While pocket cameras and smartphones are convenient for shooting videos that are appropriate for YouTube, you still can’t beat a camcorder if you want to capture long-length, high-quality footage that you can display on a huge high-definition TV, or if you’re a budding videographer looking for a device that can record at different frame rates.
As one of the major players in the camcorder market, Sony has volleyed back in the current “war of convenience” between cell phones and camcorders. Their new Handycam HDR-PJ430V ($850) has the features and qualities that will make you want to channel your inner Hollywood director and use it as your dedicated video capture devices, plus a few novelties like Wi-Fi-capability and a built-in projection are thrown in for some added value.
Features and design
The PJ430V is a full-featured high-definition camcorder, weighing in at a comfortable 14 ounces. It can shoot 1920 x 1080 HD video at 24p/60i/60p for the highest quality, or MPEG-4 video for Internet sharing. A 30x Sony G-type optical zoom lens provides superb control and can focus easily on distant subjects or those as close as an inch. Video or JPEG images are recorded onto the internal 32GB flash memory (11 hours, 40 minutes of footage in HD LP mode) or onto optional SDXC/SDHC memory cards (it also supports Sony’s Memory Stick format, naturally). JPEGs are captured at full resolution, even while shooting video – a new camcorder milestone. Sony says the 20.4-megapixel Exmor-R sensor delivers lower noise video when shooting in extremely low-light environments.
The PJ430V has a very easy-to-hold body shape and its LCD touchscreen controls are straightforward to use. Large icons make it simple to navigate the 3-inch LCD’s menus, rated at 230K dots. Pressing on an icon in the startup screen (Shooting Mode, Camera/Mic, Image Quality/Size, Playback Function, and Setup) leads to additional sub-menus for further adjustment.
In the PJ430V, Sony has enhanced the optical image stabilization system, which they call Balanced Optical SteadyShot. Instead of compensating camera shake by controlling the lens itself, moving elements now control the entire unit housing the lens for improved stabilization.
… The price is worth it for the superior qualities and features if you’re serious about video.
Although the PJ430V doesn’t have wireless connectivity built in, it is Wi-Fi ready with the optional ADP-WL1M Wi-Fi adapter ($75), which plugs into the Multi Interface hot-shoe atop the camcorder (Multi Interface accessories are designed to work across a variety of Sony devices that support it, regardless of model). With it you can connect to a Wi-Fi network and wirelessly transfer videos and still pictures from the PJ430V to a computer, smartphone, or tablet. While elegant, this wireless transfer does take more setup time than the conventional USB wired version. Besides content transfer, you can use Wi-Fi to turn your iOS or Android phone or tablet into a remote control by downloading the free PlayMemories Mobile app from either the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store; you can also use PlayMemories to edit and upload content onto Facebook or YouTube.
With the Wi-Fi adapter attached we entered the Wi-Fi address of the PJ430V into our iPhone’s network connection, and then we ran the PlayMemories Mobile app. Once the connection was made, the PJ430V remote control interface appeared on our iPhone. We could then start and stop recordings, adjust the zoom, and change modes from movie to photo.
The PJ430V has a built-in GPs receiver that lets you record location information. Using NAVTEQ maps, the PJ430V displays your location on a map on the LCD, which you can use for geotagging purposes – ideal if you’re traveling.
Sony camcorders are legendary for their ease-of-use in transferring captured videos and still images to your computer. The PJ430V kicks it up a notch by providing a handy, self-contained USB cable that tucks into the handgrip. If you need a longer connection, a handy USB extension cable is provided for connection to your computer.
What’s in the box
The PJ430V kit is complete with the camcorder, AC adapter/charger, HDMI cable, USB extension cable, rechargeable battery, step-down ring (for lens filters), and user’s manual.
Performance and use
We used the highest AVCHD quality setting (FX 24Mbps) and various frame rates to see just how good the video quality could be. We played the video back through the provided HDMI cable directly to a Sony 52-inch HDTV set. Watching the videos in playback was a great experience – almost like “being there,” as they say. We tested different frame rates – 24p, 60i, and 60p. The 24p frame mode – so sought after by film aficionados – when combined with the CinemaTone color setting, created a distinctive “film look” with an expected slight motion blur artifact. The colors and details in this 24p (24 frames progressive) mode were vivid and lifelike. The 60i (60 fields interlaced) mode was more “video like” in appearance, because of its higher frame rate – but just as high in quality as 24p. The 60p mode gave us the edge in playback quality – the most realistic-looking of the three. The colors in 60p were as good as in the other modes, but the added detail due to the 60 frames progressive rate was more evident, especially when there was motion involved. The widescreen 9-megapixel JPEG stills were beautiful, vivid, and sharp when viewed on our HDTV.
