I visited a Sony store in Barcelona back in March and I remember how surprised I was to find that Sony products suffer from such poor design nowadays. I had heard Sony Vaio laptops was praised for their design, yet to me they looked extremely cheap. Shiny plastic, in an uncool way. It just screams “cheap japanese consumer blingbling”… Furthermore, this camcorder is a prime study of different ways to make sealed connections and doors. And all Sony’s proprietary MemoryStick crap. Lots to hate, but also lots to love.
I was trying to choose between Canon HF S10 / HF S100 vs. Sony XR500 / XR520.
I went with a Sony HDR-XR500VE
Sony knows how to do video pretty well. This camera simply has the ability for me to create the look I want.
For some obnoxious reason, Canon gave the S10/S100 so called rhomboid aperture blades / iris. That means lens flares become 4-pointed stars, and the bokeh looks “square” both of which factors looks lame. Sony on the other hand, offers a nice iris, and creates smooth bokeh, as well as proper lens flares, as I love it.
Sony Optical SteadyShot with Active mode
SteadyShot makes a huge difference. Unstable video looks amateurish. And from my background as a photographer I know I’m not a tripod kind of guy. I feel like a claustrophobic dude in a straight jacket. Besides, I’m a major Michael Mann fan, the creator of such fine works like Miami Vice, Collateral and Heat. That means lots of scenes shot while driving, yet with a stable, fluid feeling. Remember those legendary Miami Vice Ferrari wheel night shots?
Be sure to check out the amazing editing and music sync of this scene. Sonny and Caroline vs. the text of Phil Collins. Legendary.
Disregarding this guys smart-ass driving, it is a nice example of how Sony SteadyShot performs in real life!
This is a more technical, but very indicative test, that should make you jaw drop. It really is that good!
Low-light / night performance
Speaking of Miami Vice and Michael Mann, I am reminded of those eerie, atmospheric night shots. That’s where Sony’s backlit Exmor R CMOS sensor comes into the picture (pun intended). It features dramatically improved low light performance. And it’s not just good noise performance, the whole image is very balanced. What’s meant to be black is pitch black, not grainy and muddy. And a nice side-effect of the Exmor R sensor, is that there is absolutely no smearing. Smearing is when a strong light source causes a vertical or horizontal band or streak, that looks very digital and unnatural.
Does it do manual?
Yes it does. But not as well as the Canon HF S10 and HF S100. They have full manual control of shutter speed and aperture. The XR500 and XR520 has a manual control wheel (very smooth by the way) that lets me manually control the focus, exposure and white balance.
I’ve setup mine to control the autoexposure correction. I like being able to quickly correct a backlit scene. But wouldn’t it be great if the user didn’t have to select the functionality of this manual wheel deep inside the menu system, and instead have some quick select buttons right beside it, like the holes of a magic flute? You would quickly learn to “play” those controls, on the fly.
Sony’s original Gangsta lens
The lens is not a Carl Zeiss lens. Maybe Sony cut down on royalties to Zeiss in these financially challenging times? This lens they’re calling a “Sony Lens G” which sounds a tad lame. But that’s Sony anno 2009 for ya. What does the G stand for? Who knows? Maybe Sony credits it to the Grand architect of the universe? Or maybe it’s a real Gangsta lens? Nah, personally I tend to believe it is simply short for Sony glass lens. A hidden joke from Sony’s marketing department. No matter what it is made of or stands for, the lens performs well, seen with my eyes. I’ve seen little flare, chromatic aberration, and overall the image is very sharp and pleasing to my eyes. Color rendition is especially pleasing.
What’s bad about this Sony badboy?
The menu system is utterly horrible, confusing and ugly. And being an iPhone user makes me feel violent, since this touch screen is really intended to be pressed, not softly touched, like the iPhone. Will it break? Probably not, but I wish it had a joystick like the Canon S10/S100 instead.
My first Sony verdict
- Active Steadyshot is amazing!
- The slowmotion mode is useful and fun, though not full-res.
- I like the color rendition and sharpness.
- Low light / night shooting performance is very good!
- The menu system, yuck!
- The touch-really-hard-screen…
- Too consumer/soccer-mom looking with all the shiny plastic.
- No manual aperture and shutter speed controls.
I will post some videos made with my Sony XR500 very soon, so grab my RSS feed!
Yo! This review was not intended to replace a thorough, techy geek review. It’s just my own personal observations. If you have any questions regarding the camcorder, you are very welcome to leave a comment!