Review: Sony HDR-PJ320E Handycam Camcorder and Projector: nice features, shame about the image quality

The Sony PJ320E is an HD camcorder with a neat trick: it is also a projector, making it a true all-in-one device. Shoot your video, dim the lights, sit back and watch your creation on the nearest wall. You can also use it as a projector for any device with HDMI output, which includes most new laptops and some tablets.

The perfect camcorder then? I wish it were; but unfortunately its core feature, making videos, is disappointing considering the price, plus there are a few other limitations to be aware of.

What you get is the camcorder, mains adapter, a micro to standard HDMI cable, and a USB extender cable. The reason for the extender cable is that the camcorder has a very short (4cm or so) USB cable built-in, which tucks into the handle when not in use. Handy, and will work OK with a laptop, but if you have a desktop PC you will probably want to use the extender cable.

What you don’t get with this particular model is any storage. There is none built-in, and no SD card is supplied. So you have to supply your own SD card. It supports SD, SDHC, SDXC, and Sony’s own Memory Stick media, up to 64GB. For the SD cards, class 4 or faster is specified. I used a 32GB class 10 SDHC card.

Operation

Like most camcorders, this one has a grip handle and flip-out screen. You can twist the flip-out screen around so it faces forward, handy for the self-timer. Menus are chosen by touch control on the screen, and while this works it is a rather small screen and fiddly to operate.

There are also some physical buttons: zoom lever, photo button, and start/stop for video recording. On the inside panel are buttons for projector mode, play and power, and along the top a focus slider for projecting. The camcorder can be mounted on a tripod.

There are two shooting modes, video and photo. In some video modes you can still take photos with the photo button, but not vice versa.

Connection options are generous. There is a flap on the side covering power in and multi video out (for TVs that lack an HDMI input), though the multi video connector is an optional extra. On the inner panel you get HDMI in and out (the in being for projecting), and microphone in with plug-in power.

The device is light and compact and basic operation is easy. The main snag is the slightly awkward menu system.

Specifications

On paper this is a decent camcorder. Here are a few key specifications:

30x optical zoom extended to 55x for video recording.
Still photos up to 8.0 mega pixels, 16:9 format
1080 HD video recording, 16:9 format
Focal distance 1.9-57mm
Frame rate 50i or 50p
Projector resolution 640 x 360
Projector brightness 13 lumens
Battery life: typical 75 minutes recording, 240 minutes playback

Image quality

My biggest concern with this device is that I could not achieve excellent results. Don’t even think of using this for still photos; they are poor quality despite their high pixel count.

Here is a shot of some daffodils:

image

I took a similar shot on my excellent Canon S100 camera:

image

The difference is more apparent when you zoom in. Sony first, Canon next:

image

image

How about videos? Here the Sony comes out better, as you would expect. The Canon S100 can also take videos, but while the image quality was still better on the Canon, it was more jerky when panning; the Sony is much better at steadying the image, for handheld videos. Credit to Sony for that.

Here is a quick video of the flowers using default automatic settings. Note: to get the best quality set it to play in 1080p:

This struck me as over-exposed, and I tried again using manual exposure:

I got the best results using the highest available quality (no surprise).

The video quality is not that bad, but less good than the resolution would lead you to expect.

Note that the lens is a Sony G lens, not a Carl Zeiss as used on some Sony models.

Sound quality

The audio side is pretty good. Built-in stereo mic on the front, option for external mic with plug-in power support, Dolby Digital recording.

Projecting

Of course the Sony is also a projector, which is a lot of fun. The projector is the DLP type which is ideal for portability. The downside is that it is low resolution and the lamp is not very powerful, but that is expected. It certainly beats having to peer at the tiny screen to watch a video, though if you have a TV handy you will probably be better off connecting to that with HDMI rather than projecting.

The HDMI input means you can connect other devices. I tried this with a Sony Xperia phone which supports MHL, meaning that the USB port can be used for HDMI output with a suitable adaptor. This worked well, and I could project a video from the phone through the Sony camcorder.

Will you use this much though? What about purchasing a separate pocket projector and a conventional camcorder instead – you will probably get better quality for both, and spend no more money.

Features

There are a range of options in the menus though documentation for these is not great. Features include Spot focus, which focuses automatically on a subject you touch, and Smile shutter, which automatically takes a picture when it detects a smile! I tested this and it actually worked, good fun.

There is a useful feature called My Button. Four buttons on the left of the touch screen are user-assignable, so you can quickly access a feature without having to scroll through the menus.

Other features include white balance adjustment, self-timer, manual focus, low light optimization, wind noise reduction for the mic, and of course image size and quality.

Software

Sony supplies free software for PC and PlayStation 3, called PlayMemories. You can import images and video from the camcorder, upload to a cloud service for sharing, and burn DVD or Blu-ray discs. Mac users miss out on this, but can still easily import from the camcorder.

Conclusion

I like the features of this camcorder and if the image quality were better I would love it. As it is, I feel it is a nice device let down by poor optics. It is light and convenient though, with some fun features. Recommended if the combination of camcorder and projector in one unit is particularly useful, but for pure video quality you could do better.

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One thought on “Review: Sony HDR-PJ320E Handycam Camcorder and Projector: nice features, shame about the image quality

  1. Brush

    Hey!
    I was thinking about buying a Sony camcorder, i don’t really care about taking photo’s with the camera(because i already have a good camera).
    Do you have any suggestions for a cheap Sony camcorder that has great video/audio quality?
    BTW nice review!

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