It is pretty hard to believe that Sony’s been pumping out camcorders with built-in camcorders for years without the competition ever responding with camcorder projectors of their own. This sounds like a sign that the demand isn’t there but if Sony’s recent 2014 push is any indication, Sony isn’t ready to let go of this cool technology just yet and it is quite possible that there is indeed demand. Sony isn’t even shy to layer even more advanced features on top of its flagship projector camcorder to make it even better. The end result is the Sony HDR-PJ810 and it is easily the best projector camcorder ever made. Now Sony has to prove that it is really good for a $1,099 camcorder.
Being the top-of-the-line model for the Sony’s projector camcorder family, the Sony HDR-PJ810 really looks like something that will scare off beginner users. It doesn’t stray too much away from the older HDR-PJ790 design so at least owners of older Sony camcorders shouldn’t feel so lost. There is a manual control dial on the front that you can assign to a favorite control like white balance, iris, shutter speed, focus or exposure. Sony also puts its trademark USB cable built into the handstrap for easy charging. Even with the built-in projector onboard, the camcorder doesn’t feel too heavy weighing slightly more than a pound.
The 3-inch Xtra Fine LCD touch display won’t hold a candle 3.5-inch screen on the Sony HDR-CX900 but the smaller display on the Sony HDR-PJ810 still has the same technology and same 921k dot resolution so you can still preview images and videos in bright daylight. The touchscreen is pretty responsive too due to its high-end nature. The 0.27-inch electronic viewfinder remains available but it isn’t as stellar as the EVF on the HDR-CX900.
All Sony camcorders in the PJ series have a projector placed on the rear of the display door because it is simply the smartest place to put it and that is why nothing changed with the HDR-PJ810 in that regard. But what Sony managed to do with this model is bump up the lumen count to 50 making this the camcorder with the brightest built-in projector ever. In addition to that, you can project images up to 200 inches large. If you have difficulty in situating the device on the wall, you can use the built-in Auto Keystone Adjustment to correct the image’s dimensions. Even when compared to its flagship predecessor in the PJ series, this is a huge improvement.
What you don’t get with the Sony HDR-PJ810, however, is the advanced sensor that is present in the new high-end Sony camcorders like the Sony HDR-CX900. Fortunately, the 1/3.95-inch Exmor R CMOS sensor isn’t bad by any stretch and the Sony G lens has been improved so you can zoom up to 12x without compromising quality. But the much bigger improvement is the addition of the Clear Image Zoom which lets you hit 24x and while optical zoom is still superior, the flaws are really hard to make out. Thanks to the sensor, you can snap 20-megapixel images.
Like its predecessor, the HDR-PJ810 has Balanced Optical Steady image stabilization which reduces shake more effectively than the camcorders that come with the standard version of Sony’s popular technology. This also lowers the distortion levels and reduces vignetting so you should get better overall video and image quality.
The Sony HDR-PJ810 also doesn’t support Sony’s newest XAVC S video format so this may not be the best camcorder to get if you are into post-production but Sony at least managed to add dual recording. Previous models forced you to choose between high quality (AVCHD) and Web-friendliness (MP4). If you have a high-capacity and high-speed memory card, you can pick both so the AVCHD file serves as a high-quality backup while you upload the MP4 version with ease. The HDR-PJ810 does have 32 GB of internal flash memory to get you started and it highlights Sony’s unwillingness to let go of internal flash memory entirely but it is still a rather hefty downgrade from the older HDR-PJ790 model which had 96 GB.
Another new feature that the Sony HDR-PJ810 gains is 7 additional picture effects that you can apply to videos and still photos. Think of it as Sony’s answer to the popularity of smartphone apps like Instagram that add fun filters to content. With familiar effects like Pop Color, Toy Camera, Partial Color, High Contrast Monochrome, Retro Photo and Soft High Key, the HDR-PJ810 is better positioned to attract those that enjoy sharing cool videos on Facebook and, of course, need those manual controls.
Uploading to sites like Facebook is a lot simpler too because the Wi-Fi functionality is now part of the camcorder. With the HDR-PJ790, you had to purchase a special Wi-Fi model separately and attach it to the multi-interface shoe. With the multi-interface shoe open on the Sony HDR-PJ810, you can upgrade the functionality of the camcorder without sacrificing the connectivity. Wi-Fi isn’t just about easy video and photo transferring either because the camcorder works with Sony’s mobile app for Android and iOS devices so you can operate the camcorder remotely and even make the device serve as a remote viewfinder. Android phones with NFC functionality can easily link to the HDR-PJ810 because it is NFC-enabled as well. The only minor catch is that the camcorder loses the GPS functionality that was present in the Sony HDR-PJ790.
The Sony HDR-PJ810 doesn’t really end up being a full upgrade from the HDR-PJ790. Some people may prefer having 96 GB of memory with the option to add even more. But the biggest thing that should attract most people to the HDR-PJ810 is the price. It costs less than $1,100 making it at most $300 cheaper so you can actually buy a few decent SDXC cards and an accessory or two. The Sony HDR-PJ810 is two steps backward and four steps forward and one of the biggest steps has to be that improved 50-lumen projector and that’s what counts the most.
Update: There is a newer model > Sony FDR-AX33