Sony Handycam PJ650V First Impressions Review$1,099.99
Sony's Handycam PJ650V is a compelling upgrade, and it could mark the start of an offshoot product line.
While the sensor and lens don't seem to have changed much since the PJ580, a few exciting additions like projector input and a multi-control dial make this camcorder more than another routine update to the series. Sony's focus on built-in projectors in this space continues to surprise us, but in a shrinking camcorder market, we suppose decent ideas are better than no ideas.
Design & Usability
Two important upgrades set the PJ650 apart.
The most important addition is the new multi-control wheel on the front side, below and to the left of the lens. This feature was a good idea when it debuted at the high end of Sony's camcorder lineup, though it's the first time we've seen it on a $1,000-ish model. We're nitpicking here, but the menu overlay associated with this is feature is a little too fast, and the free-spinning jog dial is a little difficult to control precisely.
A new electronic viewfinder has also been added to the PJ650. It pulls out and tilts up just like the one found on the last-generation PJ760 and its successor, the flagship HDR-PJ790. An easy to use diopter wheel is positioned atop the eye cup, but the electronic finder's LCD display is low-res, with poor color reproduction. (We noticed a distinctly blue cast that wasn't actually present on the show floor.) Most users will certainly prefer the large, gorgeous LCD display instead.
Just like the PJ790, the PJ650 has received an upgrade to its projector, this time from 13 lumens up to 20. But unlike the PJ790, this upgrade has not resulted in increased thickness to the LCD panel, which remains just as thin as earlier models. As we mentioned in our hands-on of the flagship, the typical home theater projector pumps out at least 700 lumens, so you shouldn't go in expecting this camcorder to replace your television.
Stabilization—according to Sony, at least—has also been improved. This is another one of those Sony lenses whose elements visibly move within their enclosure when the camera is shaken. After a decidedly unscientific side by side shake test, we came away with the impression that the effect was much more pronounced on the PJ790. Our hunch is that the PJ650's stabilizer may not be quite as dynamic.
Many of the updated features we discovered in our earlier analysis of the PJ790 have also turned up in the cheaper PJ650.
Most of these additions and alterations have to do with an increased emphasis on the built-in projector. For example, one of the camcorder's USB terminals has been replaced by a micro HDMI projector input that allows external sources to be displayed. Also like the PJ790, the hot shoe has been redesigned for use with Sony's newest line of accessories, including XLR modules. Sadly, any existing Sony Handycam add-ons will no longer work with the new models.
MP4 encoding has been added as an alternative to AVCHD, and although the compression is of lower quality and the codec's maximum resolution is 720p, the data is much simpler to work with when editing. The PJ650 also carries a Sony "G" -branded lens, not a Zeiss, so we probably shouldn't expect quite the same image quality that you get from Sony's more expensive camcorders.
More than a simple iterative refresh of the PJ580
The major additions of a front multi-control dial and electronic viewfinder position the PJ650 as something other than a natural upgrade from the PJ580. Really, it feels more like the beginning of a slightly divergent product branch.
We're happy to see hardware upgrades like this, as opposed to routine firmware and processor updates, but it remains a surprise to see Sony's strong commitment to built-in projector technology. Between this camcorder and the PJ790, it seems the key differences will be the quality of lens and the strength of SteadyShot. We'll need to conduct our lab tests to arrive at a proper verdict, but our outlook for this model is definitely positive.