Panasonic PV-GS320 Camcorder Review
Video Performance* (5.5)*
The Panasonic PV-GS320 has the same three 1/6" CCDs as last year’s PV-GS300, which is hardly a detriment. The gross pixel count of each is 800,000 (540,000 in 16:9 and 640,000 in 4:3). All the Panasonic three-chippers of the last few years have produced fantastic color performance. There is little of the spotty oversaturation that we see in other camcorders, where either the blues or the reds or the yellows are too strong. Panasonic also seemed to do some retooling of the processor last year from year’s past. The camcorder from 2006 and this year’s PV-GS320 have a much finer grain noise than in years prior. There is more noise overall, but the result is a higher apparent ("to the eye") resolution.
Part of this perceived sharpness is due to the heavy oversharpening – a process by which a camcorder increases the contrast along borders. The still photos from the PV-GS320 are incredibly oversharpened. In the video, we can see the side-effects of sharpening – ghostly white lines around black objects.
Sony has carried over their top DV camcorder from last year, the DCR-HC96, which is the only real competition. We really liked the HC96 in our review last year. Sony chose a large, single chip instead of the three, smaller CCDs. The Sony HC96 did not have the same even color tones, and appeared a little soft on the greens. There was not as much evidence of sharpening as we saw in the PV-GS320.
Overall, the Panasonic PV-GS320 has the same great picture quality that people have come to expect from the manufacturer. It’s just a shame that so many other things fell through. If anything, this stands to remind us to snatch up older Panasonics while they can still be found.
Video Resolution* (4.88)
*The Panasonic PV-GS320 was tested for its video resolution by shooting a DSC Labs video resolution chart and reading the playback footatge on an HD monitor. The test measures the actual resolution output, rather than the advertised resolution of the imaging chip itself, which is always higher. At best, the camcorder was able to produce a horizontal resolution of 325 line widths per picture height (lw/ph) and a vertical resolution of 300 lw/ph. This is not among the best resolution scores for a DV camcorder.
Low Light Performance* (2.01)*
The Panasonic PV-GS320 has three small chips, which is great in bright light color performance, but not the best choice for low light. When we dropped the light to 60 lux, the camcorder lost a lot of color information. While a good amount of detail is left, there’s little vibrancy left in the picture. Part of this is a testament to Panasonic’s refusal to play the saturation game that so many consumer camcorder manufacturers use to increase perceived quality. The GS320 did do a great job staving off noise, however. Noise remained very fine-grained and easy to ignore.
The PV-GS320, like all consumer Panasonics, offers manual gain control. This can be very useful in low light shooting, but is only as good as its relation to overall sensitivity. At 60 lux, the camcorder was already pushing 15dBs of gain, with a ceiling of 18dB. When we shifted it up to 18dB, the image was definitely brighter overall, but color quality was no better and the noise was noticeably higher.
Comparatively, last year’s Panasonic PV-GS300 produces essentially the same image. The PV-GS500, which has three larger 1/4.7" CCDs, was both sharper and brighter, with better color performance. You’re getting what you pay for here; the GS500 is more expensive by hundreds of dollars, is getting harder to find, and was not replaced this year with a new model. Finally, the Sony DCR-HC96 did a great job in low light, thanks to its large 1/3" CCD. Although the white balance tended towards the warm (as most Sonys seem to do), the color performance popped with just enough saturation to impress consumers. Those with pro eyes may find the image a tad too saturated.
15 lux is the great leveler, where only the peak performers can survive. The PV-GS320 is not one of them. Most of the color information was gone, and a lot of the fine detail was absent, as well. The noise remained fine grain and black, but there’s so much of it at this point that the overall image quality has taken a nose dive. Already maxed out at 18dB, there’s nothing more to be done except add more light to the shot. The PV-GS300 showed the same results. The PV-GS500 was better, retaining a good amount of fine detail but totally lacking in color. The Sony DCR-HC96 had the best color and turned out very low noise levels (for a Sony DV camcorder). Sony proved to be the best performer in this round.
The Panasonic PV-GS320 was able to produce 50 IRE at 23 lux, which gives us an estimate of sensitivity. This is not a good score; even low-end DV camcorders tended to do better. When then raised the light up to 60 lux, and shot a Gretag McBeth Color Checker chart, running the results through Imatest imaging software to determine image quality. According to Imatest, the PV-GS320 produced a color error of 16.3, with a noise level of 1.175% and saturation level of 53.6%. This is not the worst score we’ve seen all year, but the small CCDs are definitely having a negative impact on low light performance, overall.
*We tested the ability of the PV-GS320’s OIS by setting the camcorder to manual mode and using our custom-built shake emulator crafted exclusively for Camcorderinfo.com. Two speeds were engaged to simulate movement comparable to average camcorder operation. Speed one simulates the operation of the camcorder while casually walking down the street. Speed two is the equivalent to a light jog or filming within a bumpy car ride. The PV-GS320 performed exceptionally with a 95% shake reduction at speed one and a 91.7% shake reduction at speed two. This is among the best scores we have seen, and is a testament to Panasonic's bold claims of the efficacy of their optical image stabilization.
Wide Angle* (8.6)
*In order to measure the PV-GS320’s maximum field of view, we set the camcorder to full manual mode, disengaged OIS, and pulled the zoom all the way back. We then mounted the PV-GS320 to a tripod and recorded the field width via a vertical laser. The PV-GS320’s maximum field of view is 43 degrees, which is on the narrow side.
Before you buy the Panasonic PV-GS320, take a look at these other camcorders.
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