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Low Light Performance

Low Light Performance Summary
{{article.attachments['Panasonic_AG-HMC40_Vanity120.jpg']}} • Overall low light performance was disappointing in each of our testing categories.
        • Low light sensitivity was terrible without any gain boost, but the camcorder did a manageable job when we set it to auto gain control.  

        • With 0dB gain, the HMC40 could barely produce a visible image at 60 lux.  

        • Noise levels weren't great, although the camcorder didn't produce an overload of noise when using higher gain settings.
{{article.attachments['cci-prev.jpg']}} Motion & Sharpness Performance (Page 5 of 18) Audio {{article.attachments['cci-next.jpg']}}

 

**Low Light Sensitivity***(1.49)*


The Panasonic AG-HMC40 has a much higher pixel count than the other pro camcorders we've tested. This, combined with the fact that it also has smaller CMOS sensors made for rather disappointing results in its low light performance. Without any gain boost the AG-HMC40 showed serious problems with low light sensitivity—requiring roughly 290 lux of light to reach 50 IRE on our waveform monitor. This is roughly five times as much light as the tape-based pro models we tested required (see the table and chart below). Now, the HMC40 did redeem itself a bit when we tested its sensitivity with auto gain, as the camcorder required just 9 lux of light to reach the same levels on our waveform monitor. Still, when you are considering the AG-HMC40, keep in mind that you will consistently need to boost the gain when shooting in even moderately low light situations. (More on how we test low light sensitivity.)

Required Illumination *
{{article.attachments['Panasonic_AG-HMC40_LL_sensitivity.gif']}}
  • the lower the lux required, the better the performance

The gain system on the HMC40 is a bit different than most other pro models. You cannot set the gain levels manually on the Panasonic until you have opened the aperture all the way. This is extremely discouraging and it severely limits the amount of control you can hold over the camcorder. Since you can't adjust gain and aperture independently this means it is impossible to play with depth of field in low light because the aperture always has to be opened fully (unless you're shooting under light that is much brighter than 290 lux).

Low Light Sensitivity
Mode Panasonic AG-HMC40 Canon XH A1S Sony HDR-FX1000 Canon XL H1A
0dB Gain 290 Lux 61 Lux 57 Lux 49 Lux
Auto Gain 9 Lux 7 Lux 8 Lux 5 Lux

When shooting in Auto Gain, the Panasonic AG-HMC40 allows the user to set the gain limiter as high as 34dB (called high sensitivity). This is higher than the auto gain limiter available on most prosumer camcorders—though many allow you to manually select a gain level this high. We felt, however, that using the 34dB limit was fair, since the results show considerably less noise than the 36dB setting on the Canons. In fact, we suspect that the decibel levels reported on the Panasonic are not comparable to those reported on the competition, since 12dB on the HMC40 does not look anything like 12dB on one of the other models. Even so, you could choose to set the Panasonic's gain limiter to 24dB, which resulted in the camcorder requiring 24 lux of light instead of 9 lux to reach 50 IRE in our test.

Shooting with the AG-HMC40's 30p and 24p modes resulted in a better low light sensitivity performance. The improvement was only slight, however: the camcorder managed an auto gain low light sensitivity of 8 lux when we tested these alternate frame rates. With the auto gain capped at 24dB, the camcorder needed 19 lux of light to reach the same levels using its 30p and 24p record modes.

 

**Low Light Color***(3.91)*


In this test you can see first hand what we talked about in the Low Light Sensitivity section above. The AG-HMC40 simply cannot produce a workable image in low light unless you boost the gain setting. With 0dB gain, the camcorder managed a whopping color error of 11.36 and an absolutely abysmal saturation level of 12.12%. These are just numbers, however, so check out the images below to get a visual idea of what we're talking about. (More on how we test low light color.)

0dB Gain Low Light Color Performance
{{article.attachments['Panasonic_AG-HMC40_60_lux_0dB.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Panasonic_AG-HMC40_60_lux_0dB_color_error.jpg']}}
Color Test Chart (above), Color Error Map (right)
The Panasonic AG-HMC40 produced a color error of 11.36 and a saturation level of 12.12% in our 0dB low light color testing. (The map on the right is a diagram of the color error. The length and direction of each line indicates how the camcorder processed each particular color.)

