It was hard walking the aisles at CES without tripping over mounds of flash memory camcorders like the Flip. Harder to find were higher-quality “real” camcorders with zoom lenses and much better high-definition (HD) performance. Oh, they were there all right – if you could fight your way through the crowds ogling 3D HDTV demos. Once you found them though, one huge trend beat you over the head—the fact that 2010 is a flash memory camcorder world as tape, disk and even HDD models fade away. A fine example of a top-quality unit being the Sony Handycam HDR-CX520V, which is about as far from a Flip as you can imagine. To find out just how far, read onward…
One of the key reasons flash memory video cameras are wildly popular is the fact that they’re so much smaller and lighter than other storage types. Consider that the Sony Handycam HDR-CX520V weighs just a pound with battery, making it easy to carry around without your arm falling off. Since it has 64GB of built-in memory (not counting the Memory Stick Pro Duo card slot), it’ll capture almost 8 hours of Full HD video (460 minutes to be exact) – more than enough for most users. The basic black model has nice, sweeping lines and measures 2.5” wide, 2.67” tall, and 5.37” deep.
The camcorder has a 12x optical zoom (150x digital) with a range of 43-516mm, which blows away any low-cost flash cam, since typically these devices only have digital zooms. Nestled above the better-quality Sony G lens is a flash to help with your stills. On top is a 5.1-channel stereo mic, a hot shoe, zoom toggle switch and a dedicated button for taking snapshots. On the right side is a comfortable Velcro strap and on the body is a GPS sensor for geo-tagging your videos. (Think you’ll find that on a Flip?)
The left side has a swing-out 3” 16:9 format LCD monitor rated an OK 230K pixels. Even with fewer pixels than we’d like, it handled well, even in direct sunlight. As a touchscreen unit, you’ll make almost all of your menu changes by tapping. The menu system is very easy to navigate and you hardly need the supplied abridged 68-page owner’s manual other than to field some options that were a bit hard to discern such as changing the manual settings. Unlike other high-priced camcorders such as the Canon Vixia HF S10/S11, there is no electronic viewfinder. (Thankfully, we didn’t miss it.) There are just a few buttons opposite on the body including NightShot, GPS on/off, power, playback, and one-touch DVD burn along with the card compartment which has the mini HDMI output. There’s also a small speaker and dial to make manual adjustments you dedicate (focus, exposure, AE shift, white balance). On the back are mode (video/camera) and record buttons along with DC-in for charging the battery.