Looking for a little help with your backswing? Want to electronically annotate everything you film with detailed information about your location? If so, this could be just the camcorder for you. If not, don't worry. Sony's Handycam HDR-CX550VE still has plenty to offer. It's available now for around £1,050.
Let's get those two slightly unusual aspects out of the way first, shall we? As you may already have guessed, the HDR-CX550VE has a built-in GPS receiver that can geotag your video clips in the same way that some GPS-enabled phones can add location metadata to photos you take.
Additionally, the camcorder's 'Golf Shot' mode can record short bursts of high-speed video at 200 frames per second (compared to the standard rate of 50fps), which allows you to play back a detailed, slow-motion version of your shot, or view it as individual JPEG images. You wouldn't want to use it for normal filming, but this mode can be useful if you have a particular need to capture a fast-moving subject in high detail -- in order to analyse your golfing prowess, for example.
Image is everything
While these features certainly set the HDR-CX550VE apart from the crowd, we can't imagine either of them is the sort of function the population at large has been chomping at the bit for. Thankfully, the HDR-CX550VE has more than just a couple of flashy tricks up its sleeve.
For starters, it's capable of recording high-definition AVCHD video at up to a 1080i resolution (1080p progressive modes are only just beginning to creep in at the top end of the camcorder market, so this isn't necessarily a deal-breaker). The top-quality mode sets the bit rate to 24Mbps, which is the highest for any consumer video device we've seen so far.
Although there's only a single image sensor at work here, the performance of Sony's large (1/2.8-inch) Exmor R CMOS compares exceptionally well to that of three-chip models, providing high levels of detail and rich, even colours. A clever back-illuminated design means the Exmor R sensor is surprisingly adept in low-lighting conditions. We have to say we were particularly impressed by the HDR-CX550VE's indoor abilities in our tests.
Also notable is the camcorder's strong still-photo performance. Its 26.3mm wide-angle lens is very useful for squeezing more friends and family into group shots, for example, while the 12-megapixel images stand up very well next to their equivalent from a dedicated digital still camera. We noticed a slight soft quality to the snaps we took with the HDR-CX550VE but, other than that, their detail, colour reproduction and lack of artefacts were all far superior to those of the average video device.
Enthusiasts will appreciate the mini manual control dial, situated just under the lens. It's no substitute for a 'proper' lens ring, like the one found on Panasonic's HDC-TM700, but it's better than nothing.
worth mentioning the HDR-CX550VE is one of the few touchscreen camcorders that
are relatively easy to control via the display. It helps that the screen itself
is large -- 89mm (3.5 inches) to be precise -- but it's also much more responsive than
those on many other models and the menu system starts to makes functional sense.
Apart from anything, the ultra-high-res LCD panel is so pleasant to look at
that even the most diehard semi-pro purist types will be tempted to use it in
favour of squinting into the pull-out viewfinder provided.
Also on hand for experts are a powered accessory shoe and a socket for an external mic. One thing the semi-pros won't like, however, is the position of the memory card slot. The HDR-CX550VE has a generous 64GB of internal flash memory to record to, but, if you start to run out and want to continue recording on an SD or MemoryStick card instead, you may have to remove the device from any tripod or mount in order to do so, as the slot is hidden on the underside of the unit.
It's not enormous by any stretch of the imagination but,
comparatively speaking, the HDR-CX550VE is a little on the heavy side. It's actually
quite comfortable to hold, but we can see how the unit could begin to feel a
little burdensome when filming by hand over long periods of time. On the plus
side, the camcorder's enhanced optical image stabiliser is genuinely very
All told, the Sony Handycam HDR-CX550VE has plenty of points in its favour, particularly if you're already a video enthusiast. Face detection, a facility for direct copying of files to external storage, USB input, HDMI output and 5.1 surround sound recording are merely further incentives.
The one thing that is sure to put off many, however, is its price. The cheapest we've found it for online is £850, but you can expect to find it going for anything up to £1,300 on the high street. The HDR-CX550VE is impressive in many respects but that's a great deal of money for a camcorder. Unless you happen to be a keen golfer with a specific need to record the details of your whereabouts whenever you film, we suggest there are cheaper, better alternatives available.
Edited by Emma Bayly