Panasonic HDC-HS9 Camcorder Review
The Panasonic HDC-HS9 ($1099 MSRP) is another of the manufacturer’s third generation AVCHD camcorder. Nearly identical to the HDC-SD9, the HS9 adds a 60GB hard disk drive (HDD) and a hefty $300 price hike. It’s a sleek, compact design that feels good in the hand, but the size reduction brings some handling troubles. Performance is generally improved over previous Panasonic AVCHD models. When compared against the competition, however, the HDC-HS9 does not fair well. The Canon HF10, in particular, offers far superior image quality and a more powerful set of features for the same price. In the cutthroat world of consumer HD camcorders, the HDC-HS9 has a hard time making a case for itself.
Video Performance* (9.0)*
The Panasonic HDC-HS9 and HDC-SD9 are identical camcorders in most regards, including video quality. Inside both, you’ll find three 1/6-inch CCDs, each with a gross pixel count of 560,000 and an effective pixel count in video mode of 520,000. In the first generation of AVCHD camcorders, Panasonic included larger 1/4-inch CCDs. In order to get those, you’ll now have to upgrade to the company’s professional line of AVCHD camcorders, specifically the AG-HSC1U and AG-HMC70.
In the lab testing at a bright and even 3000 lux, the image is good, but far from the most impressive AVCHD camcorders we’ve seen this year. The HDC-HS9’s image is more saturated than its competitors, and also more saturated than its predecessor, the HDC-SD1. We’d really love to see some sort of saturation adjustment tool on next year’s Panasonic camcorders. Canon offers this on all HD models, and Sony offers it on its tape-based HDR-HC9, but none of its other HD camcorders.
|*Panasonic HDC-HS9 (above); Canon HF10 (below)*|
Of all the HD camcorders we’ve seen this year, the HDC-HS9 (and HDC-SD9) offer the least sharpness. Granted, by simple virtue of the fact that it’s high definition, the image looks better than any standard definition camcorder you’ve seen. But it simply can’t stand up to the competition. The Canon HF10, in particular, has a huge advantage in sharpness.
Out of the lab, we did some outdoor and indoor shooting with the Panasonic HDC-HS9. Outdoors in bright light, the performance is very good. Motion is crisp and smooth. As in the lab testing, strong colors tend to oversaturate.
Inside, under predominantly fluorescent lighting, the camcorder shows instances of trailing and ghosting, but not as much as Panasonic’s first-generation AVCHD camcorders.
In summary, the Panasonic HDC-HS9 is a decent performer, but with a $1,099 MSRP, it’s in no way a competitor with the Canon HF10 (priced identically). The Panasonic HDC-SD9 gives exactly the same performance as the HS9, but at a lower price of $799, which makes it easier to justify the reduced performance.
Video Resolution* (18.0)*
The video resolution of the Panasonic HDC-HS9 was tested by shooting a DSC Labs video resolution chart at an even, bright light, then examining the playback footage on an HD monitor. Ultimately, we found both the horizontal and vertical resolution to measure 600 line widths per picture height (lw/ph). This is an identical score to the Panasonic HDC-SD9. The score is below that of competing camcorder Canon HF10, but on par with the JVC GZ-HD6.
Low Light Performance* (2.8)*
The low light performance of the Panasonic HDC-HS9 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 them to the competition.
At 60 lux, the limitations of a 1/6-inch CCDs is clearly demonstrated. No matter how good the noise reduction is, small sensors simply do not capture enough light. To be clear, the noise reduction on the Panasonic HDC-HS9 and HDC-SD9 is very good (discussed in greater detail later in this section). But when compared to the Canon HF10 or Sony HDR-SR12, both of which have larger sensors, the Panasonic camcorder does not look nearly as good, despite the fact that the Sony and Panasonic had higher measured noise levels.
When shooting these lab tests at 60 lux, the automatic gain had already been boosted to +15dB. This allowed us the wiggle room to make an adjustment of just one more increment up, to +18dB. This had little effect on the image quality. The sensitivity increased slightly, along with noise.
|Panasonic HDC-HS9 (above)|
|Canon HF10 (above)|
|Sony HDR-SR12 (above)|
At 15 lux, the Panasonic HDC-HS9 is pushed beyond its limits. We’re not going to penalize it too much because this is past the fail point for most camcorders – call it the "widow maker" test. The Canon HF10 and Sony HDR-SR12 do better here due to their larger sensors.
The second part of the low light test involves lowering the light slowly and gradually while watching a waveform monitor. When the waveform peaks at 50 IRE, we check the light level and presto, we have our sensitivity score. The Panasonic HDC-HS9 is able to produce 50 IRE at 23 lux, statistically identical to the HDC-HS9. This is the same score as the JVC GZ-HD6, which also uses a three-chip arrangement of smaller pixels. The Canon HF10 and Sony HDR-SR12 far, far surpass the HDC-HS9 in terms of sensitivity. Because the sensitivity score is such an important component of the overall Low Light performance score, the HDC-HS9 compares poorly in a straight comparison with other reviews.
The third stage of the low light test involves shooting an X-Rite Color Checker chart at an even 60 lux, then outputting frame grabs to Imatest imaging software for analysis on color accuracy, noise, and saturation. At best, the Panasonic HDC-HS9 produces a color error of 11.3, which is statistically identical to the Panasonic HDC-HS9. This score is about average for the other camcorders we’ve talked about here. The JVC GZ-HD6 is a little better. The Panasonic HDC-HS9 produces the lowest noise of any camcorder in this group, only 0.595 percent. However, the net effect of the whole camera system, including the lens, sensors, and chips showed the Panasonic could not compete against the Canon HF10 and Sony HDR-SR12, both of which use larger sensors. The HDC-HS9’s saturation at 60 lux measured 71.96, about average.
Overall, the Panasonic HDC-HS9 is not a low light performer. It’s the same story we’ve seen again and again – three small sensors never seems to stack up against a single, larger sensor.
The HDC-HS9 is equipped with Advanced Optical Image Stabilization (O.I.S.). Panasonic’s OIS is one of the best shake reduction systems out there. The HDC-HS9 followed in the HDC-SD9’s footsteps with an exceptional performance.
We tested the HDC-HS9’s resistance to shake at two speeds: Speed One and Speed Two. Speed One emulates typical stationary handheld shake while Speed Two simulates more of a bumpy car ride or light run down the street, camcorder in hand. At Speed One, the HDC-HS9 exhibited an 85.71-percent shake reduction and a 91.67-percent shake reduction at Speed Two. Though the HDC-HS9 is one of our top performers, it is just shy of the HDC-SD9’s 87.5-percent Speed One and 93.3-percent Speed Two shake reductions.
This could be attributed to the fact that the HDC-SD9’s tripod mount is located an inch closer to the lens, or it could be the simple fact that the camcorder has a different weight and proportions. Either way, the difference is incremental. Both camcorders are solid performers.
Wide Angle* (9.6)*
We tested the HDC-HS9’s maximum wide angle measurement using a vertical laser. The camcorder was tested with the zoom pulled back fully and OIS disabled. The video was then interpreted on an external monitor to attain a true frame. The HDC-HS9 displays a maximum wide angle measurement of 48 degrees, which is identical to the HDC-SD9.
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