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Sony DCR-HC21 Camcorder Review
**Video Performance ***(5.0)*
We assessed the DCR-HC21’s color and video quality at optimal, bright light conditions of 3000 lux in a controlled testing environment. The results were similar to last year’s DCR-HC20, which makes sense as the two camcorders share imager specifications.
At 3000 lux, the DCR-HC21 shows some noise, or grain, which is unfortunate, though overall the image is pretty bright—brighter than comparable Panasonic camcorders. This might be due to some automatic gain default setting on the DCR-HC21. Another notable characteristic on the DCR-HC21 is its slightly nuclear colors. I saw this on a number of Sonys last year and this year, and I am kinda perplexed as to why this occurs. It is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, colors at bright light levels appear more vibrant than comparable Panasonic camcorders, though Panasonic’s colors seemed more balanced. This Sony camcorder displays really eye-popping blues, and the skin tones are nice.
**Video Resolution ***(7.8)*
We provide you with an approximation of the true video resolution of each camcorder we review for the same reason we provide you with these reviews in the first place: to cut through the PR and the hype to the truth. There so many factors that go into getting good video from your camcorder that it is often hard to know whether any one factor or specification is the reason for bad or good video performance. Generally, big CCD sizes, high effective pixel counts, even higher gross pixel counts, and multiple CCDs are good indicators of performance, but not always. Often camcorder manufacturers will hype CCD size or CCD count—or digital zooms of all things—as sure signs of good video performance, but, as we’ve seen in previous years, camcorders with identical CCD sizes, gross pixel counts, and effective pixel counts have performed differently.
In the case of the DCR-HC21, we took footage in the camcorder’s regular 4:3 mode of a standard resolution chart, exported stills from this video, and, using Imatest Imaging Software, analyzed each still to approximate the camcorder’s "true" resolution. In 4:3 mode, the Sony DCR-HC21 gave us approximately 249.0 lines of vertical resolution at its best, with approximately 312.6 lines of horizontal resolution, yielding a real resolution of 77,837.4. As the camcorder’s widescreen mode merely letterboxes the image, reducing the horizontal lines of resolution, we did not test it, assuming it's performance would be inferior to the standard mode.
**Low Light Performance ***(3.0)*
Low light performance on the Sony DCR-HC21 was a disappointment - and that's putting it nicely. While the camcorder displayed relatively vibrant and bright images at 3000 lux and 60 lux, all images are plagued with noise, including some nasty blue noise. I’ve seen similar noise in other Sony camcorders, both this year and last year.
While at 60 lux and 15 lux the noise seen on the DCR-HC21 is similar in scope to that of comparable Panasonic and JVC camcorders, color information at 15 lux on the DCR-HC21 drops out almost completely. It is pretty shocking that such a bright image at 3000 lux could drop out so much at 15 lux, especially compared to comparable camcorders that aren’t as bright in optimal light, but so it goes. For its low light performance, I cannot recommend this camcorder, thought if you plan to shoot at the beach all the time, it could work out.
**Wide Angle ***(8.5)*
To test the wide angle of the DCR-HC21, we use a laser pointer to measure the field of horizontal vision available at the camcorder’s widest zoom. Using this method we found that the DCR-HC21 had a widest zoom angular measure of 42.5 degrees. We then multiply this number by 0.2 to get the wide angle score of 8.5.