As you can see, the HMC40's 0dB gain image is almost completely black with just the faint hint of a colored image (the test chart is there, trust us). Look at the comparison images below to see how much worse the AG-HMC40 did in this test than the other pro models. Keep in mind that Panasonic AG-HMC40 has a much higher pixel count than the models we compared it to, thus making it more difficult for light to hit the camcorder's sensors. The HMC40 also has smaller sensors than the Canon XH A1S, XL H1A, and Sony HDR-FX1000 (each has three 1/3-inch chips, while the Panasonic has three 1/4.1-inch chips).

0dB Gain Comparison
{{article.attachments['Panasonic_AG-HMC40_60_lux_0dB.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Canon_XH_A1S_60_lux_0dB.jpg']}}
Panasonic AG-HMC40 Canon XH A1S
{{article.attachments['Sony_HDR-FX1000_60_lux_0dB.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Canon_XLH1A_60_lux_0dB.jpg']}}
Sony HDR-FX1000 Canon XL H1A

Things got a bit brighter when we bumped the AG-HMC40 up to 6dB gain, but the image was still not very good. The other camcorders each showed a bright, crisp, color-accurate image with 6dB gain, while the Panasonic mired with a 9.13 color error and a saturation level of 29.4%. In comparison, the Canon XH A1S had a saturation level of close to 90% in this test.

6dB Gain Low Light Color Performance
{{article.attachments['Panasonic_AG-HMC40_60_lux_6dB.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Panasonic_AG-HMC40_60_lux_6dB_color_error.jpg']}}
Color Test Chart (above), Color Error Map (right)
The Panasonic AG-HMC40 produced a color error of 9.13 and a saturation level of 29.4% in our 6dB low light color testing. (The map on the right is a diagram of the color error. The length and direction of each line indicates how the camcorder processed each particular color.)

 

You can really see the AG-HMC40 is the odd man out in our low light testing. Both Canon models offered very similar images and the Sony FX1000 appears just a tad darker than the XH A1S and XL H1A. You can see the AG-HMC40 offers some deep colors in its image, but the 6dB gain simply isn't enough to produce a bright, workable image.

6dB Gain Comparison
{{article.attachments['Panasonic_AG-HMC40_60_lux_6dB.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Canon_XH_A1S_60_lux_6dB.jpg']}}
Panasonic AG-HMC40 Canon XH A1S
{{article.attachments['Sony_HDR-FX1000_60_lux_6dB.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Canon_XLH1A_60_lux_6dB.jpg']}}
Sony HDR-FX1000 Canon XL H1A

With auto gain, the Panasonic AG-HMC40 produced a good image in low light, although it still wasn't quite as bright as the images produced by Canon's pro models. Panasonic finally managed a respectable color error with its auto gain setting (4.69) and its saturation level was a decent 77.75%. In the comparisons below you can see that the HMC40 produced an image similar to that of the HDR-FX1000 with its auto gain setting engaged. The AG-HMC40 did, however, have deeper blues and lighter greens than the Sony.

Auto Gain Comparisons
{{article.attachments['Panasonic_AG-HMC40_60_lux_auto.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Canon_XH_A1S_60_lux_auto.jpg']}}
Panasonic AG-HMC40 Canon XH A1S
{{article.attachments['Sony_HDR-FX1000_60_lux_auto.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Canon_XLH1A_60_lux_auto.jpg']}}
Sony HDR-FX1000 Canon XL H1A

 

 

Gain Level Color Error at 60 Lux Saturation %
0dB Gain 11.36 12.12%
6dB Gain 9.13 29.4%
12dB Gain 7.3 48.33%
Auto Gain 4.69 77.75%

The table above recaps the AG-HMC40's color error and saturation numbers across the various gain settings we tested. Even with 12dB gain, the HMC40 still didn't produce a very good image, but the camcorder did quite well with its auto gain settings. So, if you want to shoot in low light with the HMC40, be prepared to boost the gain settings quite a bit.

Low Light Color Score Comparison
{{article.attachments['Panasonic_AG-HMC40_LL_color_comp.gif']}}

 

**Low Light Noise***(3.37)*


Unfortunately, the Panasonic AG-HMC40 couldn't redeem its poor low light color performance with a solid showing in our low light noise test. The camcorder offered mediocre noise scores in low light, although it did have less noise than the competition when using its auto gain setting. With the 0dB gain setting, the AG-HMC40 measured 2.7% noise. This number is likely high because of how dark the HMC40's image is at this level. In the crops below you can see how much darker the AG-HMC40's image is than the other pro models we tested. (More on how we test low light noise.)

