Shooting with the Sony Handycam HDR XR500V

By: Tariq Bamadhaj (Senior Editor)

Update: June 15, 2010 10:30PM ET:  This contest is now officially closed. Congratulations to Mark L. of El Paso, TX for winning this awesome prize. Mark, you have been chosen based on the rules. We have sent out an email your way to further verify your identity. After which, you are required to contact us ASAP with all validating information. You have approximately one week to contact us. We have taken very careful steps to keep your private information secure, so we expect all winners to excercise honesty & promptness. Breaking any of the rules will result in a disqualification and as such, another winner will be chosen at random. A big thank you to our friends at for this great prize!


P1040784With everything going HD in the digital world, from televisions to phones, it was only a matter of time before we saw consumer camcorders shoot videos in crystal clear quality. One such camcorder that I had the opportunity to try out was the Sony Handycam . With Sony and their great designs, I was rather surprised to see just how bulky this but I soon came to realized just what contributed to its size.

Tech Specs

The XR500V packs a 120GB HDD which allows for over 14 hours of shooting at the highest quality. More than any tape or disc or even flash based models out there. If that was not enough, you have the option of expanding it with a Memory Stick Pro Duo that can add up to an additional 32GB of storage. With so much storage, this handycam is definitely a great model to take with you on your next family vacation. Or for that upcoming spring break.

P1040788The camera weighs in at 20oz and is enclosed in a 2.9x3x5.5” body in a very sexy black and gray finish. While it won’t fit into your pocket like a Flip or other smaller sized camcorders, it does pack a GPS receiver that allows you to tag your media and view them by location later on. The 12 megapixel camera lets you capture still moments with up to 12x optical zoom while the Exmor R sensor developed by Sony allows for great picture quality in low noise.

With so much going for the Sony Handycam HDR XR500V, it’s also priced higher than many consumer models out there. Just slashed to $899 from $1299, you’ll probably still think that you could get a cheaper camcorder elsewhere. However, I urge you to read this review before you let price be the sole factor in your decision.

What’s In The Box

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Sony’s been kind enough to provide you with all you need to get started, from the AC adaptor and battery pack to a wireless remote commander that allows you to shoot yourself from a distance. You also get a CD-ROM with Sony’s Picture Motion Browser and handbook in PDF format, on top of the printed manuals and fliers. When it comes to cables, you’re covered with component A/V, regular (the white, red and yellow) as well as USB cables, which is all you need to hook up to your computer or TV.

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Sadly, no HDMI cables were included. Then again, they never do come standard with any camcorder purchase. The camcorder uses standard HDMI though, so you could get one for cheap. However, I do wish that a cover or case for the handycam was included, even if it were a simple soft cloth. The last thing you’ll want is to get some scratches on that really nice body of the XR500V (and it is a very nice body indeed)


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Those that have seen and handled the handycam have expressed its beautiful design. Words like ‘sexy’ and ‘solid’ were commonly heard from friends and family whom I showed this to and I’m sure you’ll agree. The front of the HR500V sports a powerful flash for those low light moments and a Sony Lens G for the device which claims better media quality. Just to the bottom right of it you have a manual knob that lets you adjust specific functions such as focus, when needed and on the left is the window to receive remote commands.

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Opening up the lovely 3.2” touch screen (it also rotates 180 degrees) on the side provides you with a host of settings. What’s great about this is that you’re not bombarded with so many buttons that you think you’re flying a 747, but enough to make on-the-fly adjustments to the most used settings such as turning GPS on or off and choosing your low light shooting mode: Standard, Low Lux or NightShot. With NightShot, you can shoot subjects in almost complete darkness but why anybody would want to capture a video that’s viewed through night vision goggles is anybody’s guess. Just know that you do have such a “Paris Hilton” option with the XR500V.


Over at the back, you have your usual battery compartment, a button that lets you toggle between shooting a video or taking a photo and another to toggle between starting and stopping recordings. Just below that is the cover to your charging port.

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Moving to the right is where your HDD is housed. Covers for your mic and earphone port are on the left while sliding the cover on the right exposes the A/V R, standard USB and HDMI port. The lack of a Firewire port may be a concern for some but with more and more modern computers not sporting it, it seemed wise of Sony to not include it as well. With all those connection options, I was able to hook up the handycam to my computer, external monitor and , thanks to the supplied cables in the box.

