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Panasonic PV-GS85 Camcorder Review
The Panasonic PV-GS85 was our winner for 2007’s Best Camcorder Under $300, making it a true bargain for the budget shopper. At this price, you wouldn\'t expect many frills, but prepare to be surprised. Panasonic packs in the manual controls, optical image stabilization, and a surprising low light performance.
Video Performance* (4.0)*
The Panasonic PV-GS85 is equipped with the standard entry-level specs for a camcorder in this price class: a 1/6-inch CCD with a gross pixel count of 680,000 (effective pixel count 340,000 in 4:3 aspect ratio, and 460,000 in 16:9 aspect ratio). We don’t expect much from camcorders with these specs, and our expectations were met perfectly.
At a controlled 3000 lux environment, the Panasonic PV-GS85 produced a dull and grainy image. This is certainly no worse than any other camcorder in its class, however, and better than some. The low resolution was evident, as you could practically count the horizontal pixel rows. While the colors failed to pop, they had an accuracy that you’ll sometimes miss in this end of the price scale.
Comparing the PV-GS85’s image with the step-up PV-GS320 makes it clear just where those extra $200 dollars are going. The colors are much richer in the GS320, and the fine detail retention is noticeably greater. The Sony DCR-HC38, a MiniDV priced about the same as the PV-GS85, produced a very similar looking image, though the reds were more saturated and the noise was a bit higher. Finally, the Canon ZR850, another MiniDV camcorder, also had the same color palette, but the fine detail capture was better.
Out of the lab, the Panasonic PV-GS85 produced a decent looking image. Outdoor colors were saturated when shooting in full sun. In shade, the camcorder had trouble yielding results as good. You’re certainly not going to wow anyone with the picture quality, but for the occasional shooting that most camcorders experience, the PV-GS85 will suffice nicely.
Video Resolution* (4.88)*
The resolution of the Panasonic PV-GS85 was tested by shooting a DSC Labs video resolution chart at an even, bright light and then examining the playback footage on a monitor. This test looks at the resolution of the outputted video rather than the idealized resolution of the imager. At best, the PV-GS85 was able to produce a horizontal resolution of 325 line widths per picture height (lw/ph) and a vertical resolution of 300 lw/ph.
Low Light Performance* (5.18)*
The low light testing of the Panasonic PV-GS85 took part in three stages. First, we shot our DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde color chart at an even 60 lux and 15 lux, then compared the results with competing camcorders. At 60 lux, the camcorder retained a surprising amount of information. We’re chalking this is up to a very intelligent auto gain system from Panasonic, because most 1/6-inch imagers do not produce quite this well. There was some expected dulling in the colors, but the resolution was virtually untouched. Our good feelings about the low light performance were confirmed with the sensitivity test, which we’ll get to in a moment.
The PV-GS85 offers the ability to shift the gain, which can be useful in low light. When shooting in full auto, the camcorder set the gain to approximately 12dB. When we raised the gain manually to 15dB, the colors began to wash out pretty significantly. At the max setting of 18dB, the image is completely washed out.
The next model up, the PV-GS320 was much sharper and cleaner overall, with more accurate colors. The image was automatically exposed darker than the PV-GS85, which had a big impact on its sensitivity score. Which is better? Overall, we’d take the PV-GS320 because of its resolution, but based on pure brightness the PV-GS85 was better.
The Sony DCR-HC38 produced a lot of ugly blue noise, as so many Sony camcorders do. The colors remain saturated, but overall the image is hard to swallow. The Canon ZR850 was a big disappointment and could not settle on a manual white balance at this light level.
At 15 lux in auto mode, the PV-GS85 was quite dark. Most of the color information was lost, but the whites remained strong and any areas of fine that were in high-contrast areas looked decent.
With the light this low, there was little wiggle room left for manual gain adjustments. Just one small increment remained, from around 15dB to 18dB. When we made the bump, the image simply got noisier. No useful information was retrieved.
None of the other camcorders we looked at in this price class were able to match the Panasonic PV-GS85 at this light level. This is a testament to that rare entry-level camcorder that surprises us once in a while and exceeds at low light.
The second part of the low light test involves shooting the same chart while slowly and steadily dropping the light while monitoring the IRE levels (outputted exposure) until the camcorder can achieve a peak of 50 IRE. The PV-GS85 really surprised us, managing that feat at a mere 12 lux. While the are many elements of a good image (i.e., resolution, color accuracy, low noise, etc.) that the PV-GS85 lacks when compared to all consumer camcorders on the market, this test proves that it can at least produce bright whites at 12 lux, which is a feat for such a small camcorder.
Finally, we raise the lights back up to 60 lux and shoot the GretagMacBeth Color Checker chart, then output frame grabs to Imatest imaging software for color accuracy, noise, and saturation. At best, the PV-GS85 was able to produce a color error of 15.8, which was about par for the competition. The noise levels measured 1.1425%, also about average, except for the Sony DCR-HC38, which was much higher. The saturation at this light level was 56.07%.
In summary, the PV-GS85 is a surprising low light champion in its price class.
Most entry-level camcorders have Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS), which eats pixels and diminishes resolution. However, all Panasonics are equipped with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), which stabilizes the lens element rather than digitally simulating borders of a recorded frame.
We tested the effectiveness of the PV-GS85’s OIS using our custom built camcorder shake emulator. The camcorder was tested at two speeds—Speed One and Speed Two. Speed One simulates typical handheld camcorder shake while Speed Two is more along the lines of recording while sitting on the back of a bumpy car or lightly jogging down the street, camcorder in hand. At Speed One, the PV-GS85 produced an 84.62% shake reduction while Speed One yielded a 75% shake reduction. These results are above average, especially in the budget camcorder field.
Wide Angle* (11.4)*
We tested the capability of the PV-GS85’s wide angle using a vertical laser. OIS was disengaged, the LCD was flipped open, and the Zoom was pulled back fully. The PV-GS85 produced a wide angle measurement of 57 degrees, setting the camcorder at the top of the pack.