0dB gain at 60 lux
{{article.attachments['Panasonic_AG-HMC40_60_lux_0dB_crop.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Canon_XH_A1S_60_lux_0dB_crop.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Sony_HDR-FX1000_60_lux_0dB_crop.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Canon_XLH1A_60_lux_0dB_crop.jpg']}}
Panasonic AG-HMC40
        100% Crop
Canon XH A1S
        100% Crop
Sony HDR-FX1000
        100% Crop
Canon XL H1A
        100% Crop

It is still difficult to see the HMC40's image when we bumped the gain up to 6dB, so there's no sense in trying to spot any noise in its image. Our software measured the noise on this test at 1.5%, which is comparable to what the other pro cams did at 6dB gain.

6dB gain at 60 lux
{{article.attachments['Panasonic_AG-HMC40_60_lux_6dB_crop.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Canon_XH_A1S_60_lux_6dB_crop.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Sony_HDR-FX1000_60_lux_6dB_crop.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Canon_XLH1A_60_lux_6dB_crop.jpg']}}
Panasonic AG-HMC40
        100% Crop
Canon XH A1S
        100% Crop
Sony HDR-FX1000
        100% Crop
Canon XL H1A
        100% Crop

At 12dB gain you can start seeing some of the noise in the crops below. Each of the tape-based cams have a fine layer of noise as they all registered noise levels hovering around 2%. The AG-HMC40 averaged 2.02% noise in this test as well and you can see some blocky pixelation and discoloration in its image below—even though it is still very dark.

12dB gain at 60 lux
{{article.attachments['Panasonic_AG-HMC40_60_lux_12dB_crop.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Canon_XH_A1S_60_lux_12dB_crop.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Sony_HDR-FX1000_60_lux_12dB_crop.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Canon_XLH1A_60_lux_12dB_crop.jpg']}}
Panasonic AG-HMC40
        100% Crop
Canon XH A1S
        100% Crop
Sony HDR-FX1000
        100% Crop
Canon XL H1A
        100% Crop

The AG-HMC40 managed its lowest noise levels when we set the camcorder to auto gain—just 1.01% noise—and its image was finally bright enough to be considered usable. The thing is, the HMC40 didn't have the sharpness or detail in its low light image that the other pro cams in this set had (particularly the Sony HDR-FX1000). The HMC40's image is quite blurred, which you can see by looking at the bottom of the vertical trumpet.

Auto gain at 60 lux
{{article.attachments['Panasonic_AG-HMC40_60_lux_auto_crop.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Canon_XH_A1S_60_lux_auto_noise_crop.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Sony_HDR-FX1000_60_lux_auto_crop.jpg']}} {{article.attachments['Canon_XLH1A_60_lux_auto_crop.jpg']}}
Panasonic AG-HMC40
        100% Crop
Canon XH A1S
        100% Crop
Sony HDR-FX1000
        100% Crop
Canon XL H1A
        100% Crop

The table below shows the HMC40's noise levels in each of our low light testings. The camcorder's good numbers in auto mode suggest it may be best to leave the manual gain setting alone on the HMC40. (It also had the best color accuracy with gain set to auto). While the AG-HMC40 didn't impress us with its noise scores, it actually didn't do much worse than the Canon XH A1S in these tests (both the Sony HDR-FX1000 and Canon XL H1A did a bit better).

 

Gain Level Noise % at 60 lux
0dB Gain 2.7%
6dB Gain 1.5%
12dB Gain 2.02%
Auto Gain 1.01%

 

Low Light Noise Score Comparisons
{{article.attachments['Panasonic_AG-HMC40_LL_noise_comp.gif']}}

 

Sections

  1. Introduction
  2. Product Tour
  3. Color & Noise Performance
  4. Motion & Sharpness Performance
  5. Low Light Performance
  6. Audio
  7. Compression & Media
  8. Manual Controls
  9. Still Features
  10. Handling & Use
  11. Playback & Connectivity
  12. Other Features
  13. Canon XL H1A Comparison
  14. Canon XH A1S Comparison
  15. Sony HDR-FX1000 Comparison
  16. Conclusion
  17. Photo Gallery

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