capture produces results that are as good as some digital cameras. The LED flash allows you to click snaps even when the subject is not well lit. The flash can be set to auto mode so that the camcorder decides to use it when necessary.
Projector performanceThe projector is really bright, but you still need a dark room to get the best image. While Sony mentions a projected screen size up to 60", you can go beyond it if the room is completely dark. The projected image is considerably sharp and the colours are natural. We must mention that this projector does suffer from the Screen-door effect seen in LCD projecters of yesteryears, where the gap between pixels is visible as dark lines separating them on the projected image. The stereo speakers are pretty loud for the size and are adequate in a quiet room. A major limitation of the projector is that you can only project images and videos captured by the camera and not anything else such as movies in digital format. Also, adjusting the focus is too coarse with the single slider; a finer method of control such as with a rotating dial would have done the job better.
Working With The Captured Content
Once connected to the PC to retrieve the movies and the snaps, you do not need the power cable to be connected to the camera. This is advantageous as you can easily transfer the contents of the cam to your laptop on the go.
After connecting to the PC, you are prompted whether you wish to burn the content directly to a Blu-Ray/DVD burner or whether you wish to transfer the files to the PC. If you happen to have a Blu-Ray/DVD burner installed in the PC, the HDR-PJ50 can burn the contents to recordable DVD. If you choose the PC mode, you can view the internal memory and external memory card as two separate drives and directly copy the contents to your hard drive to edit. The images are stored as JPG, while the movies are stored with an MTS extension (AVCHD format), which can be played directly using any software media player.
Sony bundles along the Picture Motion Browser (PMB) software, which lets you play around with images or download images and videos to the computer. The files can also be converted into a Blu-ray disc or DVD using Nero Vision or Nero Recode, which will most likely be installed on your PC since these are bundled with almost every optical disc writer (of course, you will be required to purchase a BD-editing license for that). Bear in mind that since the content is High Definition, you will require a powerful computer to work with it and a graphics card that offloads processing tasks will help a lot.
Files transfer from the camcorder hard drive to the PC at a speed of around 23 MB/s, which is as fast as many USB hard drives. If you are storing to the memory card, then it is better to transfer using a memory card reader.
We tried to gauge the maximum capture storage limit for each video recording mode and the results are as in the table below.
The expected charging and running time for the supplied battery pack is as below:
The battery life is not bad when you consider the fact that a hard drive with a spinning disc is being used in this camcorder and this eats up more battery than Flash memory storage. It can also be seen that while the battery pack complements the capacity well, it is still a good idea to get an extra battery pack.
The Sony Handycam HDR-PJ50 is a compact and stylish camcorder capable of 1080p HD quality video recording. It exhibits excellent video recording capabilities with a remarkably high image quality. The colours are natural and extremely fine details are captured. It even excels at still image capture. It borrows some Cyber-shot features such as Smile Shutter and Face Detection to make still photography more interesting and worthwhile. The image stabilization works like a charm even at the highest zoom, allowing for handheld shooting. The sound quality is unlike we have ever encountered before and the zoom-microphone does work wonders. The projector is not a mere gimmick, it actually works, but projection capabilities are limited to the content captured using this camcorder. The camcorder weighs half a kilo, so cannot be held for long without experiencing fatigue. It is better to use it mounted on a tripod.
The huge 220 GB hard disk drive capacity is enough for everything so you may never need to use a memory card. Probably one gripe if we may state about this camcorder is the insufficient optical zoom of just 12x, something in the 40s would have been wonderful. The touch screen controls may be difficult to use if you have large fingers, but you will seldom access them and therefore this is not a big problem.
The Sony HDR-PJ50 is priced at just Rs.59,990 and comes with a 3-year warranty. The price is surprisingly low when you consider the fact that it comes with a functional inbuilt projector. There is nothing that can stop us from giving this one our complete recommendation. Accessories for this camcorder can be bought separately at http://www.sony-asia.com/site/showtab.action?site=hp_en_AP_i&product=HDR-PJ50&tabname=accessories.
Ease Of Use: 4/5
Value For Money: 4/5
Overall Rating: 4/5
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