Sony’s Handycam HDR-XR520V is the flagship of its high definition Handycam camcorder line up. You'll find a host of high-end features such as a large, 240GB hard disk drive, a new CMOS image sensor, and a built-in GPS receiver.
If you want these high-end specs, you’ll have to pay up. The suggested retail price of the HDR-XR520V is $1,499.
Sony HDR-X520V: The Good
At its highest quality setting, the XR520 records at 16Mbps. While the video quality is quite impressive, it comes in at a lower bit rate than competitive models from Canon. This may turn off true videophiles, but you’d need to be an eagle-eyed observer to spot any imperfections in the video. Even in low light, the XR520 delivers sharp, color-saturated video.
For more on camcorder bit rates, see this Guide to Understanding Camcorder Bit Rates.
Another huge plus for the camcorder is its huge hard drive. At 240GB, it can store close to 30 hours of video at the highest quality setting.
As you would expect from a top-of-the-line Sony camcorder, the XR520V is crammed with features. You'll find a 12x optical zoom lens with the company’s very effective Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization. To improve stabilization during sports filming, Sony added an Active Mode, which provides for greater stability if you're moving about.
You’ll also find 5.1 surround sound audio recording, face detection and 12-megapixel still photo capture.
The camcorder offers very few external buttons to maneuver around and leaves most of the menu functions accessible via a bright 3.2-inch touch-screen LCD display. The user-interface is quite intuitive and while the model is sturdily built, it’s not a burden to hold for long stretches.
For a high-end camcorder with a near $1,500 price tag, there is a surprising lack of manual controls. Sony used a small wheel (instead of a lens ring) for manually controlling focus and setting exposure, but you can’t adjust shutter speed or aperture.
With the XR520V, Sony is bringing GPS technology into a consumer camcorder for the first time. Previously, if you wanted to add geographical coordinates to the videos you were recording, you’d have to tote around a separate GPS receiver.
So the XR520V gets an approving nod for eliminating the need to lug extra stuff around. But how useful is it?
If you're a frequent traveler, it's quite useful. If you're not, it's less important. Using GPS, Sony was able to deliver three new features: the ability to display a map of your current location on the LCD display, the ability to automatically set the camcorder's time and date, and the ability to organize videos using a map (both in the camcorder and on the computer using supplied software).
The automatic date/time functionality worked as advertised and saves you the trouble of constantly updating your camcorder as you roam. The map view is a nice way to graphically plot and organize your video adventures on a map.
The current location map function, while novel, isn’t terribly detailed. For my New Jersey neighborhood, the best detail I could bring up was the nearby highway. So if you’re bringing the XR520V on your European vacation, don’t expect it to lead you through around back roads.
You'll also likely have more success with the XR520V's GPS receiver outdoors. At least, I did. Indoors, my unit could not establish a signal, but when I stepped outside it took under a minute to establish a connection and confirm my location.
For more on GPS camcorders see Guide to GPS Camcorders.
XR520V: A Travel Companion
While road warriors will appreciate the new features enabled by GPS, Sony’s HDR-XR520V has much more to recommend it. From sharp video quality and a generously-sized hard drive to a wealth of video features, the XR520V is a worthy - if pricey - addition to Sony's camcorder family.