The Sony PJ650VE isn't exactly a lightweight camcorder, weighing in at 480 g when loaded, charged and ready to use. With a relatively generous set of dimensions (134 x 72 x 67 mm), this camcorder isn't really a pocket model. Then again, that's often the price to pay for more advanced design features and controls like the tilting electronic viewfinder, manual settings dial, audio ins and outs, etc.
This Sony camcorder is generally nice to handle and use. The hand strap helps you keep firm hold of the PJ650 while also discreetly housing a USB cable for transferring video from the camcorder to a computer. However, the audio connections could be more conveniently located (headphones/mic. ports), as they're too close to your hand when holding the camcorder. Ultimately, they aren't that practical to use unless you've got the camcorder on a tripod. The PJ650 has a 3" 16:9 LCD touchscreen that's not bad quality. Colour fidelity is good and the onscreen image is nice and smooth, even in low light. That said, the screen does feel a little on the small side, especially compared with the 3.5" screen in the Panasonic X920. Note too that the touchscreen is effectively this camcorder's main interface and control-centre. Physical controls are kept to a real minimum, with buttons for On/Off, projector mode, playback mode, light on/off, video record, zoom and photo mode. The PJ650 has a built-in pico-projector on the back of the screen along with two speakers for a full-on projection experience (more on that below).
The flash hot-shoe is compatible with Alpha accessories (XLR, lamp, etc.).
A small clickable dial just under the lens is on hand for manually adjusting the focus, iris, exposure and shutter speed. This dial may seem a little on the small side at first, but it's actually very practical to use and highly versatile (Panasonic used a much larger lens ring in the X920). More advanced users will be pleased to hear that there are magnification and peaking modes to help you focus, as well as a zebra pattern mode for help finding the right exposure.
The Handycam PJ650 has a built-in electronic viewfinder that can be pulled out from the camcorder body and tilted—a nice touch! It's not massively comfortable to use if you happen to wear glasses (it can be hard to see the whole screen), but it's fine for the basics.
Connection-wise, a mini-HDMI cable can be used to input a source for the projector (computer, Blu-ray player, etc.). Plus, a multi-interface shoe is on hand for hooking up remote controls, which can prove handy when filming on a tripod.
The PJ650VE films in all the most popular formats of the moment, including 1080 resolution at 50i, 50p and 25p. Note that there's no 24p mode, but you can record in standard definition (for DVDs, MPeg-2)—which is pretty unusual—as well as in 720p.
This camcorder has an interesting 12x optical zoom lens starting at a focal length of 27 mm. This makes it a genuine wide-angle lens whereas most competitors don't go lower than 30 mm. The lens has a maximum aperture of f/1.8 and is built by Sony rather than Zeiss. That, twinned with the 1/3.9" sensor, makes for a slightly soft image that's generally not as sharp as footage filmed with the Panasonic X920. Take a look for yourselves by comparing to two camcorders side by side in the Face-Off.
Compare more test shots from these two models in our camcorder Face-Off.
Colours are rendered well in normal lighting conditions (daylight). Saturation isn't too heavy and the automatic white balance is really very effective (see the test results in the Face-Off). Although the sensor is relatively small in size, the PJ650 is remarkably sensitive in low light, filming with hardly any trace of digital noise. Performances are therefore generally very good. Plus, a built-in LED can be used for a helping hand in low light, making shooting in darker conditions a whole lot easier ... even if it does tend to dazzle human subjects.
The optical stabilisation system is impressive too. In fact, you can easily film decent footage with the camcorder in your hand with no need for a monopod or a tripod. In photo mode, the PJ650 takes some rather—ahem—interesting 20-Megapixel shots. Let's just say that interpolation is very heavy-handed and picture quality is pretty dubious. It's generally best avoided.
- LCD with smooth onscreen image, even in low light
- Built-in USB cable
- 5.1 audio recording
- Manual settings dial
- Built-in light
- Advanced hot-shoe (XLR)
- 27 mm wide-angle focal length
- Good optical image stabilisation system
- Pull-out and tilt viewfinder
- Built-in GPS
- Built-in projector
- Good sensitivity levels in low light
- Built-in memory (32 GB)
- No electronic level
- LCD screen is a little small
- Picture quality isn't as sharp as the Panasonic X920
- Battery life could be better (approx. 1 hour)
- EVF isn't particularly nice to use
- Built-in projector isn't powerful enough
- 20-MP photo mode isn't worth using
- Mic. and headphones sockets could be more conveniently located
The Sony HDR-PJ650VE is a very good camcorder that has a nice range of functions and features (GPS, 12x zoom, 5.1 sound, mic. and headphones sockets, built-in projector, SD recording more, etc.). The optical stabilisation system is particularly effective here, but picture quality isn't quite on par with its main rival, the Panasonic X920, which also boasts Wi-Fi connectivity.