Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sample photos from XR350

A reader asked for some sample photos from the Sony XR350 so below are samples that I took this afternoon. Nothing spectacular, as it is normal with camcorders. Also the sky was overcast so it doesn't help.

This one is taken at wide angle.

The same scene taken at mid-zoom or thereabouts.

This is taken at full zoom.

My hobby is macro photos so I just cannot resist when this moth came around. This is taken with normal macro at wide angle.

And this is taken at zoom macro, i.e. at full zoom so it may have fallen outside the focus range.

The original photos were taken at 5.3M size but reduced to 2M for uploading in Blogger. Only the iAuto (full auto) mode was used in all the photos.

I use the XR350 primarily for videos and if I need photos, I'll just capture them from the videos. Below are some examples of photos that were extracted from the videos using the supplied software, Picture Motion Browser (PMB). These are the better examples as the quality will depend on minimal motion in the videos.

All the photos are unedited and taken straight from the videos. Don't think they will win any prizes but good for the memories, though. Cheers

Ronald Kwok

Friday, July 9, 2010

Points to note for new owners of Sony 350

After using the XR350 for a month or so, there are a few pointers that may be useful for new owners.

Video Resolution
The default resolution is HD HQ with a bit rate of only 9Mbps so you need to manually change it to a higher resolution if so desired. But note that the highest resolution of HD FX is at 24Mbps and if this is selected, there is a message to say that you cannot copy video to an AVCHD disc and you cannot take still shots while taking movie at this resolution. To avoid these issues, use the HD FH mode at 17Mbps which is good enough for normal usage. All HD modes are presumably at 1920x1080i.

iAuto Mode
After making some changes in the menu, the iAuto icon disappeared and I tried desperately to search in the menu to turn it back on but to no avail. The only way you can do it is to press the iAuto button on the side of the camcorder below the green iAuto icon; and this is not even mentioned in the manual at all! The first thing you should do is to turn on iAuto if the screen does not show this and this is the best mode for shooting videos for new owners before you venture into the other manual modes. Almost all my videos during my holiday in Germany are shot using just the iAuto mode and seems to work well. You can see these videos in my Germany travel blog and on Youtube and more videos are added progressively.

Recording Status
It is very easy to turn the Recording button on and off especially if you rest your thumb on the right side of the battery where the Rec button is located. Many a times I found that I have made recordings while holding the camcorder so what is filmed is just the ground. Also sometimes I could not find a clip that I thought I have recorded since I have accidentally turned the camcorder off as soon as I turned it on or did not press it hard enough to turn it on. The best is to check the screen for the recording status (REC/STBY) but this can be hard to see under bright sunlight outdoor. You can also use the Record button on the touch screen of the LCD.

Length of Clip
There is no information on the length of a video clip from the playback menu. You can see this in a roundabout way. Select Photo Capture on the Edit menu and when you play the clip, there is a moving time-line with the length of the clip shown on the right. On the Visual Index screen you can see the total length of all the videos for a particular date but I think this is not very useful, for me anyway. It is more useful to have the length of each individual video for purpose of editing. You can choose to show the date and the time when the video is shot as one of the data options.

File Copy
After connecting the USB cable to the PC, the USB Select screen will appear and you can connect either the internal memory, the internal hard disk or the memory card depending on the model of your 350 and what is available. The PMB Import screen will appear (if you have installed the PMB software) and you can follow the instructions on the screen to import the files to your PC. If you do not want to use the PMB software, bypass the Import screen and go to My Computer and you should see the camcorder as an external media device. You can then just go into the external media device and drag and drop the video files that you want to copy. These are the files with mts file extension such as 00123.mts and the other files are not necessary for playback.

HDMI Cable
To watch video on your HDTV, you must have the mini HDMI cable which is not supplied with the camcorder. Thank goodness the mini HDMI cable is not proprietary as I was able to view the videos on my HDTV by buying a generic mini HDMI cable that costs only 1/8 the price of the Sony cable. However, you have to get the Sony USB adaptor cable if you want to use the Direct Copy function as a generic one will not work.

Hope these hints will be of help to new users and I'll be happy to answer any other queries that users may have, if I can.

Ronald Kwok

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

More clips showing Sony OIS

Unable to find a clip taken while walking and zooming the same time, not yet. I believe it is there somewhere but with 100GB of videos it'll take some time to go through them all. Anyway, here is one taken on the tour bus when doing the Rhine Valley. It is taken through the bus window so there is some reflection and an overall green tinge. Also you can see how the auto-focus worked and under very fast changing lighting condition as the trees zoomed past. Also zooming on the castle near the beginning. It think the camcorder did pretty well and gives the visual sense of going on the tour again.

