Hands On Review With The Sony HDR-TG5V

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Easy to operate ultra-compact camcorders are really stealing the show these days, and Sony's new higher end HDR-TG5V high definition Handycam is an impressive little performer for those interested in the concentrated form factor but wanting a little more oomph. Marketed for the chic traveler, its lightweight design and clean look combined with enhanced features such as Geotagging and 16GB embedded flash memory make it a great option. The camera now features a ClearVid Exmor CMOS sensor with a BIONZ image processor, improving upon its greatest feature: full 1920 x 1080 recording. I was able to get my hands on the HDR-TG5V to test out just what makes this stylish little camcorder tick and here are my initial impressions.

The Basics

The TG5V is a slim camcorder with an upright form factor. While all camcorders seem to be somewhat compact these days I found that the TG5V truly fit in my pocket without looking or feeling bulky. The camera isn't as small as a Flip but does fold down to a manageable size; about the height of an iPhone. The titanium finish is being touted as a "sleek look", and I have to say I agree; the TG5V is definitely a looker. The design is understated, modern, and not likely to draw much unwanted attention to it when you're out shooting.

Most all the features are accessible through the menus on the enhanced touch screen LCD display, leaving the body of the camera streamlined and less complicated to use. As is the norm with touch screens it did smudge somewhat but didn't create a problem viewing the menus. It cleaned up easily with a micro fiber cloth. Another nice aspect of the LCD is that, like its predecessor, the screen rotates up to 270 degrees. This makes it easy to film from a variety of angles. I also found the Power On function to be quite nice as it automatically turns the camera on when you open the LCD. The camcorder will switch back to standby mode when the screen is closed to help save battery life.

A major difference between this model and the TG1 would be the distinct lack of buttons on the body. There's the familiar jog dial for adjusting wide or telephoto zooming which doubles as the record activation button. You'll also find a small button to the left of the dial for capturing stills. Apart from that, the exterior of the camera is free from protrusions. Once you move the cover on the back of the camera over, you'll find a few more hidden features, but not many. The cover keeps the battery, Memory Stick media slot, and GPS on/off switch, along with the reset switch nicely out of view. On the bottom of the right side there is another discrete cover that hides a DC in and A/V out jacks. The HDMI out, USB port, a second A/V out, and DC in port can all be found on the external Handycam Station, which docks the camcorder for charging or exporting footage to your HDTV or computer, also giving it a home when you're not using it.

Getting down to the nitty gritty, one major upgrade found on the HDR-TG5V is the memory capacity. The hybrid recording feature on this model, doubles the recording time compared to the TG1, which relied only on external Memory Stick media. The camcorder features a 16GB embedded flash memory and a Memory Stick PRO Duo media slot, allowing for nearly 2 hours of HD video recorded to the embedded memory in the highest quality setting and another 2 hours of video on the Memory Stick. You can transfer the footage from the embedded flash memory to Memory Stick media for easier uploading to your computer.

The camera captures in AVCHD with the 1/5" ClearVid Exmor CMOS sensor with a BIONZ image processor, ensuring full 1920 x 1080 HD video and 4MP still images. The Exmor sensor and the BIONZ processor, both work to cut down on image noise for clean video and stills. The Dynamic Range Optimizer automatically adjusts for exposure and contrast, balancing out your video and still images, even in bright or high-contrast situations. From my experience with the camera, all of these features do their job, not just while viewing video on the LCD but on playback as well.

GPS Features

Now, let's take a look at the number one thing that sets this camera apart from the TG1 and most others on the market today: the GPS capabilities. The built-in GPS receiver lets you view your exact location, giving you the latitude and longitude, on the built-in Navteq basemap. It also automatically sets the camcorder to the correct time zone. While finding your location on the map is certainly interesting, being able to find your video and stills, based on where they were shot, for playback and editing, using the Picture Motion Browser software is the real payoff. The camcorder lets you view tagged video and stills via the Map Index – giving you a list of scenes or stills shot in area you tagged. All in all I found it to be a useful feature for the traveler who wants to keep all their memories organized by location. After running around Manhattan with the camera, I was able to come back to our offices and find all my footage quickly and easily based on where I had been. If I were say, on a tour of Europe, having the files already organized for me when I got home, would make the editing process a breeze.

Shooting Functions

Other special shooting functions that I tried out, using my co-workers as guinea pigs, proved to be worthwhile additions to the camcorder. One notable addition to the TG5V is the built-in flash, which makes capturing blur free, accurate stills indoors and in low light situations a reality. This is a feature sometimes overlooked on camcorders, and it makes this the one device you'll need when traveling or at events, allowing you to leave the dedicated still camera at home. In addition, the Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens with SteadyShot image stabilization and 10x optical zoom produced clean, steady zoom footage that held up upon playback.

Face Detection and Smile Shutter, both of which are catching on in the camcorder market after having taken over digital still cameras, are both highly touted features on this camcorder. Face Detection adjusts focus, exposure and color on up to 8 faces in a frame for both video and still images. The feature frames a box around each subjects face as you shoot and it adjusts for exposure and focus. The Smile Shutter function, on the other hand, is used for still images and in dual capture mode, automatically taking a still image when your subject smiles. You can set the sensitivity to child, adult, or auto priority. It's a handy feature that ensures you'll get a least one good shot of every relative at the party. Around the office, we had fun trying to see if we could fake it out. The camera wasn't fooled. Every time a co-worker cracked a smile, sure enough, the TG5V took the photo.

Other features, such as shooting in dual record mode and Smooth Slow Shutter were convenient as well. Dual record mode enables stills to be captured along when shooting HD video allowing you keep shooting when there's a photo you want to take. The Smooth Slow Record function takes the normal record rate of 60 frames per second and ups it to 240 fps, letting you record 3 seconds of video which will then play back in 12 seconds for a detailed breakdown of all the action. This feature definitely made for an interesting playback of co-workers spinning in their chairs.

Playback

You can view your tagged video and stills using the aforementioned Map Index, but you also have the option to find your footage using the date, Film Roll index or Face index. Overall, the footage upon playback was clean, more so than I expected from a small, handheld camcorder. The high definition resolution really came through on everything I shot. Outdoor footage held up especially well on a large HDTV screen and gave what seemed to be an accurate reading of what was filmed with little to no image noise or distortion. The camera handled color and contrast well too without blowing anything wildly out of proportion. It provided balanced and true-to-life colors, most definitely due to Sony's x.v. Color technology which enables the camera to capture nearly twice as many viewable colors as the normal RGB color range for viewing on an HD display.

All things considered, I was impressed by the capabilities of the HDR-TG5V with everything from the image quality to its fashionable styling. Fans of uber-compact form factors and GPS tracking will likely be giving this camera a standing ovation and throwing bouquets.