The 30x optical zoom gave us the ability to shoot close-ups even from distant locations – all without the negative artifacts of digital zooming. To test Sony’s new optical image stabilization system, we shot video while walking through the Caesars Palace casino in Las Vegas. The playback video was smooth without the usual jerky effect from handholding the camcorder. We also shot video of very distant casino rooftops, handheld at maximum optical zoom, and the results were very smooth.
We also enjoyed the using the Smooth Slow Motion feature, a special-effect mode that captures a 3-second video at high speed, and then records it for smooth slow-motion playback. This is great for recording and analyzing key moments at sporting games, for example. We appreciated the external microphone input, along with manual audio control, which allows you to capture higher quality audio with an external microphone. We also shot video at night in Low Light mode, and were delighted to see how the Exmor-R sensor captured much more brightness and detail without excessive video noise.
One feature we wished the camcorder had is a viewfinder, which would have been very useful in a bright shooting environment, where most LCD screens wash out. But, then again, this feature is all but gone from most consumer camcorders. You can, however, purchase an optional optical or electronic viewfinder accessory to attach onto the hot shoe.
We were very curious about the quality of video projection – is it functional or a novelty? But were honestly surprised by how good it was coming from that tiny DLP element. Of course, it’s not the same quality you will see with a direct connection between the PJ430V and a HDTV. Convenience over quality is the reason that Sony provided the built-in projection feature; we wouldn’t necessarily want to use it for a meeting presentation, but it’s handy for those impromptu moments where you need to display a PowerPoint presentation in a hurry.
There is no zoom control for projected image size, so you must set up the projection surface to be about 12 inches or further, and adjust the focus manually. From 12 inches – the closest distance possible – we could project a very bright 5-inch diagonal image. From 4 feet away, a 25-inch diagonal image was possible, which was still acceptably bright, yet dimmer. From a longer 10-foot distance, a 65-inch diagonal image was achieved, but at significantly reduced brightness. Sony claims that up to a 100-inch diagonal image can be projected, but we must caution that this larger image would be very dim. Therefore, a darkened room is absolutely needed for larger projected images; human vision will usually compensate for the dimness in a dark room, but it just takes a bit for the eyes to adjust.
When it comes to transferring videos and still images, you can do it the manual way by connecting the camcorder to a computer, locate the folder that contains the content, and dragging and dropping these files onto the computer. But we discovered the far more elegant way was to use the free PlayMemories Home software. Once we installed the software from Sony’s website onto our Windows PC (or here for Mac users), the video or still images can be automatically downloaded into chronologically ordered folders by date and time in a cool, calendar-based interface. This makes it drop-dead easy to find them later. As mentioned, you can also do it wirelessly with the optional Wi-Fi adapter, but we found that process took much longer.
PlayMemories Home software also has a neat GPS MapView feature that gives you a detailed geographical map where a particular video or still was shot, based on the GPS data captured by the PJ430V. We also used it to create a high-definition AVCHD disc for playback in our Blu-Ray player, a perfect way to archive footage. Sony also offers free “cloud-based” storage (up to 5GB) via a service called PlayMemories Online.
At $850, the PJ430V is obviously a bit steep when you’re comparing it to a smartphone or pocket camera – heck, it’s pricier than many camcorders. You can’t beat the convenience of smaller devices, but if high-quality video is what you’re after, you will need a camcorder like the PJ430V. Besides the quality, you get a great optical image stabilization system to capture smooth, vibration-free video, even while moving.
But the real proof comes when you see the improved color and detail when played back on a HD monitor. The colors are vivid, unlike the washed out colors seen from smartphone video capture. And the detailed resolution, not only in video capture, but also in the JPEG still image captures, stands out as realistic and life-like. The icing on the cake is the built-in video projector, which is useful for showing off your video to larger audiences, without the hassle of cables.
Not everyone will have a need for a camcorder. Yes, the PJ430V is heavier and pricier than a smartphone, but in our opinion it’s worth it for the superior qualities and features if you’re serious about video.
- Excellent high-definition video quality at 24p/60i/60p
- Great still image capture
- Built-in projector
- Improved optical image stabilization
- External mic and stereo headphone ports
- Projected image is dim at larger sizes.
- No viewfinder