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Glancing over at the top, you have your standard 5.1 channel surround microphone, a hot shoe covered by a sliding panel just next to it, and a pull out viewfinder which came in really useful on those bright sunny days when the touch screen panel seemed washed out. The usual wide/tele zoom switch is also there, just beside the dedicated camera button that allows you to snap a picture while in video mode or shooting one.

I was really happy with the design of the handycam, especially the way Sony handled port covers. No longer do you have to worry about dust entering your rarely used ports or fumble with covers when you remove them. They’re nicely attached next to their respective ports and slide over to cover them elegantly when not in use.

User Experience

P1040807 What I really like about the XR500V is the user-friendliness of the device. It was so easy to use that I could pass it to a friend or family member and they would know how to use it. Flipping open the screen or pulling out the viewfinder turns the camera on and you’re ready to go. Navigating the touch screen is just as easy but to be honest, the factory settings worked right out of the box. In case that is too much for you, there’s also that Easy button that takes care of all that for you.

P1040801The GPS feature is more of a novelty for me. It’s a bare version of the NAVTEQ maps so don’t bother using it to find your way around a foreign city or finding the nearest hotel. It’s main (and I guess only) purpose to show your location on a map. While the GPS does work, it does take a considerably long time for the handycam to get my initial location. It could be the cloud cover or that I was not in a large open space (though there were not many tall trees around) or it could even be GPS receiver that Sony uses. However, Sony countered this with the ability to let you set your location manually. Once your photos and videos are geotagged, you can go back and view them by location, on top of the usual sort by date/time. Didn’t I say it was user-friendly?

The videos I shot are really crisp and clear and moving from a standard camcorder that used mini-DVs, I could easily tell the difference. Subjects came into focus really quickly and that SteadyShot technology that Sony packed into it really helped when I was cold and shivering. I’m no professional cameraman as many would tell you but with that HDR500V, everyone thought that the videos they were seeing were taken by one.

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Camera-wise, I found it to be a mixed experience. That’s not to say that it takes bad pictures, just that I feel it could have been better. Then again, what videocam does better at pictures than video (and vice-versa?)  The flash was really bright and while that may help in really low light conditions, it was better to shoot without it whenever there is sufficient ambient light. You could tell that there is some minimal noise in the photographs it took.  There were also times I felt that a dedicated digital camera would have done a better job. However, out in the open, on a clear day, my pictures came out fabulous and since I use my handycam more outdoors than indoors, the camera issue was not a big one for me.

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What I do like about the camera are the features that it comes with, namely Face and Smile detection. The latter allows for the handycam to automatically capture a photograph when the subject is smiling which means you no longer have to be alert for the right moment while the former ensures that your human subjects are properly composed for the shot. It really makes taking photos a lot easier and if you’ve never used a camera with Smile detection technology before, you’re going to love it, especially more so when you have kids.

What I Like

  • Very beautiful design.
  • Built-in GPS allows for geo-tagging media.
  • Package comes with necessary cables and remote control.
  • Takes really great videos.
  • 120GB HDD allows for over 14 hours of video recording.
  • Simple to use, yet comes with many advance features like NightShot as well.
  • Great battery life.

What Could Be Improved

  • Addition of a soft cloth case or cover would be nice.
  • So would the addition of an HDMI cable.
  • Device is larger and bulkier than many camcorders out there.
  • Support for SDHC memory cards would be great.
  • Picture taking not as great as a mid-range standalone digital camera.
  • Picture Motion Browser (PMB) software could be more user-friendly.

Reality Grade

P1040786Whether this is your first handycam or you’re getting one to replace an aging camcorder, the Sony HDR XR500V is definitely worth considering. You may be paying more for it than other models out there but you do get more out of it as well. Most people would argue that Sony focuses more on style than functionality. And while there is no denying the sheer beauty of the Sony camcorder, I believe the features are all there as well. With HD becoming the standard on many media fronts, getting a camcorder that shoots in HD would definitely be a worthy investment.

Product Specs

  • Brand: Sony
  • Model: HDR XR500V
  • MSRP: $1299.99 $899.99

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