Background: I've used digital camcorders and cameras over the last 15 years mostly for personal use, with some off semi-pro jobs (weddings, classes, etc). I currently own a Sony XR500V as my main camcorder as well as Canon 5DmkII DSLR that I mostly used for photos, but also play with the video recording feature once in a while.
Personal goal for this purchase: While I'm overall happy with the XR500V for video recording and the 5D for photos, I simply can't stand having to haul both units everywhere I go to capture both photos and videos, let alone even hauling one of them sometimes because neither fits in a pocket. And while some are happy with the XR500V photo quality, it's simply underwhelming me and are clearly sub-par when compared to what a DSLR or even a good quality P&S can do. OTOH, the 5D's video PQ can be great, but with the manual zooming and no auto focus while shooting, it's just not convenient to use as a casual P&S video capture capture IMO.
So, I've been looking for a compact unit that would give me "good enough" video and photo quality for a while now, one that I could just leave in my jacket pocket or quickly grab and go, mostly to shoot family moments.
Over the last few months, I've tried the Panny ZS3, Kodak Zi8 and Sanyo HD2000A to fill that void. All of them either underwhelmed me with their photo and/or video PQ or their lack of decent stabilization, which is something I've thoroughly enjoyed on my XR500V and don't want to compromise too much on.
When Sony announced the HX5V and read the specs, I got all giddy. I mean, 10x zoom 10MP P&S that records 17Mbps 1080i60 AVCHD with active OIS, Exmor R sensor, G lens with all the latest P&S bells and whistles from both their video and photo consumer lines in a small compact package? I was feeling like Sony read my mind and tailored a compact P&S just for me.
And to be able to grab that unicorn unit for about $300 was icing on the cake when I was considering trying the TG5V which is more than double that price. It didn't take long before I pre-ordered it.
I've been hyping myself for the last month or so about this device, and even toyed with the idea of completely replacing my XR500V until something better comes out if the video PQ was good enough, since I'm primarily using my camcorder mostly in full auto mode for small clips (< 5 minutes).
Long story short, got the unit last Friday and with the background and mindset that I've layed out above, here are my first thoughts about it:
- Small and light, as prescribed
- Amazing active OIS, on par with the one in the XR500V IMO
- Appreciably wider lens than the XR500V (pro for me)
- Best overall video output I've ever seen from a P&S by a mile
- Appreciably better photo PQ than what I can get from the XR500V
- Really cool photo features, like auto HDR, auto panoramic stitching and hand-held twilight modes
- Very innocuous to use compared to a DSLR or camcorder
- Nice graphical UI and menus (something I personally hated on the ZS3)
- Support for MP4 1080p30 12Mbps videos (A first for Sony to support both that and AVCHD in any unit)
- While better than what the XR500V, photo PQ is not comparable to any DSLR output. Some compression artifacts and smearing artifacts (usually due to heavy noise reduction). Output will work great for website use and 5x7 enlargements, with occasional 8x10 printing, but not much else.
- Not as good in low-light as the XR500V, but IMO on par with the SR11 (which is amazing for a P&S of this size)
- No 5.1 audio. Stereo microphone on mediocre quality, with little wind protection
- 30 minute limit of video recording
- 4x3 LCD with significantly lower resolution than the XR500V. Impedes focusing efforts.
- Poor microphone placement (your left index wants to be right on top of it)
- Noisy zoom
- Slower auto focus than the XR500V. No manual focus that I found.
- No shoe adapter, no audio I/O, no lens adapter, no waterproof case option (yet)
- HDR, 10fps, pano and HHT photo modes can hang the camera for up to 6 seconds (making the camera a temporary doorstopper for that period). 6 seconds is a long time to wait, especially when you can see that the last shot wasn't good.
- No way to have the unit powered other than the battery (USB doesn't power the unit)
A few things that surprised me or found weird:
- The compass feature works indoors and doesn't use GPS.
- Speaking of GPS, expect the same sluggish experience than with the Sony camcorders (can take minutes to connect).
- Class 4 SD memory works perfectly for both heavy photo and video use (doc says 20MB/s minimum, which is obviously wrong)
- There is no USB, HDMI, audio in/out plugs. In fact, the only plug is a proprietary one at the bottom. The unit does come with an analog cable, which include a USB cable, as well as a small full HDMI adapter though.
- They kept the battery the same as the WX1, which makes it really easy to grab a <$10 equivalent.
- Some photo editing, though it fails on panoramic shots. No video editing.
- Weird Scene+ mode in iA, which supposedly takes an extra shot, with HDR or HHT mode, when it detects it's worth it, but unfortunately doesn't seem to yield the same results at their dedicated modes.
- Can groups 10fps shots together (cool feature), but not the ones from the Scene+ mode.
- Some video options are hidden from the menus depending on mode you are on. For example, there is no way to set WB in iA mode for either photo or video (which makes the iA mode a whole lot less interesting IMO). Switching from AVCHD to MP4 format requires more digging in the menus.
- No way to record video without having the LCD turned on, which kills battery time.
- Music video creation is also available just like on the camcorders. And like them, there is no way to save the music video, nor export it to PMB, which makes it useless unless you plug the camera on your TV.
What I would like to see in the next version:
- High-res 16x9 screen like on the TX7 (don't care if it's touchscreen or not)
- RAW support, or at the least NR and compression settings.
- A waterproof case
- A way to cancel long shot operations (10fps, pano, HHT modes) I don't even care if I lose the pictures. I just want to be able to grab a better one
- Removing that silly 30 minute limit (on non-EU territories anyways) and adding a way to "plug" the unit and/or toggle power the LCD for long video shots.
Is it going to replace my XR500V? I'm still juggling with that idea.
I would take a PQ hit in low-light, but the photo features and amazing convenience of having it in my pocket all the time are making me doubt I'll be using my XR500V much in the future.
Something's sure, just the fact that I'm considering replacing the use of a camcorder that I paid $1300 a year ago with a $300 P&S is saying a lot about it. It's not perfect, but from what I've used it for so far, it will definitely fill the void I had and then some.
I'll post some clips and photos soon if there's an interest.