Pros: Good range of features including manual controls; good video quality; solid build.
Cons: Confusing touchscreen menu system; odd manual dial location; geo-tagging feature didn’t work.
Sony is claiming two world firsts for its current crop of high-end camcorders, the first being a three-way optical image stabiliser (all its rivals offer two-way), which promises to reduce camera shake by up to 10 per cent, and built-in GPS so you can geo-tag your movie as you shoot. The HDR-CX520VE also includes Sony’s Exmor R – a backlit image sensor that claims a two-fold increase in light sensitivity, so it should give better low-light results.
The CX520VE’s build is good and it sits comfortably in your hand, giving easy access to its wide zoom toggle and still-photo buttons. You’ll find the usual sockets dotted around its body – you’ll have to use the standard AV cable or buy a mini HDMI adaptor, though, as there’s no component video out.
The CX520VE has a manual dial at the back of the camera in the LCD recess, which offers control over focus, white balance, exposure and so on, but its location isn’t as logical as either the Panasonic’s manual lens ring, or the slightly less successful control wheels from JVC and Canon.
Sony has yet to fully resolve its touchscreen menu system: it’s intimidating for newbies and doesn’t get any simpler with use. Settings and features seem wilfully hidden, and even the customisable My Menu doesn’t help.
The CX520VE also has the lowest bitrate recordings of any model here, with the highest quality setting maxing out at 16Mbps. This means it isn’t the best for rich detail, though colours and skin tones are accurate in bright light. Low Lux and NightShot modes make shooting at twilight a breeze, with little picture noise.
As for the new features: the three-way SteadyShot optical image stabiliser is an improvement, but its benefits are marginal, and we couldn’t get the geo-tagging feature to work.
This review is one of six in a HD Camcorder Group Test.