Sony HDR-PJ710 Camcorder Review$1,299.00
Handling & Portability
The HDR-PJ710V handles no differently than last year's flagship Handycams from Sony. It's a big and clunky camcorder compared to the average consumer model, but that extra size does give the PJ710V (and its user) more clout. This camcorder has a ton of controls, it's got a built-in projector, and it has a new optical image stabilization system. There are a lot of connectivity features, most of which are very helpful, and the camcorder even has a built-in USB cable that tucks into the hand strap.
This hand strap isn't that comfortable, however, and part of its rough design comes from the fact that it has a little house that the USB cable lives inside. This makes the hand strap more rigid, so it conforms less to the back of your hand. It still provides a decent grip, but it's not like wearing a plush, comfortable glove. The touchscreen LCD is also the cause for some minor irritation. The interface is fine for most situations, but navigating menus and doing precise adjustment with the tiny touch buttons is a laborious task. We must admit, we liked this touchscreen much better than what we saw from JVC and Panasonic earlier this year. Sony and Canon camcorders definitely have the best touchscreens right now, but they still aren't perfect.
The control dial on the front of the Sony HDR-PJ710V is another feature that should be treasured by pros. But, like the camcorder's touchscreen, the dial is far from perfect. It's great for setting focus, as the tension on the dial seems to be just right for getting precise focus adjustments (especially when used with the camcorder's peaking feature). But the dial moves a bit too quickly for good exposure control. You can also access a quick menu by pressing and holding the button on the front of the dial, but this button wasn't always responsive to our touches. Just to be clear, we like the dial and are grateful Sony continues to implement it on its flagship Handycams, but there is certainly some room for improvement.
The battery on the HDR-PJ710V lasted for just under two hours in our test. This test was conducted with by letting the PJ710V continuously record (with special features, like GPS and stabilization turned off) with its highest-quality 60i record mode. Lasting for around two hours (118 minutes, to be exact) is a decent job for a camcorder of this size and price range. It's much longer than the Panasonic HC-X900M lasted, and it's nearly identical to the Canon HF G10. Remember, Sony does sell bigger batteries that will last longer if you need that kind of thing. More on how we test battery life.
The camcorder comes with an NP-FV50 rechargeable battery pack that fits in the slot on the back of the PJ710 and hangs out from the camcorder by a quarter-inch or so. The camcorder will work with larger battery packs, the NP-FV70 and the NP-FV100, available from Sony or generic models from third-party manufacturers. The battery charger is not a stand-alone unit, as the battery pack must be inserted in the camcorder and the camcorder must be plugged in for the battery to charge.
LCD & Viewfinder
On the left side of the PJ710 is a rotatable LCD that measures 3-inches diagonally. The screen has an impressive 921k-pixel resolution and it can rotate up to 270°. These specs are no different than last year's HDC-CX700V from Sony, but the PJ710 has an extra notable feature—a built-in projector that lives on the back of the LCD panel.
Something odd we should point out. Two years ago, Sony's flagship Handycam, the HDR-CX550V, had an even larger LCD than today's PJ710. The screen was 3.5-inches diagonally, which Sony may have decided was, in fact, too big. Hence the reduction in screen size we've seen over the past two years. Frankly, we liked having the extra half inch of screen real estate. It certainly helped with menu navigation, especially when Sony's touchscreen interface is so integral to the user interface.
The HDR-PJ710V does not have a built-in viewfinder. But if you're really itching for an EVF, you can upgrade to the HDR-PJ760V camcorder instead. The PJ760V has the same lens, sensor, and specs as the PJ710V, but it includes a viewfinder and 96GB of internal memory (instead of 32GB). It's also one of the priciest consumer models on the block, with an MSRP approaching $1600.
Sony is truly excited about its new Balanced SteadyShot optical image stabilization feature on the HDR-PJ710V and many other 2012 Handycams. We hear a lot about new image stabilization systems every year, so we tend not to get overly excited, but after testing the PJ710 over the past few days, we are ready to proclaim its stabilization greatness. The camcorder stabilized our test videos with expert precision in our tests, as we found the PJ710 consistently was able to reduce the shake by a solid 85%. More on how we test stabilization.
This result is on par with the best camcorders we've seen over the past few years (like the Panasonic HC-X900M), and it's a big improvement over last year's HDR-CX700V from Sony. For regular hand-held recording, we didn't notice Sony's Active stabilization mode doing anything better than the camcorder's regular SteadyShot, but we also didn't test the Active mode while running around with lots of jerky motion. In all, this is an impressive feat for Sony, and we can honestly say this new stabilization feature is actually worthy of the hype.