The Sony HDR-CX520 is a high-definition, flash memory-based camcorder aimed at both casual users and discerning videophiles.
Replacing the Sony HDR-CX100 as the company's top-of-the-range flash memory model, the Sony HDR-CX520 boasts 64GB of inbuilt memory, a 12x optical zoom lens and Full HD recording - along with the assorted Sony trappings that consumers have come to expect (highlights include Smooth Slow Record, a 12-megapixel stills mode, advanced face detection and an inbuilt GPS.)
Sony has overhauled the imaging components for its latest suite of camcorders. The new system consists of a three-way optical image stabiliser, a backlit image chip for increased light sensitivity, a six-blade aperture lens and an enlarged 1/2.9in CMOS sensor (the Sony HDR-CX100 made do with an inferior 1/5in sensor.) Naturally, this all translates to better looking video that is easier to capture. On the down side, the HDR-CX520 is a tad expensive compared to most other HD models on the market - including its near-identical stable mate, the Sony HDR-CX500V.
The Sony HDR-CX520 is remarkably similar to the HDR-CX500V in both form and function. In fact, if it wasn't for the labels on the side, we'd be hard pressed telling one apart from the other. Both models share the same 62x65x133mm dimensions and black colour scheme, as well as an identical feature set. However, the Sony HDR-CX520 adds an extra 32GB of onboard memory, bringing the total storage space to 64GB. This will net you up to 26 hours of HD video (in LP mode), compared to 13 hours from the HDR-CX500V.
However, as we noted in our HDR-CX500V review, the boost in memory is not really worth the higher price tag. That's a lot of money for a few hours of extra video. Indeed, you can regularly pick up 16GB Memory Sticks on eBay. (Both the Sony HDR-CX520 and Sony HDR-CX500V come with Memory Stick slots.) In other words, the HDR-CX500V is able to match the HDR-CX520's memory capacity - for a lower price.
Like the other models in Sony's new handycam range, the HDR-CX520 comes with a GPS receiver. This shows your current location, and also allows you to geo-tag your footage based on where it was shot. Don't throw away your Navman just yet, though - the inbuilt GPS cannot be used for turn-by-turn guidance or anything fancy like that. (It's basically just a static 2D map.) To be honest, the GPS is more of a bragging right than a useful camcorder tool, but it remains a fun addition nonetheless.
Once again, Sony has opted to go down the touch-screen LCD route with the The Sony HDR-CX520 (rather than the more traditional 'joystick' configuration). Personally, we're a big fan of Sony's touch screens, but a lot of people can't seem to stand them. Some vendors offer both options on the same model - something that Sony may want to think about. The menu interface has received a minor revamp, though handycam regulars should still feel well at home. The camera's body, meanwhile, fits comfortably into the hand, with easy access to all of the major buttons. (One possible exception is the manual control dial, which has been pushed back into the LCD recess, as opposed to near the lens barrel.)
When it comes to video quality, the Sony HDR-CX520 is a pretty solid performer. While it fails to match the high watermark set by Canon's Legria HF S10, its output remains impressive. In our test shots, skin tones appeared natural under bright light, with plenty of detail in shadowed areas. Noise was also less problematic than we're typically used to seeing.
Novice users will be well serviced by the three-way optical image stabiliser, which helps to reduce camera shake significantly. This is especially noticeable while walking about - it almost looks like you're using a steadycam. While there is a slight drop in image quality (an electronic stabiliser is employed in addition to the optical), arguably the results are worth it.
The HDR-CX500V also offers an impressive 12-megapixel stills mode (via interpolation). Our test shots remained crisp and vibrant in all but the dimmest environments, and the inclusion of manual controls gives you plenty of photographic freedom.
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