camcorders

Panasonic HDC-HS100 Camcorder Review

The Panasonic HDC-HS100, though it was announced only a few weeks ago, is an anticipated camcorder. Many years ago, Panasonic ruled the roost for power users and budget videographers. The Panasonic PV-GS400 was the king of them all, so loaded with features that it stayed at the top of our ratings list until we had to recreate our rubric. Then, of course, the medium of tape began to die off. Camcorder bodies shrank, and with it, room for the features we loved like viewfinders, rings, and certain ports. Panasonic, in fact, became the de facto leader of that movement towards shrinkage. While it maintained a high degree of manual control, the interface began to suffer, particularly when the joystick was moved from the back to the LCD cavity on the last generation HDC-SD9 and HDC-HS9.

July 24, 2008
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Performance

Video Performance* (9.5)*

Panasonic has made some big internal changes with the HDC-HS100. For the first time, Panasonic dropped a three-CCD system in favor of a three-CMOS sensor arrangement. It indicated that we could expect to see a 30% increase in resolution and a 20% increase in contrast. The processor was also overhauled since the previous generation, with a 300% improvement in input level that would increase detail in shadows while preventing blowouts.

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Panasonic HDC-HS100 in auto mode at 3000 lux

To evaluate video performance in bright to moderate lighting, we first shot the HDC-HS100 in our labs under standardized conditions. We used a DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde color chart at an even 3000 lux. Under these conditions, at least at first glance, the performance looked strikingly similar to the previous generation HDC-HS9. It seems that despite the new sensors and overhauled processor, the color performance is virtually identical.

Once again, a bold saturation of colors is the most obvious aspect of the performance. Compared to Canon HF10 and the Sony HDR-CX7, the colors are practically leaping off the screen. This could be more easily considered a positive if the HDC-HS100 were aimed at a strictly consumer audience, but it's not. The HDC-HS100 is aimed at a more experienced user, with whom color accuracy should matter a great deal. We'll repeat our comment in the HD-HS9 review: some sort of saturation adjustment tool would be very useful. There's nothing like this on the Sony HDR-CX7, but the Canon HF10 has two such modes, a 'Cine' mode with an alternate gamma curve and a 'Neutral' mode that simply lowers saturation.

Color aside, we were pleased to see that Panasonic made some improvements in image quality in this latest generation. At the time of the HDC-HS100's release, the company claimed a 30% increase in resolution. We'll look at some hard-number testing in the next section, but to the eye, the new camcorder does appear a little sharper. In areas of high contrast, we saw issues with oversharpening that created a halo effect. At least under the lab conditions, the distraction was quite minor, but it did not exist in the previous generation HDC-HS9.

By comparison, the Canon HF10 produced an image that was a little less saturated. The Canon was unquestionably sharper than the Panasonic, for which the large, 1/2.7-inch CMOS sensor can be thanked. Fine detail was much crisper, and there were no discernible artifacts from oversharpening. The Sony HDR-CX7 produced a pleasing color range that hit the right balance between saturation and accuracy. The image was noisier than either the Panasonic or the Canon, but at least in this light, our preference would probably be for the Sony over the Panasonic HDC-HS100.

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Panasonic HDC-HS100 in 24P Digital Cinema Mode at 3000 lux

We also shot the chart with the 24P Digital Cinema Mode on. The result, as you can see, is a freakishly intense array of colors. When the camcorder is in this mode, the color space is expanded to the new xvYCC standard. In order to get any benefit from this, you have to own an HDTV that supports xvYCC. Most people probably do not, unless you bought it within the last year or so.

Out of the lab, the HDC-HS100 produced video that will please a lot of consumers. The video boasts bold colors, good details in the shadows, and acceptable resolution. Upon closer scrutiny (a scrutiny that is as likely to occur with serious videographers as it is with us), the video we shot indoors and outside was very grainy. Blown up on the big screen, it almost appeared as though we'd applied a Photoshop distortion effect. For certain shots, such as the cloudy, rainy day traffic we managed, the grain was aesthetically pleasing. It was less pleasing when we shot in our offices. The grain only increased when we switched to 24P Digital Cinema Mode.

The 30% improvement in input level that Panasonic stated in at the HS100's release does seem to have some merit. We shot some extremely high contrast shots, and the camcorder was able to salvage information from both bright and shadowy areas.

Overall, the edges were generally sharp, but anything less than ideal light produced a lot of grain. No matter what the light, colors were always relatively strong. Point-and-shooters will find the video quality satisfactory. Experienced videographers and those with a critical eye may take issue with the graininess. However, there are a number of elements, such as the dynamic range and low light sensitivity, that we liked. In summary, the Panasonic HDC-HS100 is not perfect, but it's solid.

