Sure, it has a ridiculous name, but on paper the Bloggie's got it all—1080p video capture, the ability to switch resolutions and frame rate, plus a lens attachment that lets you record 360-degree videos. Bells and whistles galore.
Sony thought adding all these bells and whistles would make a difference. They were—as ever—running late to the pocket-camcorder race, but thought strapping on featured-laden running shoes would help it take on its rivals.
Unfortunately, Sony was racing against the Flip Ultra HD (our favorite pocket camcorder) - a much smaller kid sure, but he'd been around the block many times before and was very streamlined. While it couldn't do jumps and flips like the Sony—nor did it have special running shoes— the Flip was unmistakably on top of his game thanks to a single red button in the middle of his chest which starts the action up quickly and easily.
And so, like the late-comer Sony in our story, the tardy Sony Bloggie joins last year's Webbie model in the Japanese giant's quest to take on the Flip. There are three Bloggie models available, with the MHS-PM5, MHS-PM5K, and MHD-CM5 all shooting in 1080p. The CM5 has an optical zoom and flip-out LCD screen, and the only feature that separates the PM5 from the PM5K is the latter's lens attachment which offers 360-degree filming. This is the model I tested, which costs $180.
Flip's pavement-pounder is the Ultra HD, which while only shooting in 720p at 30fps, demands so few choices to be made that it's a big seller for the market-creating company. It's the easiest device to use, with the only options being to turn on/off, start/stop recording, and zoom in/out.
Sony's Bloggie has a bewildering choice of features, which will end up being a problem if they want to appeal to anyone other than those who actually know what different resolutions are. It shoots in 1080p at 30fps, 720p at either 60fps or 30fps, and VGA. There are a few limitations with shooting in 1080p though—you can't use the zoom, there's no image stabilization, and you can't use the 360 degree lens attachment with it.
The Bloggie is very "Sony" in style. That means a glossy black finish and cheap parts that I can see breaking down very quickly, like the door that covers the AV output and protruding USB stick.
At 2.4-inches, the 4:3 LCD screen is one of the worst displays I've encountered, with a poor off-axis viewing angle, meaning you have to be facing it straight-on to actually see the footage at its best. It's also got a softer surface than desired—as you can see from some of the photos, it's covered with a few scratches from just a week's use.
To record a video, the button is located on the top right side—and admittedly, when I first turned it on I tried pressing the middle button, which just brings up the menu. You can't stop recording video without jerking the camcorder trying to get to the button, which means you'll have to edit every single video if you want something smooth.
360-Degree Lens Attachment
The main draw to this camcorder over other similar makes is the lens options. The inbuilt lens can be turned around in 270 degrees angles, great for self-filmers. The second way involves clamping another lens on top, which then shoots video in 360 degrees. It's very fun to play with, especially if you put it on a sofa and leap around the room like I did, but I just can't imagine putting the extra part in my bag and wanting to pull it out and use it. It'd be lost in the draw, forgotten for months. You can see my efforts with this attachment just below, where I jump about like a heavy-footed fairy at a Talking Heads concert. How embarrassing.
To test how both camcorders handled shooting something in motion, I strapped on my running shoes and ran on my gym's treadmill. It was so well-lit inside that both camcorders produced satisfactory results, but the Bloggie's wasn't quite as smooth as the Flip's was. This is interesting, as the Bloggie was filmed at 60fps, double what the Flip can handle. You can see some jaggies on my legs as I jog—the edges are smooth, but look jagged. A touch of motion blur wouldn't be obvious to the untrained eye, but I was a lot happier with what the Flip managed to produce.
Sony Bloggie: Motion at 720p and 60fps.
Flip Ultra HD: Motion at 720p and 30fps.
The park was a perfect opportunity to see how the Bloggie performed in natural light, on a sunny (yet overcast) day. There was some wind, which the Bloggie picked up more than the Flip (which actually captured a bit of birdsong at one stage), but altogether the Flip managed to convey the colors a lot better than the Bloggie did.
As you can see from the video I shot with the Bloggie, the colors are just too washed out, it's like everything has been dampened with paleness. It was a sunny day, but at one point in the footage you can see it jumps to let even more light into the lens—which wasn't necessary. The Flip, while slightly skewing the colors so the green grass and red buses were more fluroscent than in real life, had a much healthier portrayal of colors and light.
