camcorders

Sony HDR-PJ30V Review

The Sony Handycam HDR-PJ30V's built-in projector can be a valuable tool for those who want to recap footage without the aid of an HDTV.

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Introduction

The Sony Handycam HDR-PJ30V ($959 MSRP) is a perfectly ordinary mid-range HD camcorder that has a tiny built-in projector stitched to the back of its LCD. The projector is far from perfect, but it can be a valuable tool for those who want to recap their footage without the aid of an HDTV.

In addition to the PJ30V, Sony has three other “projector cams” in its 2011 Handycam line. The HDR-PJ50V has the same features as the PJ30V, except it is loaded with a 220GB internal hard drive that makes it a bit larger and heavier (and $50 more expensive). The HDR-PJ10 is the cheapest of the three models (around $700), but it does not have a GPS function and lacks a number of other features found on Sony’s other two projector-camcorders.

Design & Usability

A simple-to-use camcorder that doesn't feel great in the hand

The PJ30V has plenty of good design traits: its body feels durable, its touchscreen is responsive, and the camcorder is lighter than average for a mid-range model. What isn't good is the flimsy handstrap that Sony slapped onto the side of the PJ30V. The strap is both thinner and less comfortable than what Sony offered in the past, and this cutback may take a toll on the back of your hand. The inside of the strap is very rigid due to the presence of a hard casing for the tip of the built-in USB cable to snap into. The presence of this USB cable is a great idea, but Sony shouldn't have sacrificed this much comfort to make it happen.

As far as features go, the HDR-PJ30V has a few different frame rate options, which is really cool for people who want to mimic that 24 frames-per-second effect of film, but the camcorder has little in the way of manual controls. There are no advanced methods for adjusting shutter speed or aperture, and most of the controls found on the camcorder are nothing more than enhanced automatic functions.

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Features

The projector is an expensive gimmick, but it's also kinda fun.

Nope, this isn't an elaborate joke. The HDR-PJ30V actually comes with a built-in projector for playing back videos. It's a cool feature, for sure, but the system also has an abundance of limitations. The projector interface is not easy to use, unless you have access to the camcorder's provided remote control, and the touchscreen is inactive whenever the PJ30V is projecting video. This means the only way to navigate your clips during playback is by using the zoom toggle to cycle through videos and pressing the photo shutter button to select a video for playback. Using the remote does make things a lot simpler, but it's still not a good playback system.

The built-in projector is a cool feature, but the system also has an abundance of limitations.

Projecting your clips on a white background from about 5 feet away will result in video that looks pretty good, but the content won't look nearly as sharp as watching your videos on an HDTV. The built-in projector also has no controls over setting the zoom, image position, color correction, or keystone effect for the projected video image. All you can do is use a tiny focus slider on the top of the LCD panel to bring your projections into focus. The slider worked fine for the most part, and you can also tilt the LCD panel a bit in order to position the projected image better.

Performance

Decent image quality, but the performance from Canon and Panasonic's competition was better

The HDR-PJ30V produced fairly vivid colors, but the camcorder had problems with color accuracy. This led to the PJ30V being outscored in our color tests by the competition, and by a significant margin to boot. Noise was also a problem with the camcorder, both in low light and bright light, so you can't expect to capture perfectly-clean images with the PJ30V.

Sharpness and motion were better for the HDR-PJ30V's videos, although the camcorder continued to play second-fiddle to the competition from Canon and Panasonic. Motion got a significant boost thanks to the camcorder's plentiful recording options, including new 60p and 24p frame rate settings. These modes bring out the best performance the PJ30V is capable of, and the 60p setting recorded moving subjects with near-perfect smoothness.

Conclusion

With its projector capabilities and multiple frame rate options, the PJ30V is more unique than most camcorders of its class. But that doesn't mean it's a better product.

The Sony Handycam HDR-PJ30V is a middling camcorder. Its built-in projector is a cool feature, but it doesn't warrant the $950 price tag that comes with the model. The camcorder handled most of our tests with passable results, and it produced some excellent numbers in motion and stabilization, but the overall performance from the PJ30V was not up to snuff. Mid-range camcorders from Canon (Vixia HF M40) and Panasonic (HDC-TM90) both did better in our tests—particularly in low light—and are available at much lower costs than the PJ30V. In fact, the PJ30V is closer in price to Panasonic’s high-end model, the HDC-TM900. And if you can get a camcorder of that quality for the same price, then that puts the HDR-PJ30V in an unfortunate limbo.

If you are a lover of multiple frame rates, then there is some extra incentive to go with the PJ30V.

Then again, there is some kind of allure to that gimmick of a projector. At least this feature, along with the ability to record video with 60p and 24p frame rates, helps make the HDR-PJ30V stand out from the crowd. The Panasonic HDC-TM90 can record 60p, and the Canon HF M40 can record 24p, but the Sony HDR-PJ30V is the only mid-range model of the bunch that can do both. So, if you are a lover of multiple frame rates, then there is some extra incentive to go with the PJ30V.

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