The continued existence of camcorders puzzles many people. Only last week we were told by a shop assistant in a major consumer electronics chain store that there was "no point buying a camcorder" unless you were looking for professional gear. We asked if they sold many camcorders at the moment, having perused their quite extensive range of camcorder stock. The answer was "No."
With so many other video-capable gadgets available, convenience is winning in the video market, as it almost always does in wider consumerism, but what if convenience isn't your top priority? What if you don't want to preface every show or presentation with apologies about the juddery video and inaudible soundtrack? That's the point at which Captain Camcorder rides into town to save the day, and the PJ530 is his (or her) steed.
What's it got?
The PJ530 is very well specced and featured. It does 1080p video at 50fps, it has a massive 30x optical zoom that goes to 60x without breaking up, uses an eye-boggling image stabilisation system that moves the lens within the body, plus a projector for reviewing footage when you don't have access to a TV.
There's more. On the hand strap there's a little USB "tail" which makes it easy to plug into a computer or a charger. Unfortunately there isn't any onboard storage - instead everything is recorded to microSD or Memory Stick Micro card.
Solid as a rock
The stabilisation on the PJ530 is incredible to watch - from either side of the lens.
If you look into the lens and wobble the camera you'll notice that the lens stays pointing in the same direction, moving independently of the main camcorder body. This nullifies minor shakes as well as big jerking movements. You'll notice it most if you need to record while you're running, or perhaps shooting through the window of a moving vehicle.
350x zoom. Really?
You'll also be thankful of the image stabilisation when you start stretching out the zoom to its full range. The two combine to make it perfectly feasible to record incredibly distant objects or scenes without a tripod. The intelligence of the image stabilisation comes into play when you start panning and tracking fast-moving objects in the distance. Many rivals fall at this hurdle, correcting their image stabilisation in a series of painfully visible jerks, but the PJ530 remains calm and unflustered, seemingly locked onto its target.
It's worth pushing up beyond the 30x optical zoom to the "extended" 60x zoom limit if you need to, even if it's only momentarily. You do lose some quality but often it's better to take that hit rather than trying to mess around with the footage in an editing app. Delve into the menus and you can active the 350x digital zoom, which sounds preposterous but is actually worth trying out.
All of this makes the PJ530 well suited to capturing sports and live events, wildlife and various other remarkable sights and scenes you might stumble upon during your travels.
Sony PJ530 video quality
In good light, such as outdoors during the day, the video quality is excellent. Detail is sharp, colors are bright and movement is recorded smoothly and realistically. The continuous autofocus stays alert during panning and zooming, and the silent, motorised zoom control allows for gradual or rapid changes to the framing of your shots.
Indoors or at dusk the frame rate is likely to fall back to 25fps, and the limits of the small 3.1mm sensor are highlighted with increased noise as the ISO setting is raised automatically. Even so it's perfectly usable in this kind of environment.
Ins, outs and Wi-Fi
Power users will appreciate the sockets hiding beneath the flaps. There's an HDMI output next to the input for the projector, and if you're keen to hear exactly what sound the PJ350 is picking up you can plug in a pair of headphones via the 3.5mm output. If you'd rather record your soundtrack from something other than the built-in 5.1 surround sound microphone set-up you can hook up a microphone or line-level source to the 3.5mm input. By default the audio recording level is set to Auto, which does a good job of adjusting the incoming volume on the fly but it can be switched to manual.
On top you'll see another little hatch. Open this up to reveal a multi-accessory interface that makes it possible to attach one of a number of extras, including higher quality microphones and lights. There's Wi-Fi too, which works well enough for transferring movies and stills to a smartphone, or using your phone as a remote control. If you download Sony's PlayMemories software you can do wireless transfers to computers too, but unless you have no available USB slots it's much quicker and easier to plug in physically.
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Sony PJ530 verdict
If you feel the projector is a gimmick too far, by all means take a look at similarly-specced alternatives in the Sony range. But you might actually be surprised at how useful a built-in projector is for sharing the day's adventures with family and friends.
Regardless, we haven't tested a better camcorder at this price with or without it, so if you want the ability to capture excellent footage in all sorts of environments, with a colossal zoom into the bargain, you just have to check out the PJ530.
Review by Tony Horgan.
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