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Sony Handycam HDR-XR520 - Sony Handycam HDR-XR520

By James Morris



Our Score:


Sony is banking on you not wanting to use manual controls because the XR520 gets things right on its own most of the time. We expect no less from a premium Sony camcorder, and this model carries on the tradition of HD image quality excellence begun with the HDR-HC1E. In good lighting, video is detailed, although colours are not quite as bright or accurate as Panasonic's HDC-HS300 or Canon's LEGRIA HF S10. There is virtually no sign of noise, however.

The XR520 also lives up to the hype for its image stabilisation. In fact, we would go so far to say that this is the best image stabilisation we've ever seen, smoothing out mild motion caused by walking with the camcorder, and doing a good job of counteracting greater levels of bounce.

Another revelation with the XR520 is how well Sony's claims of improved low light performance pan out. The image isn't significantly brighter than that of Canon's LEGRIA HF S10, but it is noticeably less noisy. The white balance also remains very accurate, so colours are quite faithful. This camcorder will be hard to beat when shooting in poor illumination.

Since the XR520 records standard 1080i AVCHD, editing footage will pose no problems at all. For watching your footage on a TV, Sony has integrated a mini HDMI port (but with no adapter), and there's a proprietary port for hooking up component and composite analogue video connections. S-video is also supported by this port, although the required cable is an optional extra.


The top models from Canon, Panasonic and Sony are all masterful products. Canon's LEGRIA HF S10 is currently too expensive, but the Panasonic HDC-HS300 and Sony HDR-X520 are similarly priced and much harder to distinguish. The Panasonic's full-sized accessory shoe, lens ring and greater manual control give it the edge for features, but the Sony just shades image quality in low light and includes masses more storage. If you're a serious hobbyist or semi-pro, the Panasonic should be your first choice. But if you just want to shoot great video and not fiddle with settings too much, Sony's HDR-XR520 is a valid contender.

Overall Score


Scores In Detail

  • Value 8
  • Image Quality 10
  • Features 8


May 2, 2009, 5:59 pm

Hi there James,

Love your camcorder reviews by the way..most helpful!

Anyway, your review is timely as I'm looking for a new camcorder (having given away my Sony analogue one yearsss ago!) ..

I'm torn between the Panasonic HS300 and the Sony XR520..both in similar category and price range..

I am planning to upgrade myself from just a "home video" enthusiast to a serious short film making hobbyist..

Thus, I suppose I would need a good videocam with progressive scan mode,etc for starters.

Can you give me some advice on which videocamera to choose between the 2 (panasonic and sony)?

Also how does the Canon range (HF 100, HFS 10, HFS 100) compare (quality wise) as compared to the Panasonic range?

Thank you


James Morris

May 2, 2009, 9:13 pm

@idora Glad you enjoy the reviews!

Neither the Panasonic nor the Sony have full progressive modes, although Panasonic bundles progressive with its cinema colour option. Canon does offer progressive scanning - 25pf - which is then encoded as 1080i for software compatibility. It's an extremely good system. From my testing, I still think Canon's LEGRIA HF S10 and S100 have the best image quality overall at the moment, but the other options you mention are very close. The Sony is less noisy in low light, but has a darker image overall and slightly less colour fidelity. The Panasonic has more manual controls than any of the others, so would make the best serious short film making tool. You can actually do rack focus / focus pulling with its lens ring, which you can't with any of Sony or Canon's consumer models. You also get direct control over shutter and aperture, so you can play around more with depth of field. It has a standard accessory shoe, too, for mounting third-party peripherals. So the Panasonic HDC-HS300 or TM300 (basically the same but with Flash memory instead of a hard disk) would probably be your best options.


May 2, 2009, 9:44 pm

Hi James.

Thanks for your timely reply ! it's already 11/40p.m in Malaysia by the way..

From your reply, seems that Panasonic seems the best bet for me..but I got another concern since I'm nre to these new formats in Camcorders..

Which is the best format..Hard Disk Drive? Flashcard/SD card? Hybrid? Is HDD a safe recording format to use? any susceptibility to damage..let's say if I take it out on a rough journey for example?

As for the Panasonic HDC-HS300, since it hasn't got a "full" progressive scan mode, like Canon's 25 p/30p , how is the quality for rapid sports shots? (e.g. a tennis match )

Appreciate your comments before I make my purchase! ;o) Thanks!



May 3, 2009, 1:31 am

Thank James for the review. Always informative.

I'm looking for a all-in one Camcorder that I can travel with. Size is important to me, but quality is top. It seems the video quality on this year's top consumer cam's seem very close. I guess it comes down to the secondary features.

Which of the three top models (xr520/s10/tm300) produces the best still photos? I've read that 3 chips sensors is not that good for stills vs. a larger single chip sensor. Is that true, so does the Panasonic produce less quality stills then say the Sony or Canon? Which do you believe has the best low light ability. Appreciate the help.


