Monday, March 23, 2009

Sony HDR-XR500V First Impressions

I just bought a Sony HDR-XR500V (which is the same as the HDR-XR520V, but with a smaller hard drive.) I’ve been looking to replace a Sony HDR-HC1 (which is an HDV) camera, and this looked like an interesting option. I often shoot multiple camera events, and I’m constantly trying to improve the image quality (without busting the budget!) The HC1 is a good performer, but in lower light situations, it tends to produce a lot of noise and color is poor.
I also recently bought a Canon HF100 as a third camera, and it was really starting to show up the HC1.
A few notes about the XR500:
As a semi-pro (by that I mean I’m not shooting holiday snapshots, but I’m not shooting professionally) this camera is not what I’d call a semi-pro camera. In particular, it’s lack of an audio input for using external mics, and manual audio gain control, mean that, as a primary or sole camera it won’t be good for many users. Documentary makers should probably skip it. Those looking for better audio options should probably look at the Canon HFS10
As a secondary camera, or for those that are only going to use the camera mic, this camera has a lot to offer.
The big plus point for the XR500 is that it’s supposed to do really well in low light. That’s really the thing that attracted me to it.
The camera also comes with a big hard drive. I’m of two minds about that. On the one hand, I think I prefer flash cards; you can use a card reader to transfer the files rather than having to connect the camera. On the other hand, you can store a lot more on a hard drive, and it means I can avoid – for the moment – jumping into Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick format.
First look
Opening the box, I was surprised – almost shocked - by how small it is. I guess I need to stop being shocked about how small these cameras are. It’s very similar in size to the HF100 (but then that camera cost half as much!). A bunch of cables come jammed in with the camera, and a small battery (which gives about 90 minutes of recording.)
Though there is a power switch (hidden under the LCD panel) you don’t need to use it unless the camera has gone to sleep. Opening the side LCD panel, or the viewfinder, turns the camera on.
It’s interesting that this camera still has a viewfinder. I say that because manufacturers seem to be moving away from them on consumer cameras, and I think this camera is a consumer camera. Obviously Sony thinks there are people out there that like them (and don’t get me wrong, for certain applications I do prefer viewfinders.)
The viewfinder is a tiny little thing. One curious thing; the viewfinder displays the buttons displayed on the touch -sensitive LCD panel; yet there’s no way to interact with those buttons other than using the LCD panel.
Turn the camera on for the first time and it asks you your location, and to set date and time. It was late in the evening when I first played with it, and it was amazing to see the quality of the video on the LCD in dark rooms. I have to do some video tests next, but it does look like it’s a big step up from the HC1.
The camera comes set to a medium video quality, so when it first comes on it says there are something like 2000 minutes left. Switch to the highest quality, and it drops to 800 (!) It’s also set to 5.1 Surround sound by default; which could be a problem for those looking to edit the files on their computer. Finally, the still camera sides ‘smile shutter’ is set on. Take the camera out for a spin and it’ll start taking still pictures if it thinks it sees a smiling face.
The real question is; how does it compare to the HF100 and the HC1? I’ll try to answer that in the next posts.

Contents of the box