Panasonic PV-GS180 Camcorder Review



Video Performance* (8.25)*

The Panasonic PV-GS180 comes equipped with three 1/6" CCDs, each with 800K gross pixels and 440K effective pixels in 4:3 aspect ratio and 380K effective pixels in 16:9 aspect ratio. A three-chip configuration means that each of the primary colors of visible light – red, green, and blue – are assigned to a chip, which makes for better color performance.

At 3000 lux (good, bright light), the GS180 had an excellent image. The colors are among the best we’ve seen this year, along with the other three-chip Panasonic camcorders. Unlike some lower-end camcorders with "strong" colors, these are not oversaturated. They look healthy and balanced.

The image is also very sharp looking, and managed to catch the finest details in which all but the high-end camcorders fail. Noise, which has been a problem with many Panasonics this year, was kept largely at bay. It’s not noise free, but noise won’t be something you notice.

The next model up, the Panasonic PV-GS300, had essentially the same image, which is not surprising, considering that the specs are same as the GS180. It produced the same great colors and the same sharp image.

The next model down, the PV-GS59 (review forthcoming), has a single 1/6" chip, and the difference in image quality is substantial. Firstly, the color performance cannot compare. The GS59 may be commensurate with its price class, but next to the GS180 it looks like someone hit a secret "de-saturate" button. Also, the image is not nearly as sharp looking. Despite having the same size chip (a three-chip vs. one-chip configuration tends to affect color more than sharpness), the GS59 could not capture nearly as much fine detail.

The Sony DCR-HC46, which we have already reviewed, was a bit of a disappointment. As with most Sonys, the colors were a little oversaturated, and favored the blues more than anything else, but that was not the problem. The image was also not quite as sharp looking as the GS180, but that was not the problem either. The problem was blue noise, which Sony had seemingly conquered until we found its insidious effects lurking inside the HC46. Not present in any other model in the MiniDV line, the HC46 may prove to be this year’s performance dud for Sony.

Finally, the Canon Optura 50, last year’s bottom-end model in the upper-tier Optura line, had an equally impressive color performance and fine detail capture. The Optura appeared to be slightly brighter overall, and with just a hint less blue in the image.

{column='Video Performance' models='Panasonic PV-GS300,Panasonic PV-GS59,Sony DCR-HC46,Canon Optura 50'}

Video Resolution* (15.8)*

The Panasonic PV-GS180’s video was tested for its resolution by shooting a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart, then taking stills from that footage and running them through Imatest imaging software. In 4:3, the camcorder produced 508.2 lines of horizontal resolution and 311.4 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 158253.48. In 16:9 aspect ratio, the GS180 produced 521.2 lines of horizontal resolution and 279.3 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 145571.16.

The chart below shows that the PV-GS180’s resolution was statistically the same as the PV-GS300 – no surprises there. It was also in line with most of the comparable camcorders from this year.

{column='Video Resolution' models='Panasonic PV-GS300,Panasonic PV-GS59,Sony DCR-HC46,Canon Optura 50'}


**Low Light Performance ***(5.5)*

The PV-GS180 has three CCD chips, which factor heavily into its color performance in bright light, but do nothing for low light. The biggest determining factor in low light performance is chip size. At a meager 1/6", the GS180 is on the losing side of the specs sheet.

In actuality, the GS180 did not look significantly better or worse than any other camcorder in its class at 60 lux. The vividness of the colors certainly took a hit compared to 3000 lux, but color differentiation was still very good. The camcorder also managed to maintain much of the fine detail that we found so impressive in bright light. The auto gain function was pushed up somewhere between 15dB and 18dB, which accounts for the decent picture, as well as the noise in that picture. Noise is a natural byproduct of gain, but we’re happy to report that it’s not too much of an issue at this light level.

By comparison, the PV-GS300 was the same, as it was in bright light. The specs are pretty much the same here, so we were not expecting a difference. The next model down, the PV-GS59, actually produced a slightly brighter picture. Though it has a single chip, it is 1/6", the same as the GS180, so we might guess that the slight increase in brightness is a function of a more eager auto gain. Again, though, it did not have nearly the same level of resolution that the GS180 did.

The Sony DCR-HC46 was much brighter, but the colors were not accurate. The resulting image looks like a bad combination of over-saturation and too much gain. The biggest problem, though, is the proliferation of blue noise at lower light levels. It’s too much too handle. The Canon Optura 50 was the closest competitor to the GS180 and GS300 – and it actually beats them by a slender margin. The image is brighter overall, and the color information is more clearly differentiated. Both of these are due to the Optura’s larger, 1/3.4" CCD.

The GS180, like all Panasonics this year, offers manual gain control in dB increments from 0 to 18. As you can see, the 15dB image is just a little darker, while the 18dB image is a little brighter. Gain boosts are a simple and effective way to get a better picture in low light if your aperture is opened as wide as it will go.

At 15 lux, the GS180’s noise levels shot up, and overshadowed most of the fine details. Colors are still recognizable, but the camcorder  clearly hit its performance wall somewhere between 60 lux and now.

Again, the GS300 was much the same story. The GS59 was incrementally brighter overall, but the colors were not any stronger. In fact, the colors appear a little more washed out than in the GS180. The Sony DCR-HC46 maintained a little more fine detail, but lost most of its colors. The most interesting performer of the lot was the Optura 50. It once again managed to maintain a great level of its detail, but at the heavy price of its colors – the image is essentially in greyscale.

We do not show the 15 lux performance of the GS180 with manual gain because at this light level, the camcorder had already maxed out its gain scale at 18dB in auto mode. Overall, there were no great surprises here about its low light performance.

{column='Low Light Performance' models='Panasonic PV-GS300,Panasonic PV-GS59,Sony DCR-HC46,Canon Optura 50'}

Wide Angle* (7.5)

*The PV-GS180 serves up three aspect ratio flavors: plain vanilla 4:3, 16:9, and cinema mode. The camcorder does not support true 16:9, but anamorphically squeezes a 16:9 aspect ratio image onto the 4:3 native chip. This results in a significant drop in video sharpness in 16:9 mode. The third aspect ratio setting, cinema mode, applies a letterbox to a 4:3 image that results in a video frame with a 16:9 aspect ratio at the cost of image information from the top and bottom of the frame. Cinema mode is useful if you want to record a 16:9 video frame that will playback without distortion or cropping on a standard 4:3 TV.

Comparable Products

Before you buy the Panasonic PV-GS180, take a look at these other camcorders.

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  1. Performance
  2. Format
  3. Tour
  4. Auto / Manual Controls
  5. Still Features
  6. Handling and Use
  7. Audio/Playback/Connectivity
  8. Other Features
  9. Comparisons / Conclusion
  10. Specs/Ratings