Panasonic HDC-DX1 Camcorder Review
Video Performance* (8.75)*
The Panasonic HDC-DX1 features three 1/4" CCDs, each with 560,000 gross pixels, which reduces to an effective pixel count of approximately 520,000. This is the same chip set found in the SD card-based equivalent camcorder, the HDC-SD1. We found a lot of reasons to choose the SD1 over the DX1, if you pressed to choose between the two, but image quality is not one of them.
In this regard, the camcorders are virtually identical. Unlike the Sony DVD and HDD camcorders that shoot in AVCHD, there is no difference in bit rate between the models. Both the SD1 and DX1 capture at a maximum 13Mbps. Both camcorders also showed the familiar indications that one should be steered against purchasing an AVCHD camcorder this early stage of development. While AVCHD holds great potential for the future, the processors inside today's camcorders cannot encode with the efficiency and quality necessary to compete against HDV. Yes, we’re all eager to move beyond tape, but the time is not now.
At 3000 lux, the image had great looking color strength and saturation. Of course, because this is a consumer camcorder, the image is more saturated than in a pro model. We saw this more in the greens than anywhere else. It’s a shame that Panasonic did not choose to equip the DX1 or SD1 with an alternate gamma curve. The Canon HV20 does offer this, and the Sony HDR-HC7 gives you the option to reduce color saturation. Instead, Panasonic’s Broadcast division took the SD1, modified the gamma, and renamed it as the AG-HSC1U. There was no such conversion for the DX1, as no pro in their right mind would want a DVD camcorder, especially not this one.
|Panasonic HDC-SD1 at 3000 lux|
As with most AVCHD camcorders, we could see the compression artifacts pretty clearly, even in strong light. The artifacting reduced apparent resolution, which is compensated for by boosting the in-camera sharpening. The result, to the eye, makes for a sharp looking picture.
As stated in the HDC-SD1 review, the two biggest complaints we had about video performance were noise and motion artifacting. AVCHD camcorders make a lot of noise – at least, that’s what we’ve seen so far. Fortunately, the noise is of a finer grain than in the Sony AVCHD camcorders. And unlike the Sony models, the noise was more in the mid-greys than in the blacks.
If the HDC-DX1 was a still camera, we could leave well enough alone and consider a recommendation. Of course, the DX1 is a camcorder, and meant to record motion. Motion is not rendered well at all. We saw significant afterimage trailing, even in bright light. This is not the jaggedness that you see in HDV, where the interlaced lines do not match up correctly (though that is a serious detriment). With the DX1, moving objects take on sweeping auras that trail behind them. The processor, we suspect, is simply not robust enough to render the interframe compression satisfactorily. It’s not surprising, then, that Panasonic Japan just recently announced that the DX1 will be improved upon with the HDC-DX3, which will feature an improved processor - but there are no plans to release the upgraded model in the US.
Video Resolution* (18.0)*
We test video resolution by shooting a DSC Labs video resolution chart, then reading the resolution off of an HD monitor. Like the HDC-SD1, the HDC-DX1 produced approximately a horizontal resolution of 600 line widths per picture height (lw/ph) and a vertical resolution of 600 lw/ph.
Low Light Performance* (5.0)*
Again, the Panasonic HDC-DX1 performed identical to the SD1 in this category. The chips were not particularly sensitive, and the AVCHD compression compounded any noise that a DV or HDV camcorder with the same chips would produce. Together, they produced a fuzzy image. At 60 lux, the DX1 had already opened up the aperture to its max, f/1.8, and boosted the gain up to approximately 12-15dB. As the manual gain only extends to 18dB, the fact that the DX1 was nearly pushed to its limit at 60 lux does not bode well for its overall value as a low light performer. When we manually raised the gain to 18dB, the image quality degraded significantly, with too much noise and some blown out areas.
|Panasonic HDC-SD1 at 60 lux|
*Panasonic HDC-SD1 with +18dB Gain
At 15 lux, the HDC-DX1’s image became very noisy and a lot of the color information was lost.
|Panasonic HDC-SD1 at 15 lux|
Using our revised low light testing methods for 2007, we found the sensitivity of the HDC-DX1 (the ability to produce a peak 50 IRE) to be 14 lux, identical to the HDC-SD1. Remarkably, the noise and color error were also completely identical, nary a decimal off. Shot at 60 lux, the noise levels, according to Imatest imaging software, were 0.63%. The mean color error was 11.8. While the noise levels were acceptable, the sensitivity was not impressive. The DX1 required about twice the light of the Canon HV20 and the Sony HDR-HC7 (though the Canon turned in the best performance of all in 24p mode).
Panasonic has drawn a line in the sand this year by building OIS into every consumer camcorder they offer, from the lowly PV-GS80 (under $300) to the $1300 HDC-DX1. Optical image stabilization, or OIS, is a feature that drastically reduces the effects of camcorder shake on video. OIS systems stabilize the image by literally steadying the lens element, sometimes using gyroscopes or motors to compensate for movements. OIS systems are the best available image stabilization system, because they do not impact video resolution. The more common (and cheaper) stabilization method is EIS (electronic image stabilization). EIS reduces vibration by treating the margins of the frame as a digital buffer, and that portion of the frame is lost, lowering the resolution of recorded video.
We tested the DX1's OIS system using our camcorder shake emulator, custom built for Camcorderinfo.com. The shake emulator can be adjusted to produce movements at differing intensities and frequencies. We tested the DX1 at Speed 1, equivalent to the shake produced while holding a camcorder and standing still; and Speed 2, equivalent to the more intense shake of a moving vehicle.
The Panasonic DX1’s OIS system reduced recorded image shake by approximately 89% at Speed 1, and 88% at Speed 2 – a performance virtually identical to the HDC-SD1. We derived these calculations by measuring the motion difference between footage shot with OIS off, and OIS on.
The Speed 2 score shows an amazing degree of that establishes Panasonic as the reigning champion of consumer camcorder OIS.
Wide Angle* (10.0)*
The wide-angle test is conducted by measuring the field of view of camcorders in 16:9 mode. Stabilization is turned off, the zoom is set to the widest angle, and the full video frame is viewed on an external monitor to obtain the field of view measurement. The DX1’s filed of view was 52 degrees.
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