YouTuber cam with 360° imaging, anyone?
Review With our lives increasingly being played out on Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and Youtube, the market is awash with pocketable camcorders from the likes of Flip, Kodak and Creative to satisfy this on-line craving. Indeed, just about all the players in this game have released revitalised HD versions recently, with Sony’s Bloggie being among the latest arrivals.
Flex box 360? Sony's Bloggie MHS-PM5K
While similarly styled, the PM5 Bloggie replaces Sony’s PM1 Webbie, released about a year ago. Like the Webbie, the Bloggie can take still photos at up to 5Mp, has a 1/2.5in CMOS sensor and records MPEG4 AVC/H.264 video. The main difference is the Bloggie improves upon the Webbie’s 1440 x 1080 maximum video resolution and can record at full HD 1920 x 1080/30p. It will also record 720p at 30 or 60fps or SD video at 30fps.
At 19 x 108 x 54mm and a mere 130g including the battery, the Bloggie is much like a mobile phone – easy to carry in a handbag or a roomy pocket. Given the rough treatment it’s likely to receive, it’s a pity there’s not a basic pouch or protective cover provided in the box – Sony will relieve you of an extra £39 for such. Indeed, during testing the 230,400 dots, 2.4in LCD panel soon began to show scratches from everyday handling.
The Bloggie retains the Webbie’s swivelling lens arrangement, rotating up to 270 degrees, enabling you to record whilst viewing yourself on-screen. When the lens is facing inside the camera body the unit is switched off. Once the swivel lens is rotated, it powers on and you can start taking stills or video instantaneously.
There’s no optical zoom and the 4x digital zoom doesn’t work when shooting in 1080p. As digital zooms go it’s not too bad as a viewing experience, but you might prefer to avoid it anyway, because its action is really rather jerky.
The screen soon picks up scratches – travellers should put it in an old sock for protection
The controls are sparse but the Bloggie is no worse off for this. To the right of the screen are the photo and video capture buttons with the zoom slider on the side. Below the screen is a navigation controller with a playback button to the left and a Menu button to the right. The Menu options are quite sparse too, with the video quality option being the only feature that was regularly revisited.
In the box is a snap-on lens attachment that creates a 360-degree panoramic view that can be captured in either stills or video mode. The image is converted using the version of Sony’s Picture Motion Browser (PMB) that comes on the CD.
PMP Portable software for Mac and Windows is built-in, so you'll always have it on the go
Click for a larger image
This software is Windows-only and is not the same as the PMB Portable application for Windows and Mac that comes preloaded on a partition within the Bloggie itself. The panoramic lens attachment is certainly enticing, and it even has its own soft pouch, as for the results, more on this later.
The Bloggie accepts both Memory Stick Duo variants and SD/SDHC cards. Evidently, Sony is coming to terms with the lack of love for its overpriced proprietary storage format. Indeed, the Webbie was Memory Stick-only and sales probably suffered as a result.
Even so, a 4GB Memory Stick card is supplied which will get you started and is sufficient for around 40 minutes recording at 1080p and 2hrs at 720/30p. Yet with all this HD capability, there’s no HDMI connection for viewing on your HDTV, just an A/V output socket with a composite cable for a low-fi viewing experience. A component cable option is available for a price.
With portability and easy uploading at its heart, it’s simple to connect the Bloggie directly to any computer through the built in USB arm that slides out from the base. If the protruding USB connector isn’t sufficient, a short extension cable is also provided to get into awkward ports.
A perfect companion for all your tweets
The integrated USB connector is a nice touch though, as it keeps the Bloggie cable-free and it will also charge from the host machine. That said, retracting it can be a problem, as there is evidently a knack to this push and slide process that turns something so simple into a minor frustration.
Sample Video and Stills
Still image captured with the 360-degree lens
Focusing on close subjects needs good light, but is still rather limited
Click for a full-resolution image
In subdued light, sharpness soon starts to suffer with close subjects
Click for a full-resolution image
While there is on-board image stabilisation, it doesn’t work at 1080p or 720/60p and wasn’t particularly effective either. With the zoom being jerky, if you choose to use it you might want to consider framing shots at the right magnification first before recording.
PMB desktop software 360-degree pre-conversion options
If zooming in and out with lots of motion is what you foresee shooting, then you’ll need to work in 720p mode. The 1080p option only really comes into its own with compositions that do not involve too much movement and are fairly well lit. Given its price of £180 is it too much to ask for more?
Certainly, Sony takes the view that its 360-degree capture mode is the feature that will make the Bloggie stand out from the crowd. While it does offer something different, the process is a bit of a let down. For a start, Sony’s PMB software did take at least 20 minutes to convert a clip lasting about 6mins. And after such a long wait you'd hope for something special.
However, when viewing the end result you are left somewhat underwhelmed to say the least. Admittedly, the processed video is interesting, but the quality of the clip after conversion leaves a lot to be desired. In this instance, ‘terrible’ might not be too strong a word. This feature might appeal to people who are looking for something different, but given the quality, that does seem doubtful.
Video nasty: the 360-degree video player has a sliding window to highlight any area of the panorama
With normal video playback, the colours looked good in bright conditions. In subdued light conditions, digital noise starts to creep, in but the quality is still satisfactory. Its performance in low light is not quite there, as the graininess is fairly evident. Likewise, still images are good in well-lit and outdoor environments, with the same low light issues. The camera also has a face detection technology to recognize and enhance faces by automatically correcting exposure, and it does work well, giving warm skin tones.
Overall, the sound is a bit raspy and tinny, but the Bloggie does capture dialogue well for interviews and background is ambience is recorded with startling clarity. Alas, the internal sound is mono-only with no external mic option – a feature offered in stereo on the Kodak Zi8. The Info Lithium battery is quoted as lasting between 60mins (typical) and 95mins (continuous), though the Bloggie didn’t ever die on us because every time we uploaded content it began to charge.
You'll need the MHS-PM5K to get 360 lens, the MHS-PM5 doesn't include it
Undoubtedly, it’s the video quality and the ease of use of the Bloggie that impress, rather than the 360-degree gimmickry. The on-board PMB Portable software enables uploads of video or stills to your favourite video or photo sharing site with the option to include preferred URLs for alternative destinations. Of course, you can import files to iMovie or some other package for local editing too, as the Bloggie’s MP4 files don’t cause any major headaches for playback.
Compared to other models of this ilk, Sony’s MHS-PM5K Bloggie certainly offers decent video and stills. The articulating lens makes shooting easy and creative and even the digital zoom gives better results than you’d expect, it’s just a shame its operation wasn’t smoother. The 360-degree mode definitely needs refining, but could be good, one day. That aside, support for SD cards will potentially win over new users, as well as its convenience. You don’t need to carry a lot of paraphernalia with the Bloggie, not even a charger is necessary, as it charges when connected to a computer. If you’re travelling and want to share photos and videos quickly on-line, then the Bloggie was made with you in mind. ®
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