Other tests outdoors showed individual blades of grass being made out on the Flip, whereas the Bloggie couldn't distinguish any—even when filmed at 1080p and played back on my 42-inch TV.
Sony Bloggie: Outdoors at 1080p and 30fps.
Flip Ultra HD: Outdoors at 720p and 30fps.
Both camcorders have digital zooms, but there's a major difference between the two: you can actually use the Flip's zoom. I didn't end up including video proof showing how bad the Bloggie's zoom actually is, but once you zoom half-way in (it's a 4x zoom), the amount of visual noise it produces is mind-blowing. It's like static on your TV. This occurred even outdoors, when shooting flowers at close-range.
Neither camcorder can handle the closest flowers well, which were 2-inches from the lens (without zoom activated). Focus was off, with the Flip only adjusting when it panned to the second layer of flowers, which were about 4-inches away. It's only until the Bloggie sees the third layer of flowers that it begins to focus—which would've been a good 6 - 8 inches from the lens. It's not that much of an issue when you're filming flowers, true—but imagine if this was the next iPhone that I was filming, and you couldn't even make out the icons?
Sony Bloggie: Macro, 1080p at 30fps.
Flip Ultra HD: Macro, 720p at 30fps.
Seen in the two videos here are not only my friends trying to act "natural" when two camcorders are shoved in their faces after a few drinks in the pub, but also—in the Bloggie's case—a heck of a lot of noise. I'm talking visual noise, because in terms of audio it's spot on—really clear, and able to pick up a lot more than the Flip can (though that also means more background noise, too).
Our corner of the pub was lit by two lamps, so it was pretty dark, but at 1080p on the Bloggie it coped well. Not as well as the Flip did though, which impressed me more with its lack of noise.
Sony Bloggie: Low-light 1080p and 30fps.
Flip Ultra HD: Low-light 720p and 30fps.
On a rain-soaked afternoon in my corner of London, I ventured out to the busiest intersection near me and filmed double decker buses careening around the roadworks-bespeckled corner. With the gray haze of rain, the Bloggie's trademark of dampening the colors down really didn't make for good footage. The Flip meanwhile, while heightening the colors so everything is ultra-vivid, made the video a lot nicer to play back. The red of the double decker buses may be skewed, but at least they actually look RED, unlike the Bloggie's disappointing paleness.
Sony Bloggie: Color, 1080p and 30fps.
Flip Ultra HD: Color, 720p and 30fps.
It's been a bit hard to judge the battery lives of both camcorders, as after each test I've been plugging them straight into my MacBook (yes, they're both OS X and Windows compatible), which automatically charges them. The Bloggie is showing a full battery life, and I've used it in total about three hours over the past week—charging it here and there, for about five minutes at a time. The Flip's got a quoted battery life of two hours, and hasn't held its juice as well as the Bloggie, which has a removable battery—a definite bonus in my book.
A HDMI output would've been nice on the Bloggie, but it compensates with the Memory Stick PRO Duo / SD/SDHC card slot. I stuck the memory stick in my PS3 and watched all my videos back within seconds on the TV. As both camcorders have built-in USB arms I could connect the Flip to the PS3 too, but having the memory card slot is a nice touch. It also means you can store more on the Bloggie than the Flip, which only has an 8GB capacity.
Sony was late to the pocket camcorder race, and while they stuffed the Bloggie with a extraordinary amount of features, it just feels bloated. The old adage of quality over quantity definitely rings true when holding both the Ultra HD and Bloggie in your hands, with the Flip's cut-down, simplistic ease of use winning me over. The ability to switch resolutions and play with the different lenses was nice, but it does say something when you prefer the 720p video over the footage shot with a 1080p camcorder.
It really saddens me saying this, as I was convinced upon opening the Bloggie's box that I'd be so enamored with it I'd rush out and buy one after writing the review. Instead, I'm joining the flock of supporters embracing the Flip Ultra HD at the winner's podium.
Dual memory card reader
Great battery life
Ability to switch resolutions easily
Video often too dark, with motion blur and noise
Too much background noise picked up
Flimsy build with awkward placement of record button
Zoom isn't worth using