James Morris

May 3, 2009, 4:59 am

@idora The two drawbacks with hard disk camcorders are that they are bigger than Flash memory equivalents, and if you are on a really bumpy journey there is a chance the anti-shock system will kick in and prevent recording. But, on the plus side, Flash memory is still more expensive, so you get more storage with hard disks.

Progressive mode won't help you with sports. In fact, some reckon interlaced video provides smoother motion for fast-moving subjects. If a sharp picture is what you're after, being able to set a high shutter is much more important - so go for Canon or Pansonic as Sony doesn't offer shutter control. However, the Sports scene mode is designed to provide fastest shutter for the current lighting conditions, so achieves similar results.

@cyw Actually, JVC's Everio GZ-X900 (http://www.trustedreviews.c... shoots the best still images of any camcorder I've tested. It's very pocket friendly, too. Canon's LEGRIA HF S10 or S100 comes second, Sony's HDR-XR520 third, and Panaonic's HDC-HS300 or TM300 last, for the reason you mention. Three chips are not so good for photos, and that's why digital stills cameras don't use them.

For low light, I reckon Sony just about wins due to lack of noise, but you won't be disappointed with the top models from any of the big three manufacturers. The JVC X900 I suggest is a little behind in this respect, but still good.


May 5, 2009, 3:21 pm

Great review again James - I assume this is the product that you were suggesting I wait for last week? Couple of questions - is the XR500 also a UK model? Not sure I need the storage of the 520, and the price should be lower on the 500...

Secondly, which is Sony's current top of the range flash based cam and how does that compare to the 500/520?

Many thanks

James Morris

May 6, 2009, 3:05 am

@Charlie0166 Thanks! Yes, this was the one I was suggesting you wait for.

The XR500E should be a European model - the E implies it will be 50Hz-based. But Sony UK doesn't list it. I can't tell you about Sony's recent Flash models, as the last camcorder Sony sent me before the XR520 was the TG3 about a year ago! I'm hoping to get a look at the TG7 soon, but that's more of a pocket shooter. There isn't a Flash-based equivalent of the XR520. The CX11E is a previous-generation model.


May 6, 2009, 3:27 pm


Sony's websites seem to be in a real mess. If you look here:


They list both the XDR 520 and 500 and both with sterling purchase prices. They also have the XDR 200 - have you seen that version, and if so how does it compare?

James Morris

May 6, 2009, 7:24 pm

I'm sorry, Charlie0166, as I said before the XR520 is the *only* camcorder Sony has sent me since the TG3 last year. I haven't seen *any* other models from them since.


May 6, 2009, 8:55 pm

Blast those sony people! Never mind, thanks for all your help. It does strike me that there is a pretty big opportunity in the market place: there seems to be only one paper publication focused on Camcorders, but it has no comprehensive model list. All the questions I have been asking here and researching elsewhere seem to me to be a constant refrain - what is a true like for like comparison, what's due out soon, what feateures do you gain or lose by paying more or less.....and the web is much better place because magazines are always out of date by the time they are published.

Given the cost of the item, the revenue avaialable to a site that really delivers on this need should be substantial..

James Morris

May 7, 2009, 4:18 pm

Well, we're trying our best. This section of TrustedReviews, in traffic terms, is by far the most popular place to go in the UK for camcorder information, and potentially in the whole of Europe. However, the global camcorder market is one tenth of that for digital cameras, so the revenue opportunities are similarly proportioned. People are also not willing to edit video to the same extent as they are to retouch and do other things with their photos, so the opportunities for associated articles is less as well. It is a much more complicated and time consuming activity, after all. But we are trying to do our bit championing the cause!


May 11, 2009, 7:53 pm

Hi James, thx for your lucid reviews! I am planning to make simply nature movies with a camcorder costing till pstg 1500. Slow motion, wide angle and a real good image quality (colors and sharpness) are key. What machine do you recommend? Did you test the Samsung HMX H106 already, as this one has an internal 64 gb SSD? If not for now, do you know of a review regarding esp. the image quality of the H106 please?

James Morris

May 15, 2009, 1:05 am

I'm sure I will be looking at the H106 at some point (when they send me one...) but I can't direct you towards a review on a competing site, even if I knew of one!

James Morris

May 15, 2009, 1:05 am

And thanks for the compliment!

Bruce Maguire

May 16, 2009, 5:30 am

Hi James and thnx for your informative and helpful reviews. Haven't noticed much evaluation of the audio capabilities of these camcorders though. For example, both the Sony and Panasonic models claim to record in 5.1 channel audio, whereas the Legria (where does that name come from, by the way?) HFs10 (only) has stereo. Is there much value of 5.1 in practice, given the close placement of the mics? How does the zoom mic function perform as opposed to the fixed placement on the HFS10?



