Sony Bloggie MHS-PM1 camcorder
For those spur of the moment video clips, most of us are now well used to simply hoisting and pointing our camera phones at the activities taking place. That point hasn't been lost on electronics manufacturers who have of late been taking an "if you can't beat 'em join 'em" attitude and steadily shrinking actual camcorders down to phone size. The days of Dad retrieving the brick-sized device from the dining room cupboard for the family holiday once a year - from all of, what, 5 years ago? - now seem very antiquated indeed.
Father would also be alarmed to discover tape-based recording has been gradually phased out over the past couple of years at consumer level in favour of storing video on built-in hard drives or, as with digital stills cameras, removable media cards - the advantage of the latter being that the camcorder's memory is expandable and thus, as much as possible in a fast changing environment, the device itself is future proofed.
A case in point is Sony's CMOS sensor incorporating MHS-PM1, or as its manufacturer would have it "bloggie" or "mobile HD snap camera", which allows its paltry 12MB internal memory to be supplemented by virtue of the fact that it also accepts the company's proprietary (but here optional) Pro Duo Memory Stick. Just as well as it records High Definition footage at 1440 x 1080 pixels at a respectably smooth 30 frames per second in MP4 format, which will rapidly eat away at any storage capacity and give your hard drive a battering into the bargain. The alternative is to shoot less memory hungry 5-megapixel JPEG photos.
Dual recording buttons fall readily under the thumb and flank a thin 4x digital zoom lever, which again makes for user-friendly operation. If we've a grumble it's that, as with most mini HD camcorders, the 4.6cm or 1.8-inch, 230k dot resolution LCD monitor provided is poky, especially since the image is cropped further when you switch it on to ape widescreen format.
With bloggers and narcissists in mind Sony's cute yet solid feel device also features a top mounted lens compartment, resembling the head of an electric shaver. Like a tombola at the school fair, this can be rotated - here through 270 degrees - so users can film themselves when holding the device upright in their palm, as well as their pals.
Though that sounds fun in theory, in practice it's difficult to achieve a smooth action though, especially if you then decide to alter the viewpoint as you're filming, jerky footage being the result, the positioning of the microphone also picking up the sound of the user's manual adjustments. Indeed the rotating "head" is the least convincing part of what otherwise feels like a solid, well constructed camcorder, given the size and pocket-money price, at a "mere" £139 via sonystyle.co.uk. Still, on a more positive note, it does allow for flexible filming from a variety of funky angles for those looking to blow the minds of an online audience.
Despite this device offering high-def video and Sony being prominent in the flat panel TV market, no High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) is provided for hooking the PM1 up direct to a set, just the standard AV out, USB and mains power ports, hidden beneath a flap mounted at the side. The supplied lithium battery is mains charged, with a separate charger supplied in the box, with 100 minutes to be gained from a full charge. Also provided is a share button, as is found in the similarly sized Samsung U10, as well as embedded PC and Mac compatible software for direct YouTube access.
While the colourful albeit grainy footage from Sony's MHC-PM1 may be no match for the quality of an HD camcorder costing five times as much with better glass and optical zoom, the advantage here is the compactness and portability, with this device weighing just 95g and measuring all of 23.5 x 103.3 x 55.3mm.
Users are more likely to get a naturalistic performance from their subjects (particularly the smaller members of the family) if approaching them with a camcorder with a diminutive form factor such as this - arguably less intimidating than a "proper" sized device, though the bright orange finish of our review sample may cause a few migraines.
As with most gadgets costing all of £100 or thereabouts, don't expect too much from Sony's fun if simplistic mini camcorder and you won't be disappointed.