When we reviewed Sony's first pocket camcorder, the Webbie MHS-PM1, we were impressed its unique rotating lens and full HD recording (a rarity at the time), but not its blurry still photos or jerky zoom. Since then, the company has renamed its line of camcorders Bloggie, a goofy nod to its intended users. While we enjoy the $149 Bloggie MHS-PM5's full HD video quality and unique design, other competitors offer more amenities and better ergonomics for the money.
The PM5 has a candy bar design with a twist. Literally. On top of the camcorder, which measures a compact 4.4 x 2.3 x 0.8 inches, is a swiveling lens that rotates 270 degrees. And having that degree of flexibility allows video bloggers to film themselves as well as others. The lens cover has ridges on it, which makes it easy to rotate with a finger on the hand that's not holding the camera. Also, the camcorder turns on when you expose the lens (there's a dedicated power button too)--a nice touch. The PM5 comes in comes in blue, Eggplant (a deep purple), pink, and white, and it has metal accents on the sides, which gives it a more stylish look than many of its competitors.
Below the lens, the PM5 resembles more traditional pocket camcorders. It has a fairly small 2.4-inch display (230,000 pixels) with playback and menu buttons and a four-way joystick that's more cumbersome to use than a flat D-pad would have been. During shooting, you can only see your subject on a small slice of the display; the remaining space is taken up by shooting settings. On the other hand, the display was relatively sharp, particularly compared to the Flip SlideHD. Bonus: you can play videos back in landscape mode, which allows for a larger viewing area.
To the right of the display is a switch that lets users toggle between film and still picture modes; this setup is more cumbersome than the last-generation Webbie MHS-PM1, whose twin still photo and video recording buttons were located right below the LCD display. We often fumbled with the PM5 before pressing the record button.
On the right side is the power button, zoom rocker, and covered A/V and mini-USB ports. We're puzzled that Sony, a company whose tagline is HDNA, didn't include an HDMI output. We do like Sony's placement of the zoom rocker, which makes it easy for right-handed people to hold the camcorder while pushing the zoom controls up and down with their thumb. On the left side are covered battery and memory card slots (it accepts Sony's proprietary Memory Stick format, as well as the more common SDHC format). Finally, there's a tripod port on the bottom of the camcorder, along with a lever to slide out the USB connector--something the last-generation PM1 didn't have.
Aside from Kodak, Sony is the only player in the pocket camcorder space that also knows a thing or do about digital cameras (not to mention higher-end camcorders). It makes sense, then, that Sony has ported some of the technologies available in its other digital imaging products into its pocket camcorders. These include face detection and Steadyshot (digital) image stabilization.
Particularly when set to 1080p resolution, the PM5's video quality was pretty good. The level of detail is on a par with what we got from the Kodak Playsport, another $149 full HD pocket camcorder, which we loved. We noticed some motion blur at 1080p, so we recommend downgrading to 720p resolution at 60 frames per second if you think your subjects are going to be moving. Too bad you can't use the 4X digital zoom when you're shooting at 1080p resolution (the same is true of the Toshiba Camileo S20, but not of the Kodak Playsport).
In general, we noticed sharp details not just in the foreground, but in the background. Other cameras, such as the Playsport, sometimes blow out the background, overexposing it. With the PM5, however, we were able to make out details in the distance as well. At the same time, we found the colors to be more washed out, and also slightly greener than the ones we saw in our clips taken with the Playsport or even the Flip SlideHD.
The PM5 stands out (and not in a good way) because its Picture Motion Browser (PMB) software comes on a CD, as opposed to being bundled on the camcorder itself. Flip pioneered this, and companies like Kodak jumped on board; we think Sony should offer this convenience as well. Moreover, installing Sony's software involves connecting the camcorder so that your computer recognizes the drivers, and then restarting your computer. Even after you install the software, it doesn't load automatically once you plug in your camcorder; you have to open the program first, then turn on the camcorder, and select Import. We wish this process were more automated.
The Picture Motion Browser software itself has an attractive interface, including a calendar housing clips organized by the date they were recorded, and a film strip at the bottom of each clip that allows you to jump around the clip in five-second intervals. And while you can click a Back to Main button to return to the video library, the thumbnails of other clips taken on that day will appear alongside the clip you're currently viewing. You can also organize videos by labels and star ratings.
The software also includes plenty of editing tools, letting users tweak things like brightness, red eye, saturation, sharpness, and tone curve. However, Sony missed a couple small details, including the ability to play back clips at full screen and to preview them, which you can do in the software that comes with Kodak's Playsport camcorder. While the list of sites to which you can upload videos includes Dailymotion, Photobucket, Picasa, Shutterfly, and YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, and Vimeo are all missing from the list.
The PM5's rechargeable battery is rated for 95 minutes of continuous recording and 135 minutes of continuous playback. Happily, shooting at 1080p didn't seem to drain the battery any faster than it did on earlier full HD pocket camcorders. Of course, that's because we weren't shooting or playing back video continuously, but keeping the camcorder in our pocket and removing it to record videos when we felt like it.
Sony has taken several steps forward since it debuted its first pocket camcorders last year, but it's also taken a step back. While $149 is a good price for a pocket cam with these specs, the Bloggie MHS-PM5's design is more difficult to use than its predecessor. Had Sony kept the record buttons in an easy-to-reach place (and thrown in HDMI output), it would have been a more worthy competitor to the easier-to-use, full HD Kodak Playsport ($149).