It’s getting hard to escape 3D. Almost all new brand-name HDTVs are 3D capable. Blockbuster movies are now shot in 3D. Laptops, smartphones and tablets with 3D capability are also hitting the market. And all indications suggest it will very soon be a standard feature on digital cameras and camcorders.
At least all indications coming out of Sony suggest 3D will be a standard feature. The Japanese imaging giant has two 3D-capable consumer camcorders on both ends of its 2011 lineup; the $1,500 Handycam HDR-TD10 and the $250 Sony Bloggie 3D.
On paper, it’s extremely impressive that Sony crammed 3D capability into a pocket camcorder, and not the old-fashioned blue-red (anaglyph) technology available on YouTube 3D, either. The Bloggie 3D shoots real stereoscopic 3D that's closer in quality to what’s playing on today’s 3D HDTVs than it is to the b-movies of old.
Also impressive is the 2.4-inch glasses-free (auto-stereoscopic) 3D display. It’s the coolest feature I’ve ever seen on a pocket camcorder to date and presented a genuine “wow” moment when I first saw it in action. But cut through the wow factor, and how does the Bloggie shape up as a pocket camcorder? With a $250 launch price, it’s one of the most expensive cameras in its class. In addition, to truly experience the 3D, you need an HDMI cable (not included), active 3D glasses (not included) and a 3D-capable HDTV (definitely not included).
In addition to the 1080/30p 3D and 2D, the Bloggie 3D shoots at lower resolutions and sports a 1/4-inch Exmor CMOS Sensor. It can also shoot a variety of stills, including 4 megapixel 3D pics, which are really two 2 megapixel images combined to form one 4 megapixel 3D image.
The Sony Bloggie 3D only comes in one color: black. It has 8GB of internal storage, with no option for expandable storage or unit offering additional capacity. Sony claims that the 8GB is good for 80 minutes of recordable footage. So is the Bloggie 3D an innovative gadget and the next big thing? Or, is it a niche curiosity, best for early adopters and no one else? Read on to find out.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The Bloggie 3D looks like a Bloggie Touch, which looks very much like a smartphone. The front is rubberized, with a slot for the two fixed-focus lenses (of f/2.8 maximum aperture) framed by a silver plastic. An LED shooting light sits to the left. The 2.4-inch TFT LCD display dominates the back (230,400 pixels), and it has three function buttons underneath. When pressed, those pull up the menu, toggle 2D/3D, or play back footage. Underneath the buttons is the d-pad and record button.
Looking at it from the back, the left side houses the slide-out USB dongle, mini-HDMI port, and wrist-strap notch. The on-board microphone, speakers, on/off button, charge lamp, and stills button are on the right.
There is nothing on the top of the Bloggie 3D and the tripod receptacle is on the bottom.
Just as I was with the Bloggie Touch, I’m perplexed by the mic placement. It’s too easy to cover the microphone when holding the Bloggie, and there’s no notch or anything to indicate the mic’s presence. Also, though the Bloggie 3D lenses are slightly recessed, they are still way too exposed for my liking; so is the display. Both are just begging for a scratch.
Ergonomics and Controls
The Bloggie 3D has a solid feel, mostly due to the rubberized front and sides. I don’t recommend tossing it haphazardly into a backpack or purse though, not without a protective cover or case anyway, but users won’t have to handle it with too much care when shooting 3D.
The Bloggie buttons are well spaced and intuitive – and they snap nicely when pressed. The rubberized grip lends itself to prolonged shooting as it makes the Bloggie 3D pleasant to hold and it shrugs off fingerprints. A built-in accelerometer adjusts the Bloggie for shooting in both portrait and landscape mode, and it adjusts again for right-handed or left-handed shooting. The d-pad doubles as a zoom lever, and can toggle the shooting light and record delay. That’s a nice touch, as is the 3D quick toggle button.
Menu and Modes
In addition to the 1080/30p 3D and 2D, as well as 720/60p, 720/30p and 270/30p via its 1/4-inch Exmor CMOS Sensor, all in two dimensions. For stills, it shoots 2D 3.1 megapixel and 0.4 megapixel (16:9), as well as five-megapixel stills (4:3). It can also snap 3D pics at 4 megapixels by combining two 2 megapixel images as described earlier.
Like most other pocket camcorders, there isn’t much to the menu system, there are only just a handful of image/movie sizes and camera options
Camera options include:
Playback modes include options for deleting, protecting, and tagging files for the “share it later” upload feature.
The glasses-free 3D display is one of the highlights of the device. Even when its set to 3D, the screen loses most of its resolution and brightness as it gives the appearance of viewing the display behind a screen door. However, even though there is a very small sweet spot for viewing the 3D, it actually works. As I said in the intro, it’s a “wow” feature and is the first time in a long time I had curious co-workers swinging by my cubicle just to check out a camcorder.
