Projectors have gotten so tiny that manufacturers started integrating them into portable gadgets including cameras and even smartphones. But these gadgets came out with a whimper that looked more like experimental devices to see if the concept can carry on. Then the manufacturers just went back to rolling out quality devices without the projector. But Sony is perhaps the only major manufacturer that continues this trend. In 2011, Sony launched the HDR-PJ50 which featured a projector right behind the camcorder’s screen. This move made sense because you can easily preview recorded movies right after recording. This successful concept explains why modern Sony camcorders like the Sony HDR-PJ230 exist today, complete with the projector and on the cheap too!
The Sony HDR-PJ230 is pretty much a carbon copy of the HDR-CX230 but just with a built-in projector. Given the budget-nature of this product, the Sony HDR-PJ230 has a very simple black design. The projector only adds an ounce to the weight so the camcorder still manages to weigh under a pound. It comes with a hand strap that has two nice qualities. First, the strap is very comfortable as you can adjust it and second, you can detach the hidden USB cable built-in to the strap so you can quickly charge the camcorder or transfer files to a PC. Those that have forgotten their USB cable or charger after leaving for a vacation already have a reason to get this budget camcorder.
Open up the camcorder’s panel and you are greeted with a small 2.7-inch display with a joystick and button on the side. This already gives the hint that the screen won’t respond to touches. If you compare it with the higher-end Sony camcorders, you will notice that the lack of physical screen controls allow the screen to be bigger and the touchscreen makes the menu navigation a bit simpler. With the HDR-PJ230, you have to use the joystick to cycle through the different onscreen items and press the joystick to confirm. This makes the camcorder simple to use physically but it can be time consuming if you want to do things like adjust manual settings. There is the typical “Playback” shortcut though and the top of the camcorder does have the most important physical controls allowing you to adjust the optical zoom and take 8.9-megapixel pictures on the fly.
Without fancy touch-to-focus and networking features, the optical zoom and built-in projector remains as this budget camcorder’s main selling points and the challenge for Sony is to convince people to consider this model for $399. For the price, the 32x optical zoom is pretty impressive. Technically, you can max out at 27x but there is this extended zoom that lets you reach 32x without noticeable quality loss. This gives you a nice range from 29.8 -953.6mm which means that the Sony HDR-PJ230 can be used to record wide-angle shots too. Just don’t expect the auto-focus to be so fast on high zoom levels.
For not-so-high zoom levels, the SteadyShot optical stabilizer is really helpful because it manages to smoothen out your recorded footage even if your hands feel a bit shaky. You shouldn’t run into any issues at all when shooting at wide-angle. That goes for the video quality too if you stick with the Intelligent Auto mode because the mode does all the work in deciding which scene preset and settings are best for your environment. The quality is good enough for most people to forget going through the tedious menu just to make manual adjustments. 1080p and 60p can be done with the HDR-PJ230 and the Carl Zeiss lens and Exmor R CMOS Sensor contribute to decent overall quality and low light performance.
You also get to pick the video format depending on your needs. For starters, it is best to try the MP4 mode first because the 1080p video quality is pretty good and you can easily edit the video in a Mac. Plus, the file size is considerably smaller making social media sharing easier. The AVCHD mode is available if you need the highest possible quality but with just 8 GB of internal memory, your camcorder’s storage will fill up completely after you hit around the 45-minute mark. But if you go for the HD LP mode, you can go a bit beyond 3 hours. Extending the camcorder’s memory capacity by adding an SD card or Memory Stick PRO Duo is possible too.
Thanks to the built-in projector, you don’t have to transfer the files to a computer or connect the Sony HDR-PJ230 directly to a TV just to preview videos. It has a fairly poor resolution output of 640×360 and the brightness only maxes out at 13 lumens but having the ability to project videos up to 100 inches (diagonally) large is still pretty cool. Then when you are done, you can use the Direct Copy feature to move the stored content directly to an external hard disk or may transfer them to a PC the traditional way.
When playing back videos on the PC or TV, you may also notice how good the audio quality is. If you have the wind filter option turned on, you might not even hear all the annoying background noise. Because the HDR-PJ230 has a built-in zoom microphone, you can actually zoom in and capture sounds from the focused subject. On the downside, the wind filter is less effective at higher zoom levels.
If you have no experience with video editing, you can whip up something nice with the Highlight Playback feature. By default, the camcorder does all the work in picking important scenes from your videos and adding transitions to create a fresh video that shows all the highlights complete with background music. You can customize the parts of the video if you like by adding what scenes to include.
$399 is a pretty sweet deal for a decent camcorder with a projector. But you need to think long and hard if you really need the projector functionality because you can save about $120 if you go for the HDR-CX230 model. Plus if the projector specs of the Sony HDR-PJ230 look too low-end, you will have to spend hundreds of dollars more for a model like the HDR-PJ790V which has far more recording features and a brighter projector with higher resolution output.