Life in the high-end camcorder market is hard. With pocket cams like the Toshiba S10 offering 1080p shooting for under £200, manufacturers increasingly need to add glitzy new features to pull in the punters. Take Sony’s new HDR-XR520VE, a Full HD cam that packs built-in GPS for the first time.
While it also touts a 3.2in touchscreen LCD and a not inconsiderable 240GB hard-drive, it’s this ability to track when and where you shoot movies and stills that marks the XR520VE out as an exciting new flagship shooter.
Not only does the GPS find your location and display it on a map, it also takes into account time differences and will change automatically when you arrive in a new area. Best of all is the Map Index function, which allows you to find movies and photos on a map by touching the recording location.
The hard-up might be disappointed to see Sony pack GPS into a £1,300 HD camcorder loaded with manual functions and creative modes, but it’s such a useful and fun feature that it’ll almost certainly trickle down to more affordable models soon.
Storage, like no other
The XR520VE's main rivals are Canon’s LEGRIA HF S10 and Panasonic’s HDC-HS300, but neither gets anywhere near matching its storage potential.
The massive 240GB hard disk drive represents up to 101 hours of Full HD recording. It also offers hybrid recording, in this case capturing to Memory Stick PRO Duo if four days of recording isn’t quite enough.
Sony has decided to tackle low-light performance by giving the XR520VE an Exmor R CMOS sensor. The claim is that this produces brighter images but with reduced picture noise. It’s a claim the cam makes good on: both indoors and outdoors low-light footage packs detail without jitter or noise butting in.
Sadly, it isn’t a lot of fun to use with a Mac. The supplied software is PC-only, while the AVCHD codecs used (MTS and CPI) mean you’ll need to download conversion software to get footage into an editing app. Currently, there’s not a lot of choice, though we used VoltaicHD.
Still, for high-end camcorders the tale of the tape is the quality of the HD footage, and here the XR520VE is a real knockout. Movies look exceptional, dripping with detail and vivid, yet realistic, colours. There’s even positive news from the audio, with a beefy, bassy performance.
There are a couple of minor niggles – the autofocus is a bit wobbly (though quick to reset itself) and while the touchscreen is beautifully crisp, it’s unresponsive on occasions.
But neither of these issues drag the XR520VE down. In fact, its mix of features and video quality have set the bar for others to beat in 2009.