Editor’s note: The ordinary Sony MHS-PM5 retails for $150, while the MHS-PM5K we reviewed retails for $170 directly from Sony with a 4GB Memory Stick Pro Duo card and 360-degree lens.
Panoramas do not have to be frozen in time any more. Sony’s latest pocket camcorder, the swiveling MHS-PM5K, captures a full 360-degree field of view with a simple add-on lens, producing playable panoramas that you can literally look around in as you watch. When you’re done, snap it off and you’re back to shooting true 1080p video. While novel, lightweight and surprisingly affordable at $170 (or $150 for the version without the 360 attachment), we found the Bloggie PM5K can’t match the video quality of many less endeavoring pocket cams.
The Bloggie shoots true 1080p video and 720p video at 60 frames per second, with SteadyShot electronic image stabilization and 4x digital zoom. Those specs put it roughly in league with the likes of Kodak’s Zi8, JVC’s Picsio FM1, and Samsung’s HMX-U10. What sets the Bloggie apart from this growing crowd of evolved pocket cams? A swiveling, top-mounted lens. It faces into the belly of the camera while closed, keeping it protected, then rotates out 270 degrees to shoot forward for normal videos, up for panoramas (not to mention riveting ceiling and sky footage) and back for shooting moody video diaries to put on YouTube.
Sony’s PM5K was designed to inhabit pockets, and it looks the part. Although not quite as tiny as Flip’s MinoHD or Creative’s VadoHD, the 4.25-inch-tall cam can hide completely under Kodak’s bigfoot Zi8, and at only 0.75 inches thick, makes Flip’s other offerings like the UltraHD and SlideHD look positively fat. The all-plastic body also keeps it relatively light, too, at only 4.5 ounces.
On the bottom, a ridged slider moves to poke the stubby, built-in USB connector out the side, popping off a tiny plastic door in the process. Besides concealing the USB connector, the panel hides a separate A/V output port for watching videos in standard def via the included cables. Another door on the opposite side provides access to the removable lithium-ion battery and a card reader, which thankfully accepts both standard SD cards and Sony’s overpriced Memory Stick Pro Duo cards – a niche format we expect will die off shortly now that Sony no longer forces consumers into it. The power button and mono mic reside up top on the left and right sides, respectively.
Although most competitors have copped Flip’s dead-simple control scheme – a giant record button in the center with directional arrows around it – Sony takes a more traditional digicam approach with the PM5K. A 2.4-inch LCD sits front and center, while the all-important record and snapshot buttons get shoved over to the far right. The thumb naturally gravitates to the middle of the screen when gripping it, making this arrangement somewhat awkward unless you want to use two hands. Around the corner, an exceptionally flimsy feeling zoom slider lets you glide through different levels of the 4x zoom. Below the LCD, you’ll find typical playback and menu buttons, plus a five-way directional nub.
Only a portion of the 2.4-inch screen actually acts like a viewfinder when shooting. Closing the lens (which automatically powers the camera on when swiveled) and going into review mode allows you to use the full screen in landscape mode for playing back videos.
Sony’s bundle includes the usual protective pouch and lanyard, plus two welcome extras: RCA output cables and a short USB extension. The RCA cables make a nice touch for sharing videos (although HDMI would really be ideal) and the USB extension is a near necessity, considering the Bloggie’s rigid USB connector doesn’t pivot the way some other cams’ do. Of course, the PM5K package also includes the 360-degree lens.