The Sony Bloggie Touch, or MHS-TS20, or Mobile HD Snap Camera depending on where you look on the device and packaging, is a pocket camcorder that looks to take a step forward in video quality over some rivals.
Sony have made several changes to fulfil these aims, but they’re not without compromise. First of all it offers a touchscreen display, giving you more space to watch and compose the action and secondly it features an autofocus lens. We’ll looks at both these things after we give you a run down of the hardware.
Measuring 107 x 52 x 15.2mm, the Sony Bloggie Touch is amongst the smallest pocket camcorders out there. It is lovingly finished in a brushed metal casing, with a choice of colours. Naturally we were sent the pink one, which you certainly won’t miss. It feels great in the hand and free from the plasticy finishes that are so common for this type of device.
The screen is a 3-inch 16:9 capacitive LCD display which dominates the back of the device. The only other feature on the back is the video record button. Around the sides of the Bloggie Touch are a range of other controls. There is a dedicated stills photo button, the on/off button and a mini HDMI port hiding under a flap. On the bottom is the customary USB connection, which pops-out on a press. There is also a standard tripod mount.
The first thing to note about the Bloggie Touch is how you hold it. We’re used to holding a pocket camcorder like you would a mobile phone, i.e., in portrait. In the case of the Bloggie Touch, it is a landcscape device. This is something the touch-enabled Kodak Playtouch failed to grasp meaning you never got to use much of the Kodak screen when actually filming.
Sony however have made this switch, so you hold the Bloggie Touch as you would a conventional camera. This gives you the full screen to view the action as it takes place. It will film in either aspect, which is fine for photos, but no one really like portrait video that much, as you just get a thin strip down the centre of the screen.
Whilst talking about aspect, there is a tripod screw present, but it is on one of the short sides, so unless you have a tripod that will let you set the mounting plate at 90 degrees, you’ll find it presenting the camera at the wrong angle. It’s a minor point perhaps, but if you use a small portable tripod, you might find you can’t really use it. Something like a Gorillapod that will let you attach it to an upright object would be ok, but this is definitely a factor to bear in mind.
The device does sense when you rotate it, the icons on-screen rotating so they are the right way up. Sometimes it got stuck, requiring a restart to switch, but given the simplicity of the Bloggie Touch, this wasn’t much of a problem. The menus offer a range of settings, giving you video capture at 1080/30p, 720/60p and 720/30p. Still images are offered at 12, 8 and 2 megapixel.
Aside from resolution there are no settings for capture, so you won’t get lost in details that perhaps don’t matter. The other features you are offered include a self timer, which works for both video and photos, and a digital zoom. The zoom control presents itself as an on-screen slider, letting you dive in and out, although the results crop the sensor so lessen the quality and in video it is very jerky. Overall, the zoom isn’t worth using.
The video capture is good, amongst the best quality we’ve seen from a pocket camcorder, offering crisp results with natural colours in daylight. This is partly thanks to the use of an autofocus lens, meaning that you can get better results than fixed/infinity focused devices. It also means you can have macro and normal focus items in the same video without moving a switch like you’d have to on the Kodak Playtouch.
But with autofocus comes a downside. It does mean you get the occasional pulse as the Bloggie confirms the focus. Focusing isn’t exceptionally fast, but we found it to be generally fast enough to switch subjects, or keep things sharp as we moved around a scene. However, with the focal point seeking comes the downside and that’s noise.
As the Bloggie looks and adjusts itself, it chirps away. The sound is audible in a quiet room – just hold the Bloggie Touch to your ear and you’ll hear it. Unfortunately, so do the on-board microphones. It’s a problem that’s common with autofocus on small devices, such as the Samsung HMX-U20. If you’re the sort of person who films in noisy environments, then this doesn’t matter, as you won’t hear it. If you’re the sort of person who overlays music, then again, it doesn’t matte. But if you are one of those people who films things in a quiet place, even doing voiceover, then it will be apparent. There is no external mic socket either, so there is no way around it. Aside from the chirps, the audio is actually pretty good.
As with other devices the Bloggie Touch comes with software to install from the device when you connect it via USB. The Mac software is yet to appear, so all you get is a link to the Sony support website. You don’t really need it and might be better off just using native applications on your computer to extract and share your new content - it isn't exactly a challenge to connect via USB and directly upload to YouTube.
Alternatively (or additionally) there is a mini HDMI for connection direct to a big screen (cable not supplied) and perhaps in a testament to the quality of the video capture, we found the results looked good on a 40-inch display too.
The lens is rated at F/2.8, so it provides some scope for lower light capture, but noise quickly becomes apparent, even indoors in average lighting conditions. Focusing becomes less distinct too as the light conditions drop. There is also the 360-degree attachment, which is something of a novelty, but doesn't really sell the camera to us.
Unlike other devices, you can't get to the insides of the Bloggie Touch. this means you can't change the battery, or expand the memory. As it is, you'll get about an hour and a half of Full HD video capture from the 8GB of memory and the battery is good for 160 minutes.
The Sony Bloggie Touch is something of a mixed offering. We like the fact that Sony have sensibly applied a large screen that you can use in landscape to capture the action. Overall the screen has been put to better use that the chief rival, the Kodak Playtouch. The quality of video captured is also excellent for such a small device and the Full HD test videos that we shot withstood viewing on a large screen.
Whilst the autofocus can bring enhanced sharpness to a scene, you have to accept the seeking pulse that you get as the Bloggie tries to confirm the focal point. The biggest downside is the noise that comes with the autofocus and the fact that there is no provision to get around it. An external mic jack would have meant that you could easily improve the audio capture and escape the chirping.
As it is, some will find that the Sony Bloggie Touch doesn’t provide a satisfactory result, but depending on your requirements, it is worth looking at if you want a compact device that is simple to use and offers excellent quality video capture.