Video Resolution*(18.0)*

The video resolution of the Panasonic HDC-HS100 was tested by shooting a DSC Labs video resolution chart at an even, bright light. We then watched the playback footage on an HD monitor. Ultimately, we found the HDC-HS100 to produce a horizontal resolution and a vertical resolution of 600 line widths each. This was, in fact, exactly the same result that we found with the previous generation HDC-HS9, despite the fact that Panasonic claimed the new sensors would increase resolution by as much as 30%. Oh well. By comparison, the Sony HDR-CX7 did not score quite as well. The Canon HF10 scored much better.

Low Light Performance* (5.62)

*

ADDENDUM: Due to a firmware upgrade that Panasonic released after our initial review of the Panasonic HDC-HS100, we were obliged to retest the performance of low light and image stabilization. The scores have been adjusted accordingly and the new results are detailed below. Panasonic has stated that the firmware upgrade occurred *before *the HDC-HS100 was shipped from the factory, so these results should apply to any and all models.

The low light performance of the Panasonic HDC-HS100 was tested in three stages. First, we shot the DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde chart at an even 60 lux and 15 lux, then compared the results to other camcorders under the same conditions.

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Panasonic HDC-HS100 in auto mode at 60 lux

At 60 lux, the HDC-HS100 showed an overall improvement since the previous generation HDC-HS9. While the image lost a lot of color information (compared to the bright light testing), the video was brighter than the HS9, and the color retention was a little better. We were pleased to see that the switch from a CCD to a CMOS sensor and the upgraded processor had a positive benefit for apparent noise reduction (meaning how the noise looks). No, the image certainly doesn't look noise free. In fact, there's a distinct graininess. But the noise appears to be of a finer grain than the CCD-based Panasonics, and there is very little interference with fine detail. The HS9 lost a lot of fine detail to noise.

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Panasonic HDC-HS100 with a +15dB gain at 60 lux

We also looked at the chart at 60 lux with the gain manually boosted. In auto mode at this light, the aperture was fully opened and the gain was automatically raised to +15dB. We boosted it to +18dB. You can see that this made the image brighter, but it did nothing to improve color. This should be reassuring, because it indicates that the auto mode knew when to leave well enough alone.

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Panasonic HDC-HS100 in 24P Digital Cinema Mode at 60 lux

When we shifted HDC-HS100 to 24P Digital Cinema Mode, we found the quick and dirty way to boost the color saturation in low light. Of course, part of the increase in color retention is due to the slower shutter speed (1/48th rather than 1/60th). If you could just choose a 24P frame rate without the Digital Cinema Color, that would be great. Unfortunately, you can't, and the color saturation that happens in this mode is simply too much to bear. Images simply look unnatural.

What about the competition at 60 lux, you ask? The Canon HF10 was still far and away the sharpest image. The noise measured higher, according to our hard data testing, but it looks like less noise to the eye because the image is so much sharper overall. The Sony HDR-CX7 definitely looks noisier than both the Canon and the Panasonic. In terms of color retention, the Sony CX7 and the Canon HF10 were similar and both better than the Panasonic.

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Panasonic HDC-HS100 in auto mode at 15 lux

At 15 lux, the performance took a sharp turn southward, then crashed into a dark and terrible ocean of noise. Is that descriptive enough? Three small sensors are great for bright to adequate light, but they can't cut it in a dark room. What you need is a camcorder with a large, single sensor. Both the Canon HF10 and Sony HDR-CX7 have a single sensor like this, and both were brighter and less noisy than the Panasonic. Giving due credit, however, the Panasonic HDC-HS100 was the only one able to perform a perfect manual white balance in such a low light. Also, the HDC-HS100 still managed to produce recognizable colors at 15 lux, which is more than can be said for some cheaper camcorders, which can sometimes produce an almost monochromatic image.

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Panasonic HDC-HS100 in 24P Digital Cinema Mode at 15 lux

At 15 lux with the 24P Digital Cinema Mode activated, the Panasonic HDC-HS100 looked a little better overall, but the intensity of the greens is such that the picture looks unnatural.

The second stage of the testing examines color accuracy, noise, and saturation. We shot an X-Rite Color Checker chart at an even 60 lux, then exported frame grabs to Imatest imaging software. The Panasonic HDC-HS100 produced a color error of 14.2, which was a worse score than the previous generation Panasonic HDC-HS9, the Canon HF10, and the Sony HDR-CX7. It wasn't much worse than the Sony, but everything else did a fair bit better. Because our eyes told us that the image at 60 lux looked both brighter and more color-retentive than the previous generation model, we can only assume that the error is due to the color processing. As we noted in the Video Performance section above, the HDC-HS100 produces a heavy color saturation. This may be exactly what some consumers are looking for, but not everyone. We test on accuracy, and the HDC-HS100 is apparently not very accurate in low light.

