Hands On With The Sony Bloggie HD Camcorder/Camera

After being announced at CES 2010, the bloggie camcorder/camera has been relatively successful for Sony but there are still many out there who don’t know about it yet. It’s basically the second generation Webbie, but with a new name and some new features. We think the bloggie is pretty great for the price and most certainly outperforms the Flip MinoHD in several aspects. There are two bloggie models, the MHS-CM5 and the MHS-PM5, and both offer 1920x1080i (at 30fps) and 1280x720p (at 60fps) HD video recording, which are modes not found in the Flip MinoHD nor the UltraHD.

Both models have a super quick startup time and built-in USB sticks that extend and allow you to connect it to a standard USB port. It is important to clarify that the PM5 has a 4x digital zoom, while the CM5 has a 5x optical zoom and 20x digital zoom. Furthermore, each model has the ability to take 5 megapixel photos, which is something most competitors don’t have either. We were also impressed with the large 2.4 inch LCD, removable battery and great storage card flexibility (Memory Stick Duo and SD – so awesome).

Here is our video hands-on:

The bloggie can also shoot video in nearly every shade of MP4 (H.264) possible, including additional 720p at 30fps, and SD at 480p at 30fps as well as the other modes listed above. The five megapixel CMOS sensor is about average in performance, but suffers in low light conditions and has seemingly slow exposure correction. We noticed that the MiniHD is much quicker at correcting exposure in frame by frame analysis and focus to light situations. The addition of SteadyShot image stabilization is nice, but is limited to certain modes (it doesn’t work on 1080p and 720p at 60 fps).

Another thoughtful feature of the bloggie that is seldom discussed is the embedded Picture Motion Browser Portable software that can automatically load whenever you connect the bloggie to a computer via USB. This small and handy software allows you to instantly upload your creations to popular websites such as YouTube, Photobucket, Twitter, Facebook, Picasa, etc. However, we were pretty disappointed that 64-bit Windows isn’t supported by this software.

There’s no question this is the best sub-$200 camcorder on the market – the quality is exceptional for the price. The bloggie’s auto focus is quick, colors are rich and accurate, and the built-in mono mic is actually decent. Face detection is solid, and the 5X optical zoom on the PM5 is a great touch and quite smooth. The build quality felt like it could last a while, very solid, not metal solid, but solid for its plastic construction.

Battery life is a little low in our experiences. The bloggie has no hardware lens open/close, and you must use a lens cap which is probably something I would lose over time. There is no manual focus, either. The view screen is a little hard to see unless it’s angled right at you.

I found it okay to hold until I wanted to use my thumb to press a button. There is just no way to hold this camera with one hand and operate the zoom or the record button without a lot of shaking going on. This is just a poor design, especially for the zoom. If you want a stable shot while zooming, you’ll need to put two hands on the camera. The same can be said when you want to snap a picture. If you want to video your kids’ sporting events, it better be a bright day or a bright gym. The low-light performance of this camera is terrible. I really hope the next version of this device has a Exmor R type lens that performs exceptionally well in those situations.

You can see aliasing artifacts when recording in 720p that are not present in 1080p mode. This seems to be because Sony is digitally scaling the video in the camera at something other than a multiple of the pixel size. Another gripe is that charging the camera depends on USB, and Sony doesn’t include a USB to Wall/AC adapter. You have to connect it to your computer and leave it on, which is a little eco-unfriendly.

One other thing I wanted to discuss was the 360 degree attachment that you get if you purchase the MHS-PM5K. The 360 attachment is actually called the VCL-BPP1. It’s a brand new accessory that Sony has never done before but I think it is pretty cool in theory, but there are several limitations that make it somewhat lackluster. As soon as you plug it into the bloggie, the resolution automatically switches to 720P at 30 fps; it doesn’t support 1080p nor the 720p at 60fps.

It records 720p at 30 fps 360 degree doughnut movies (click on the videos with the circle thumbnail), and within the built-in software you can warp the doughnut movie to a horizontal format that is rather odd looking. Unfortunately, when you look at the 360 degree videos the reflections from the lens housing are a bit distracting. It’s seemingly zooming to fill the frame with the mirror, but because the zoom is digital you end up with these aliasing artifacts. The unwarping software then compounds the problem by using a poor sampling method against the aliased video. If the camera could be convinced not to do this digital zoom thing the artifacts might go away and the picture could be usable.

Cutting away the clear plastic cover from around the 360 lens greatly improves the image quality and removes the bad reflection problem. This does cause another problem though, stray light inters the lens without the flat black top on the clear plastic cover to block it. Shooting with the lens pointing down seem to take care of the stray light problem and the view is actually better this way. The clear lens cover was removed in this 360 degree video of Camels and a Zebra I found at India VR Tours. You can also see how the image is cropped at this setting, and how dramatically better it looks than the norm.

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