James Morris

May 16, 2009, 11:21 pm

Bruce, the 5.1 thing does work. The Zoom mic function is also more effective than you might think. However, editing it can be a pain. Most apps will pass the audio through, but none I know of will let you remix in 5.1.


May 26, 2009, 1:45 am

Hi James.

The XR520 was on my which list but I went for the � cheaper HG21 and I used the � to get a 0.3x wide angle, a Seinheiser microphone and the largest Canon battery.

For all the beginners (like myself) use � of your budget to get a proper external microphone... it makes such a difference. Be sure to test it with your camera and if YOU hear the difference, then pay the extra buck. There's no reason paying for something you can't hear.

The wide angle I would recommend a 0.5x, it's less "fisheyeish", the extra battery you can live without. My point is, the accessories really make a difference, in particular the microphone - I would go for a cheaper camera and get some accessories, then maxing out on camera alone.

I'm I happy with the HG21, well yes it serves it's purpose for family videos and to get started, but the video quality (I see a lot of noise and compression artifacts especially around edges) is no where near anything you see in broadcasts. Once I get a grip of videography I will go for a semi-pro.

James Morris

May 27, 2009, 7:53 pm

@Samuraj I'm surprised you are seeing compression artefacts with the HG21. Is that using the top 24Mbits/sec quality mode? A number of entry-level semi-pro models are using this 24Mbits/sec AVCHD format, and in many ways its superior to HDV. You will need to go a LOT more expensive if you want to escape that - up to Sony's XDCAM HD or EX, or Panasonic's DVCPRO HD. Got £5,000 to spend on your next camcorder? ;^>


June 22, 2009, 7:04 pm

James. Help PLEASE.

I've been looking around for a camcorder for a while now and after going through your reviews (plus some of my own research), i have two finalists. Sony's XR520.. And Panasonic's HS300.

I need help to decide between them..

i like the features of the Panasonic and the fact that it use's SD cards (and of course a non-proprietary accessory shoe).. but its 10Mp and has a 120HD, the Sony, i like the G lens, the Wapping 240Gig HD and its 12MP. but it has GPS, something i cant see me ever using plus the GPS would have a knock on effect on the battery too.

I have been up and down London's Tottenham court road, quizzing each and every shop that stocks both. no one can actually provide me with a comparison.

in your opinion, which could you suggest? Just in case price comes into it, I can say that I can pick up the Panasonic for a fiver less then the Sony.


July 6, 2009, 3:49 pm

Hi James, great review on both the XR520 and HS300 but i have the same issue as above comment. I have been looking at both the cameras and read review after review. My big concern is low light performance, i have been looking on your tube at videos taken but i was after your thoughts as you have used them both and have a better idea of what they achieve.


Jon Blackford

July 18, 2009, 4:18 pm

Hi all, recently purchacrd the XR520V, as we speak I am ploughing my way through the manual and experimenting as I go! I have two questions...for now, how do you oporate the lash light, tried for the life of me to get it on bur to no avail! And how do I download the manual for this unit?......please!

Regards Jon B

Jon Blackford

July 18, 2009, 7:43 pm

Hi downloaded the manual, talk about dumb & even dumber! But still can't get the flash to work....help please anybody!

Jon Blackford

Jon Blackford

July 27, 2009, 11:35 pm

James, can you help me? Bought a Sony HDR-XR52V but cannot for the life of me get the flash to work!

Anyone pout there help?

Regards Jon B


July 28, 2009, 1:24 pm

Hi, I just bought an XR520 based on the reviews on this site, and many others. Just a point to note that wasn't mentioned anywhere (or I missed it) is that not all of them has a built-in GPS. I think it needs to have a 'V' on the end of the model number.

Now I am going to sit down and play a bit.


Thomas 10

August 13, 2009, 5:41 pm

Hi James,

Finally, a ripping review on something which I NEED to know about.

I'm a student so money isn't 'flowing', I'm in need of a camcorder & I've been doing a touch of research and I've come to the same conclusion as most other people on this page; I'm going to purchase either:

- the Sony xr520,

- Canon's LEGRIA HF S10; and

- S100 or Panasonic's HDC-HS300

I study film so short films will be recorded on it. I'm going on a 3 month snowboarding trip so filming 'action' is also required. Obviously all camcorders do this, but which is the best out of the 3? I'm not TOTALLY up with all the technical jargon used when referring to the specifications of each camcorder, but I can still roughly understand.

I've been looking in local stores for camcorders, but recently I've turned to the net as all the prices on here seem SO much cheaper.

What I've found on the net is that the Sony xr520 is offered with and without the GPS, so just wanting to know if that's the only difference between the two? I'm positive that the GPS is a useless function for me, and the price without GPS is roughly $1100 and with GPS is $2199.... so you see why I ask!

however, should i just go with the canon or panasonic?

thanks for your help and the reviews, bloody excellent.


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