On the plus side, the noise measured a very low 0.77%. However, this score was still not better than the previous generation HDC-HS9, which scored an incredibly low noise of 0.595%. In fact, it would be hard to beat that score, but we hoped that the switch to a new sensor/processor system would make it even better. Both Panasonics produced less noise than the Canon HF10 or Sony HDR-CX7. Finally, the HDC-HS100 produced a saturation of 59.65%.

The third test measures sensitivity, or how much light is required for the camcorder to produce an image. We shot the DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde color chart under a steadily decreasing light. The camcorder is connected to a waveform monitor that displays exposure output (measured in IRE). We found the Panasonic HDC-HS100 could produce 50 IRE at a light level of 16 lux. This is a huge improvement over the previous generation HDC-HS9, which required 23 lux to produce the same exposure. Congrats to Panasonic on this one.

The second stage of the testing examines color accuracy, noise, and saturation. We shot an X-Rite Color Checker chart at an even 60 lux, then exported frame grabs to Imatest imaging software. The Panasonic HDC-HS100 produced a color error of 13.3, which was a worse score than the previous generation Panasonic HDC-HS9, the Canon HF10, and about the same as the Sony HDR-CX7. As we noted in the Video Performance section above, the HDC-HS100 produces a heavy color saturation. This may be exactly what some consumers are looking for, but not everyone. We test on accuracy, and the HDC-HS100 is apparently not very accurate in low light.

On the plus side, the noise measured a very low 0.76%. However, this score was still not better than the previous generation HDC-HS9, which scored an incredibly low noise of 0.595%. In fact, it would be hard to beat that score, but we hoped that the switch to a new sensor/processor system would make it even better. Both Panasonics produced less noise than the Canon HF10 or Sony HDR-CX7. Finally, the HDC-HS100 produced a saturation of 59.65%.

The third test measures sensitivity, or how much light is required for the camcorder to produce an image. We shot the DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde color chart under a steadily decreasing light. The camcorder is connected to a waveform monitor that displays exposure output (measured in IRE). We found the Panasonic HDC-HS100 could produce 50 IRE at a light level of 12 lux. This is a huge improvement over the previous generation HDC-HS9, which required 23 lux to produce the same exposure. Congrats to Panasonic on this one.

 

However, the camcorders that are equipped with a single, large sensor like the Canon HF10 and Sony HDR-CX7 clearly perform better in this test than camcorders with three small sensors. The Canon HF10, in particular, performed exceptionally well here.

Overall, the low light performance of the Panasonic HDC-HS100 is improved over previous generations. The sensor/processor overhaul did not have much of an effect on color or noise improvement, but we did see small gains in fine detail resolution and a huge boost in sensitivity.

Stabilization* (6.81)*

ADDENDUM: Due to a firmware upgrade that Panasonic released after our initial review of the Panasonic HDC-HS100, we were obliged to retest the performance of low light and image stabilization. The scores have been adjusted accordingly and the new results are detailed below. Panasonic has stated that the firmware upgrade occurred *before *the HDC-HS100 was shipped from the factory, so these results should apply to any and all models.

The HDC-HS100 is equipped with Advanced Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). Typically, Panasonic has one of the best OIS systems on the market, and at one point all of its camcorders featured the advanced shake reduction system. The HDC-HS100, however, yielded entirely different and discouraging results.

We tested the HDC-HS100’s shake reduction efficiency at two speeds: Speed One and Speed Two. Speed One is similar to typical stationary handheld shake while Speed Two emulates more of a bumpy car ride or light run down the street with the camcorder in hand. At Speed One, the HDC-HS100 displayed a sad 33.33-percent shake reduction and a 46.15-percent shake reduction at Speed Two. We're not sure what factors came into play to cause such a drastic change from the HDC-HS9's stellar performance, but Panasonic needs to examine their steps with the HDC-HS100's OIS.

The HDC-HS100 is equipped with Advanced Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). Typically, Panasonic has one of the best OIS systems on the market. The HDC-HS100 is in line with these achievements. 

We tested the HDC-HS100’s shake reduction efficiency at two speeds: Speed One and Speed Two. Speed One is similar to typical stationary handheld shake while Speed Two emulates more of a bumpy car ride or light run down the street with the camcorder in hand. At Speed One, the HDC-HS100 displayed a 71.4-percent shake reduction and a 58.33-percent shake reduction at Speed Two.

 

Wide Angle* (9.6)*

We tested the HDC-HS100’s maximum wide angle measurement using a vertical laser. The camcorder was tested with the zoom pulled back to its full wide angle position and OIS disabled. The video was then viewed on an external monitor to attain an accurate reading. The HDC-HS100 displays a maximum wide angle measurement of 48 degrees, which is identical to the HDC-HS9 and HDC-SD9.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

Sections

  1. Performance
  2. Format
  3. Auto / Manual Controls
  4. Still Features
  5. Handling and Use
  6. Audio / Playback / Connectivity
  7. Other Features
  8. Conclusion & Comparisons
  9. Photo Gallery
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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