The next clip is taken on the cruise on the Rhine River itself as we neared the Loreley rock. Note the very high wind noise as it was quite windy at that time. Not sure if lowering the mic level would help as there is no wind noise reduction setting available.


Ronald Kwok

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sony Image Stabilisation

The main reason I moved from a the Sanyo HD2000 to the Sony XR350E is to see how much better the Optical Image Stabilisation is in the Sony compared to the Sanyo. I suppose the IS in the Sanyo is almost non-existent so any other camcorder would be better. What more, the new Sony range claims to have the latest Optical Steadyshot Active Mode that is supposed to be better than their previous models. This will reduce shakes even when walking and zooming the same time. How does it fare in real life?

Well below is a short clip taken in Hamelin during my holiday in Germany. This was taken using one hand holding the camcorder above the head while walking and moving later down to eye-level. It sure beats the Sanyo hands down.

What about stabilisation at full zoom? Below is a clip of a bird feeding at some flowers taken at full zoom in the field outside my house. This time I think I used two hands and the stabilisation is great even at full zoom.

The lighting and thus the colour isn't that good (as compared to the above video) since I was shooting at the bright sky and the plant is in the shade. You'll see purple fringing on the leaves as well which is pretty common for lens at full zoom. You can also hear dog barking as the mic is quite sensitive and I did not set the mic to zoom mode. Sony should make this a default setting. To get a slow smooth zoom, you should use the button on the touch screen; if you use the toggle switch on the camcorder body, it may be jerky depending on how hard you press the button.

Just note that this optical steadyshot active mode is only available in the 350 and 550 ranges as the 150 range uses not optical but electronic image stabilisation but is still better than the Sanyo from what I have seen on Youtube.

I will check later if I can find a clip that is shot while walking and zooming at the same time but in any case, the OIS works.

Ronald Kwok.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Using Direct Copy

The Direct Copy is new in this year's Sony range of camcorder. What it does is that it will transfer the files (videos and photos) from the camcorder to an external hard disk drive (HDD) directly without using a PC. Actually the Sanyo Xacti camcorders (including the HD2000 and FH1) already had something similar last year so Sony is not the first. But Sony is the first among the big three as Canon and Panasonic have not introduced this feature so far in their range this year. For Panasonic, this is surprising since they have already acquired Sanyo and are already using the 60p resolution in their top range of 700 series camcorders. Actually in my case since I have the XR350 with a built-in 160GB HDD, the Direct Copy is not so useful. This is more for the CX 300 and CX350 with small capacity of internal memory.

Since I wanted to test the Direct Copy function in the Sony and the USB adaptor cable is not provided, I went to Low Yat Plaza and bought the generic cable (the USB AF to 5 pin, F is for Female) to do the connection. But alas, when I hooked up the XR350 to my external HDD, nothing happened. I then checked in the AFS Forum and found that you need to get the original VMC-UAM1 cable from Sony as they must have wired the port differently from the normal. I thought I have escaped from the proprietary memory stick of the Sony but now I still need to get another Sony proprietary item, what a shame.

Not accepting defeat, I thought I can out-smart Sony. Since the same 5-pin port is used for connecting the camcorder to a PC with the USB cable that came with the camcorder, I can use this cable and use a AF-AF converter to connect to the external HDD. Thus I went and bought this converter and did the connection. Again, nothing happened and it looks like I have no choice but to get the cable from Sony. Before doing that, has any owner of this Sony range found another solution to connect an external HDD, other than using the proprietary Sony cable? Please share in the comments and help all the poor souls out there and not make Sony rich.

Below are shots of the cables I tried so it will be clearer.

You may want to try your luck but I think Sony will win. Sigh.

From reading the manual and the AFS Forum, this Direct Copy is an improvement over the Sanyo. In the Sanyo, you must use a self-powered HDD meaning you must use the bigger 3.5" HDD while in the Sony you can also use the much smaller USB-powered 2.5" HDD. This is more convenient in terms of portability. I can only tell you more about the Direct Copy after getting the Sony cable. So hang on there.

Ronald Kwok


Meanwhile I had great difficulty uploading a 1-minute Sony video in Youtube. Tried several times but it aborted before reaching 100% and the last time at 97%, what frustration! So I trim one to about 25 seconds and this time it uploaded. Here it is.

This clip was taken in Hamelin, the Pied Piper town in Germany. It was shot with one hand while walking and you can see that the image stabilisation is very effective. It cope pretty well with the lighting with both bright and shade areas together. Will upload more later, now time to watch the World Cup match. Cheers.