Sony HDR-PJ710V Review
The Sony HDR-PJ710V delivers both focus and image quality.
This year has seen a lot of slightly updated camcorders with one or two new features and no substantial improvement to image quality or performance. But the Sony HDR-PJ710V is one product that actually delivers. The camcorder has all the cool features that made the Sony HDR-CX700V great in 2011, and it's infused with drastically improved low light performance, better image stabilization, and a built-in projector that was only found on select Sony models last year.
Sony isn’t just giving the HDR-PJ710V away for free, so you have to decide if the better performance is worth the cash. With an initial launch price of $1299 (too high), the camcorder has since dropped to $1099 on Sony’s website. This puts it in roughly the same price range as the Canon HF G10, and it's just a bit more expensive than the Panasonic HC-X900M. If you have even more cash to blow, Sony does offer a step-up HDR-PJ760V Handycam for $1599. The PJ760V has three times as much internal memory (96GB) and includes an electronic viewfinder—otherwise it’s the same as the HDR-PJ710V.
Design & Usability
Larger than your average consumer camcorder, the PJ710V's extra size gives it a more professional look.
A huge chunk of the camcorders on the market these days are small enough to fit in your pocket—heck, some of them are small enough to mount on your bike helmet. The Sony HDR-PJ710V is not one of those camcorders. In fact, it’s one of the bulkiest camcorders I've worked with since last year's Canon HF G10 (ignoring pro models, of course). This extra size does make the PJ710V look more professional, and that should make you feel more like a pro when using it. The most unusual design implementation on the PJ710V is probably the camcorder’s built-in projector, but it’s not like this projector really gets in the way of the overall package. It’s just a little light on the back of the LCD panel, and it's easy to ignore if you have no use for it. The camcorder also has a strange lens wobble thanks to Sony’s new optical image SteadyShot feature. When you turn the PJ710V on, you may notice the lens snapping to attention like a robot that’s tuned-in on your face. It’s kinda creepy, but also kind of cool, and the stabilization performance from the camcorder was downright amazing. Just remember that the wobbly noise you can hear when you shake the camcorder is normal.
The user interface on the HDR-PJ710V is excellent in most aspects. The auto controls are easy to use and there are a bunch of simple features you can play around with. Our only issue is that the dedicated auto mode isn’t all that front-and-center; it should be easier to locate. The manual controls are just as extensive on the camcorder, although some pros may be miffed by the lack of a true manual mode that allows you to set every control independently from one another. That minor gripe aside, the camcorder functions very well with its control dial and better-than-average touchscreen.
Plenty of record modes, good manual control options, and all the important connectivity features
Sony loaded the HDR-PJ710V with tons of features. Many are useful, like the traditional exposure controls and professional peaking and zebra pattern options, but some are silly or limited, like smile shutter and smooth slow record. Others, like the built-in projector, GPS, and Nightshot, fall somewhere in the middle. They have their uses, but they aren’t necessary for the average consumer. In the end, Sony has all the really important bases covered. The HDR-PJ710V has a bunch of record modes and quality options, and it has the necessary manual functions for you to take full control over your video production.
Sony pulled off some big improvements to low light performance compared to last year's flagship Handycams.
Honestly, I didn't expect Sony to make much of an improvement to the performance of the HDR-PJ710V. But the camcorder surely is improved over last year's models, and nearly all of the improvements resulted in enhanced low light performance. The HDR-PJ710V showed less noise, stronger colors, and a far better low light sensitivity than last year’s HDR-CX700V, effectively turning one of the CX700V's weaknesses into one of the PJ710V's greatest strengths.
This not-quite flagship Handycam is just as good than Sony's top models—and cheaper, too.
The HDR-PJ710V churned out one of the best low light performances seen so far this year, essentially turning last year’s biggest weakness into one of this year’s greatest strengths. The new Sony PJ710V not only produces brighter images than last year’s CX700V, but it also showed far less noise and better colors than its predecessor. Sony also improved its SteadyShot image stabilization system, which was another area where last year’s CX700V had some trouble.
Sony didn’t mess with the interface or controls on the PJ710 all that much, but they really didn’t need to. The camcorder effortlessly combines automatic functions with a robust set of manual controls in order to appeal to beginners and pros alike, and that’s something Sony is certainly developing a knack for. The camcorder still includes the best features from last year, including 24p and 60p record modes, the ability to record standard def video (in addition to HD), and a physical dial for setting manual controls. There’s also the built-in projector, which may be the PJ710V’s most unique feature. Compared to the improved low light and stabilization performance, however, the built-in projector isn’t that noteworthy. Yeah, it's fun to play around with, but it's certainly not a necessity, which is why the projector-less HDR-CX760V is another Sony option worth looking at.
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