Unfortunately, other than the 3D, this Bloggie display has some major flaws. At 2.4-inches, it’s relatively small, and it’s made about 30% smaller by the steady mattes framing the action on the top and bottom if you are holding the Bloggie 3D in landscape mode, and sides if you are holding it in portrait. Also, there are no brightness settings, so glare from the sun presents problems. Seeing the 3D display while outdoors on a sunny day is near impossible.
There is a shallow digital zoom that can be controlled by pushing up and down on the d-pad, and a shooting light and record delay can be toggled by pressing left and right. The shooting light isn’t exceptionally bright, but having one is better than having none, and having quick access is a nice design touch.
The Bloggie 3D can store 80 minutes of the highest quality footage (1080/30p), both 2D and 3D. However, clips are limited to a half hour. I was barely able to fill the Bloggie with 80 minutes of footage before the battery ran out. Users have to charge the device over USB on a PC as Sony did not package an AC adapter.
It may be a 3D camcorder, but the Bloggie 3D is still a pocket camcorder, meaning it meets the “stupid-simple” operation criteria. The Bloggie 3D decently automates white balance, focus, and exposure – by pocket camcorder standards anyway. It requires at least four inches of space to focus. It also automates the 3D convergence point, which is essentially the focal point of the two lenses when creating the 3D effect.
By adjusting the convergence point, users can pull the 3D effect out of the screen or push it back into the display. But that is neither here nor there as it can’t be adjusted on the Bloggie 3D.
While shooting 2D, users can also snap stills, and there is a face detection feature while holding the camcorder in portrait mode. That feature is not available while shooting 3D, nor is the auto focus, zoom, anti-blur, or snapping stills while shooting video.
Video, Stills, and Audio Quality
The Bloggie 3D video quality is on par with other pocket camcorders. At 1080p, it’s clean but not particularly crisp. The colors appear balanced and accurate in steady light, and still look decent in low light. There is a moderate amount of noise in the low light footage and details all but disappear, but the colors are discernable and the Bloggie 3D generally outperforms other pocket camcorders.
When viewed on a 3D HDTV, the 3D footage is – well, it’s 3D. It works, and the effect is nearly as good as anything available from the Comcast On Demand 3D offerings. The video quality itself is not as good as the professional stuff as it appears dim and splotchy when shot from the Bloggie 3D (you can tell it came from a $250 camcorder), but there is no arguing that the depth is apparent. The same comments apply for the 3D stills.
The 2D stills look great and rival low-end point and shoot cameras. In fact, if I were carrying a Bloggie 3D, I’d probably leave the point-and-shoot at home.
The stereo mic also meets the standard set by the Bloggie Touch. There is no external mic input, but provided you are not covering the either mic with your finger, you can record decent-enough audio in most shooting situations.
Operation and Extras
The Bloggie 3D ships with a wrist strap and USB extender. It comes pre-loaded with the Bloggie software detailed in the Bloggie Touch review. Once again, Sony excludes the HDMI cable, which is required to experience the 3D outside of the camcorder, as well as any sort of protective carrying case. Considering 3D is the main selling point of the device, Sony should have included an HDMI cable.
The Bloggie software is still one of the best pre-packaged software shipping with camcorders, especially now that FlipShare is no longer around. It’s especially good for quickly uploading videos and photos to sharing sites like YouTube and Facebook, which I imagine most Bloggie owners will want to do with their clips.
3D videos uploaded to YouTube will feature the site's red/blue technology, which provides a low-end 3D experience when viewed with the old-fashioned glasses. To view the real 3D, users will have to rely on their 3D-capable HDTVs and stream the footage over HDMI. Footage can also be viewed on 3D-capable PCs.
Because the Bloggie 3D records MP4 files, users can also simply drag and drop them off the device via USB.
Finally, the Bloggie 3D can double as a webcam when connected over USB. It’s a fun feature, and there is a 3D option on the camera when connected, though I can’t confirm it records 3D as my laptop is not 3D capable.
The Bloggie 3D proves that 3D can work on a pocket camcorder, but unless you have all the necessary equipment to view the 3D, it’s tough to justify the $250 price tag, especially considering the Bloggie Touch is $100 cheaper and a better pure pocket camcorder.
But it’s hard not to be impressed with the Bloggie 3D, and especially the display. It’s really the first buzz-worthy pocket camcorder I’ve encountered since the original Flip turned heads. I expect good things for the line in the coming years. Right now, it’s a first-generation device with flaws. If you have to have the coolest gadgets on the block, pick one up. Everyone else should wait a bit.