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Sony DCR-DVD910 Handycam Camcorder Review
The DCR-DVD910 is Sony\'s top dog for standard definition DVD camcorders this year. It\'s a bit of an odd duck, though, and difficult to account for. Priced at $649 MSRP, it\'s within site of much better high definition camcorders. Sony makes little attempt to win you over to the DVD910, either. It has no mic, headphone jack, or other enticement for the camcorder enthusiast who wants to remain in standard def. The strangest thing of all is the sensor and processing system, which is identical to its high definition cousins, the HDR-UX10 and HDR-UX20. In essence, it has all the potential of those camcorders, but discards all of the good picture quality before processing.
Video Performance* (4.0)*
The Sony DCR-DVD910 comes equipped with a relatively small sensor - a 1/5-inch CMOS with a gross pixel count of 2,360,000 (effective pixel count of 1,490,000). This is considerably smaller than last year's top standard definition DVD camcorder, the DCR-DVD508, which had a 1/2.9-inch CMOS. What does this mean? In short, you can expect to see less interest and less investment in standard definition from manufacturers. However, manufacturers have also proven lately that they are sometimes able to pull great performance from sensors we would have criticized as being too small or too densely packed with pixels.
The strange thing is this... Sony's high definition DVD camcorders for 2008, the HDR-UX10 and HDR-UX20, use exactly the same sensor that the DCR-DVD910 uses. Yet the UX10 and UX20 record full 1920 x 1080 video in the AVCHD format, while the DVD910 only records 720 x 480 video in that old dog format, MPEG-2. The DVD910 is capturing all the same information into the sensor, but throwing it out the window prior to processing.
Sony DCR-DVD910 at 3000 lux
Let's see how it did. To start, we used the Sony DCR-DVD910 to shoot our trusty DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde color chart at an even 3000 lux. Under these conditions, the camcorder produced quite a good image. The color performance was about equal to the DCR-SR300 and DCR-DVD508. Whenever Sony has a camcorder in the upper-end of the market, they produce some of the best looking color.
However, the sharpness of the DCR-DVD910 in no way competes with last year's DCR-DVD508 and DCR-SR300 and their larger, higher resolution sensors. The fine details on the chart can be made out, but there is a distinct softness to the whole image. In this regard, the performance was closer to the Canon FS11. We liked the color performance better on the Sony DVD910 than the Canon FS11.
Now let's compare it to its cousin, the high definition HDR-UX20. In fact, there's almost no comparison. Aside from the similar color performance, the HDR-UX20 is immensely sharper and more detailed than the DVD910. Above are 100% crops side by side. You make the call.
Out of the lab, the Sony DCR-DVD910 performed well. Colors were balanced and did not oversaturate too much. The auto exposure could run a little high and blow out your whites, so it might be a good idea to leave the Zebra patterns on and set to 100 IRE. If the stripes appear, be sure you've got some practice in how to shift the exposure.
Overall, this is a decent little DVD camcorder that should serve you well in most outdoor and well-lit indoor shooting situations.
Video Resolution* (3.25)*
The video resolution was tested by shooting a DSC Labs video resolution chart at an even, bright light, then watching the playback footage on an HD monitor. At best, the Sony DCR-DVD910 produced an approximate horizontal resolution of 325 line widths, and a vertical resolution of 200 line widths.
This is a fairly weak score compared to the competition, scoring lower than the Sony DCR-DVD508, Sony DCR-SR300, and Canon FS11. The vertical resolution, in particular, was quite bad.
Low Light Performance* (4.17)*
The low light performance of the Sony DCR-DVD910 was tested in three stages. First, we shot the DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde color chart at an even 60 lux and 15 lux, then compared the charts to similar camcorders. At 60 lux, the Sony DVD910 lost a fair amount of light compared to the bright light testing. The noise became more noticeable and there was a fair amount of fine detail loss. The colors did not fair that well, either. The 60 lux image was a good deal less vibrant than in bright light.
Sony DCR-DVD910 at 60 lux
By comparison, the Sony DCR-DVD508 and DCR-SR300 retained a lot more color information and light. However, we didn't like the high frequency noise that was so apparent with those camcorders. The DCR-DVD910, while lacking in a lot of other areas, had a smoother looking noise that was less distracting. The Canon FS11 performed on par with the Sony DVD910. Colors were brighter on the Canon, but they looked oversaturated and not entirely natural.
Sony DCR-DVD910 at 15 lux
At 15 lux, the Sony DCR-DVD910 took a complete nosedive. There was so much noise and so little color information that it's hard to find much to say about it. Nearly all fine detail is swallowed up. Both of last year's Sonys, the DCR-DVD508 and the DCR-SR300, managed a much better performance. The Canon FS11 also did better with color and fine detail, though not nearly so well as last year's Sonys.
The second stage of the low light testing is for sensitivity, and involves shooting the same chart, while slowly and steadily lowering the light. Using a waveform monitor, we find how much light the camcorder needs to produce a peak of 50 IRE. At best, the Sony DCR-DVD910 needed 15 lux of light to produce that exposure level. This was a weak performance, all told. The Sony DCR-DVD508 and DCR-SR300 could do the same with only 9 lux. The Canon FS11, even with its smaller sensor, needed only 13 lux.
The third stage of low light testing involves shooting the X-Rite Color Checker chart at an even 60 lux, then taking frame grabs from the video and running them through Imatest imaging software to determine color accuracy, noise, and saturation. At best, the Sony DCR-DVD910 was able to produce a color error of 16.3. This was a considerably worse score than the competing camcorders and this year's Canon FS11. The noise, however, was much lower than last year, clocking in at only 0.63%. This indicates that Sony has done some work on the processing to lower exposure. We can't say that we like the net effect, as the overall low light performance was poor. Finally, the saturation at 60 lux measured 53.6%.
Overall, this was a thoroughly underwhelming performance for low light.
The DCR-DVD910 is equipped with Super SteadyShot Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), a shake reduction system that functions by isolating the lens from the body of the camcorder. OIS is the best shake reduction system on the market for consumer camcorders because it has repeatedly proven to be highly effective in our labs and doesn’t sacrifice pixels the way Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) systems do. EIS works by creating a digital buffer around the recorded frame, leading to a slight loss in surrounding resolution.
We tested the DCR-DVD910’s resistance to shake using out custom-built camcorder shake emulator at two speeds—Speed One and Speed Two. Speed One simulates typical stationary handheld shake while Speed Two is closer to a light jog or jolty car ride with the camcorder. At Speed One, the DCR-DVD910 displayed an 93.75% shake reduction and a 75% reduction at Speed 2. This is an above average performance.
Wide Angle* (9.6)*
We measured the DCR-DVD910’s maximum field of view using a vertical laser at both left and right angles. The camcorder was placed on a tripod with the zoom pulled back fully, the LCD flipped out, and OIS turned off. Test video was later interpreted on an external monitor in order to attain a true wide angle reading. The DCR-DVD910 exhibited a maximum wide angle measurement of 48 degrees, which is fairly average.