Before considering a pocket HD camcorder, understand what these devices are not: they are not full-blown HD camcorder substitutes. Instead, for about $100 to $250, pocket camcorders are quick-and-easy pocket-sized gadgets for shooting near HD-quality video. As evident by the market-leading Flip's success, consumers don't seem to mind the bare-bones nature of the devices or their sometimes silly names.
Which brings us to the Sony bloggie HD MHS-CM5, a $200 (price at launch) pistol-grip style pocket HD camcorder with a 2.5-inch swivel LCD monitor and a 1/2.5 inch CMOS sensor that Sony hopes will penetrate the market more successfully than its predecessor, the very similar Webbie. Sony also recently released the less expensive bloggie PM5 ($170 at launch), which more closely resembles the Flip in shape and size.
BUILD AND DESIGN
In addition to snapping 5.0 megapixel stills, the bloggie can shoot h.264 (MP4) movies in four sizes, 1920 x 1080 and 1280 x 720 at 30 fps, 1280 x 720 at 60 fps (all considered HD), and VGA; each suited for different situations. For example, users looking to become the next YouTube sensation may want to shoot in VGA since it produces the smallest file size, perfect for uploading, while a youth soccer game should look nice at 1280 x 720 at 60 fps because the extra frames capture smoother action. However, most users will likely shoot in the maximum possible resolution, 1920 x 1080, to take advantage of the bloggie's HDMI output (cable not included), which streams footage to an HDTV.
The bloggie sets itself apart from the competition with its 5x optical zoom lens that allows users to get tight and detailed shots from a distance. Because of their small size, competing devices don't have optical zoom lenses, and instead rely on digital zooms that actually degrade picture quality. Though Sony doesn't tout it much in marketing materials, the optical zoom is among bloggie's main selling points.
Ergonomics and Controls
Unfortunately, in order to fit the optical zoom lens into the bloggie, Sony had to increase the device's bulk. The bloggie measures 4 inches tall by 2.75 inches wide by 1.56 inches and weighs about 7 ounces, so unless you are wearing loose sweatpants, it won't comfortably fit in your pocket. Another downside is that the bloggie is currently available in one color: eggplant. The bloggie ships with a neck strap that provides two attached points, securing against its bottom and lens cap, which helps keep the bloggie stable when it dangles from your neck.
With its pistol-grip form and swivel out LCD, the bloggie more closely resembles a traditional camcorder than rival candy bar-shaped devices. The bloggie has a rounded bulge with slightly protruding lens area at the top. On the opposite end of the lens are the record buttons for video and still mode, zoom, and a control toggle. Underneath that, a small portion of the casing slides open to reveal a USB dongle, AV out and HDMI out ports. Hidden underneath the swivel LCD are three buttons for playback, recording, and the menu. Finally, the bottom of the bloggie houses a tripod mount hole and a segment that flips open to reveal a lithium battery and expandable memory slot, which accepts both SD/SDHC and Memory Stick cards.
The bloggie is small enough to fit in the palm of most hands, has some decent weight and balance, and despite the lack of a dedicated grip, can comfortably be held for extended periods. However, a glossy finish won't do much to hide smudges and fingerprints.
Menus and Modes
Accessing the bloggie's menu is simple: just hit the "Menu" button tucked underneath the monitor. There, users can select photo size (5 megapixels at 4:3; 4 megapixels at 3:2; 3 megapixels at 4:3; 2 megapixels at 16:9; and VGA at 4:3), video size as described above, turn on or off steady shot and facial detection, and access the camera's controls, clock, shooting, and memory card settings. Users can navigate and access menu commands with a four-way control toggle just below the zoom and record controls, pressing it to select a menu item. I've had trouble with similar navigation schemes on other devices, constantly clicking and selecting when attempting to scroll; this was never a problem with the bloggie. The control button was big enough and provided enough resistance for even my chubby digits.
The bloggie's menu lacks color correction and exposure controls, which isn't necessarily a bad thing considering the bloggie's less tech-savvy target demographic. Nevertheless, shutterbugs will be turned off by the inability to set the white balance or adjust the ISO.
Users can monitor the action via the bloggie's 2.5-inch flip-out LCD, which unlike the candy bar-shaped Flip, can rotate 180 degrees for shooting flexibility and self portraits. At a glance, it appears the monitor can also swivel in and out, but it doesn't. More than once I caught myself trying to make that adjustment. The LCD held tight though and is solid enough to withstand light abuse.
The menu settings allow users to slightly adjust the LCD backlight from "Normal" to "Bright" to optimize viewing in varied lighting conditions. Despite the controls, I still had trouble tracking details on the monitor when using the bloggie outdoors in bright sunlight. The inevitable fingerprints and screen smudges also compounded the problem.
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