Panasonic PV-GS300 Camcorder Review
The PV-GS300 packs three 1/6" CCDs with a gross pixel count of 800K. This translates to an effective pixel count on 640K in 4:3 mode and 540K in 16:9 mode. The reduced effective pixel count is an early indicator that this camcorder does not produce true 16:9 video. We’ll get around to testing that in the Wide Angle section below.
We test all of our camcorders at 3000 lux to determine the video performance. At this light level, the picture from the PV-GS300 is very good. Colors are sharply defined and the picture is beautifully crisp. This is, of course, what you should expect from the penultimate camcorder in a manufacturer’s line. Every bit of the spectrum seems to receive equal treatment; the reds are as strong as the blues as the yellows as the greens. It’s refreshing after reviewing an onslaught of low-end camcorders where the picture always shows evidence of over-saturation.
Compared to last year’s PV-GS250, the GS300 seems to produce a sharper image. The GS250 showed significant blurring at the point where different color tiles meet. When zooming in around 500%, the difference between the two camcorders becomes more apparent. It appears Panasonic has overhauled the automatic gain control, and they seem to have done a good job on it. Fine grain noise has increased on the GS300, but it remains difficult or impossible to notice at 100%. The gain has improved the picture’s overall sharpness and boosted the overall brightness of the image ever so slightly.
Holding the GS300’s results up against the new GS500’s supports the claim that the gain has been tinkered with. Though we have not published the GS500’s review yet, we have finished testing, and the same noise / sharpness trends can be found. Panasonic’s adjustments seem to have paid off. The pictures look great, though the GS500’s larger chip sizes (1/4.7" versus 1/6") did make for a sharper picture with less color bleed. The GS500 generally seemed to have a less saturated (read "more accurate") image.
|Canon Optura 60||7.0|
We also compared the GS300 to the top Sony MiniDV of last year, the DCR-HC90, and the second to top Canon, the Optura 60. The Sony was not nearly so bright, and also showed problems with blue noise spreading out into the green and violet portions of the spectrum. The GS300 definitely has it beat for sharpness. The Canon Optura 60, which ranked favorably last year, had approximately equal color balance and brightness, but a more noticeable noise problem, which is of a coarser grain than the noise on the GS300. This noise caused the edges of the color tiles to blur, particularly in the blues and reds. Overall, the Panasonic GS300 outperformed all of these camcorders except its next-step-up sibling, the GS500.
The GS300’s video was tested for its resolution by shooting a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart and running stills from that footage through Imatest imaging software. In 4:3 aspect ratio, the GS300 showed lines of horizontal resolution of 491.4 and 312.0 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 153316.8.
In 16:9, the GS300 produced 506.1 lines of horizontal resolution and 275.8 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 139582.38.
|Video Resolution Scores|
|Canon Optura 60||12.6|
Low Light Performance*(5.5)*
At 60 lux, the PV-GS300 has obviously lost a good deal of its brightness compared to the bright light, 3000 lux test. The noise increases a noticeable amount, but the picture remains very sharp and the camcorder shows no problems focusing. The colors remained evenly balanced.
All Panasonics feature gain control, and what better time to test it than now? We boosted the gain at the 60 lux level to +18dB, the maximum setting. You would expect the picture to blow out at this level, but the control actually seemed to work wonders. Brightness was boosted, but the noise levels remained nearly identical to 60 lux in auto mode. The picture was not as bright as it was at 3000 lux, but neither did the whites blow out, which is a strong point in favor of the gain’s sensitivity.
Last year’s PV-GS250, by comparison, followed suit from its 3000 lux performance. The noise was more noticeable, and the picture not as crisp as the one from the GS300. Color vividness was about the same between the camcorders, but the magenta panel in the GS250 shows a distinct leaning towards red, while it appears more blue in the GS300.
The GS500, this year’s top MiniDV cam, had a much stronger showing in 60 lux. There was marginally less noise, but a world of difference in brightness level. The GS500’s larger 1/4.7" CCDs really pays off in low light.
|*Low Light Performance*|
|Canon Optura 60||4.0|
Sony’s HC90 had trouble focusing at 60 lux, but the saturation boost it performed made the picture look brighter than the GS300’s. Finally, the Canon Optura 60 had a much noisier picture, though the colors were stronger. The reds appear more dominant in the Optura’s images.
At 15 lux, much of the PV-GS300’s picture quality has deteriorated. Because the GS300 does not seem to apply an over-saturation as part of its low light correction, distinguishing colors becomes difficult. Noise increases greatly and this time overwhelms the sharpness. This is no longer a useable picture.
The PV-GS250 was a little brighter, with the saturated reds actually coming in handy if you were to shoot a reddish subject at this light level. Noise levels were still higher than the GS300’s. The GS500, on the other hand, produced an image that still provided a significant amount of detail and remained surprisingly sharp. Colors were brighter and noise was less noticeable.
The over-saturation at 15 lux on the Sony HC90 was too much for the image to overcome. There is no balance between colors anymore, just a yellowish band extending past its appropriate areas, yellowing-up the green and green-blues. The Canon Optura 60 had virtually no color information and an abundance of blackish noise.
Wide Angle* (8.8)*
We tested the PV-GS300 for the width of its recording field when zoomed all the way out in both 4:3 and 16:9 modes, in part to determine if the camcorder has true widescreen. The answer is no, the GS300 does not have true widescreen. In 4:3, the camcorder had a wide angle of 44 degrees. In 16:9 mode, the camcorder had a wide angle mode of 46 degrees. This minor difference indicates that the GS300 uses a subtractive (cropping the top and bottom) rather than additive (adding information on the sides) method to achieve a 16:9 frame. A larger difference of 10-14 degrees between 4:3 and 16:9 modes would have indicated true widescreen.
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