Panasonic PV-GS500 Camcorder Review



**Video Performance ***(8.6)*

The PV-GS500 has retained the GS400’s three 1/4.7" CCDs. Each chip has a 1070K gross pixel count and 700K effective pixel count. A 3-chip configuration is preferable to 1 chip for several reasons. The most basic is that incoming light is split by a prism behind the lens, distributing red, green, and blue light to dedicated CCDs. This separation allows each chip to focus on peak color performance for its specific color rather than trying to make sense of the entire spectrum.

At 3000 lux, the PV-GS500 appears to produce color as well or better than the GS400. Colors do not appear to be quite as saturated in the green, yellow, and red areas, but the GS500 features an improved gray scale in addition to blacker blacks and whiter whites.

There are two main distinctions between the GS500 and the GS400: noise and sharpness. The GS400’s video shows a noticeable amount of chunky noise. I use the word "chunky" to differentiate it from the GS500, which has noise of a much finer grain. This type of noise appeared on all the 2006 Panasonic camcorders we have reviewed this year and is likely a byproduct of a new auto gain function. While the noise gives the picture a darker appearance than those from the GS400, it is less distracting than the larger blocks of noise which created discoloration in that model.

The second, larger issue is sharpness. The GS500 looks significantly sharper, evinced clearly in the labels at the top of the chart and resolution trumpets. The GS400 could not adequately handle the resolution necessary to create smooth curves when the image is zoomed in this much.

Enlarged crops of the PV-GS400 (left) and PV-GS500 (right)

We also looked at the GS500’s performance in ProCinema mode. ProCinema is designed to allow the user to create a film like look. ProCinema produced a much darker image, and the noise levels appeared to be about the same as in normal movie mode. Sharpness was slightly decreased in ProCinema mode, though the level of in-camera sharpening was more or less the same. Both modes produced slight halos along high contrast areas. Because the picture is darker, the whites were much less bright than in movie mode.

The Canon Optura 600, one of a number of cameras in the GS500’s price and feature bracket, had higher levels of saturation, which gave the image a bolder look, but was softer along areas of high contrast. There was significantly less noise in the Optura 600. The PV-GS500 doesn't need to oversaturate because the 3 CCDs are producing a fair amount of color information already. The cameras had approximately the same levels of sharpness, but the Optura’s saturation help to strengthen the relief between black and white lines. The Optura 600 did have some slight Moiré patterns in the densest areas of the trumpets.

The Sony DCR-HC96 had a slightly darker imager, with equal levels of color saturation compared to the GS500. The camcorder produced more reds, which lightened the greens and made the yellows stand out a little more. The HC96 had about the same amount of noise, but it took on an entirely different form, creating a wavy, textured look rather than the gritty noise of the GS500. The GS96 tends toward more anti-aliasing, which made the curves look a little better.

Finally, the PV-GS300, which is the next model down from the GS500, produces lower noises than the GS500 but substantially decreased sharpness. Saturation levels are slightly higher on the GS300.

Video Performance  
 PV-GS500  8.6
 PV-GS300  8.25
 Sony DCR-HC96  7.85
 Canon Optura 600  7.85

Video Resolution*(17.8)*

We tested the PV-GS500 for its 4:3, 16:9, and Pro Cinema video resolution by shooting a standard ISO 12233 chart and running stills from that footage through Imatest imaging software. In 4:3, the GS500 gave us 553.6 lines of horizontal resolution and 321.2 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 177816.32, resulting an a video resolution score of 17.8 (as a method of standardization, 4:3 aspect ratio determines the score for all camcorders).

We also tested the resolution of the GS500’s other video shooting modes, 16:9 and Pro Cinema. In 16:9, it gave 593.9 line of horizontal resolution and 307.1 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 182386.69. In Pro Cinema mode, the GS500 produced 663.3 lines of horizontal resolution and 366.3 lines of vertical resolution, producing an approximate resolution of 242966.79. It's a very sharp image.

  **Video Resolution**
 PV-GS500  17.8
 PV-GS300  15.3
 Sony DCR-HC96  17.7
 Canon Optura 600  17.0


**Low Light Performance ***(6.75)*

The PV-GS500 was tested for its performance in low light at two light levels: 60 and 15 lux. For many camcorders, either of these might represent a challenge. The factor that most informs a camcorder’s performance is chip size. The GS500’s 1/4.7"CCDs lend itself to a solid performance. In bright light, the number of chips is important to performance; in low light, however, size matters more.

At 60 lux, the GS500 produced a very sharp image, though with an understandable loss of color vivacity compared to the 3000 lux image. Loss of color information was, however, even across the spectrum. No colors appeared more saturated or "processed" than any other. Noise levels remained relatively low, especially considering that the picture was already a little noisy in bright light. The CCDs appear to be noisy by nature, but this light level does not exacerbate the problem at all. A slight loss of apparent sharpness did occur: what were crisp, uniform borders and edges along the color tiles at 3000 lux were broken up and bleeding into one another at 60.

Comparatively, the GS400 also had a very noisy image. Its colors appear slightly more saturated than those of the GS500, particularly in the greens. The GS500 appears to have a better noise suppression system than the GS400, and is clearly a better performer on the whole.

The PV-GS300’s smaller 1/6" CCDs could not pick up as much light, resulting in a darker image. Noise was much heavier here, as it was in the 3000 lux tests. Of course, the GS300 cannot match the GS500’s resolution, but, on the whole, the colors were able to shine through and present a fairly good image.

The Canon Optura 600, despite a much larger 1/2.8" CCD, did not produce a correspondingly better image. The GS500’s whites were, in fact, significantly brighter. Color performance overall was about equal, with even tones throughout. Noise, however, was just as big a problem with the Optura. Whereas the noise in the GS500 is like black fleck marks, the Optura’s noise is a grainy pattern across the image. Moving into the violet regions also created some blue noise.

The Sony DCR-HC96 had the most obvious saturation boosting. The colors glowed unhealthily and unevenly, leaning heavily on the yellows and reds. Though the image was bright, it too suffered a lot of noise.

Like all Panasonics, the GS500 offers manual gain control. At 60 lux, the camcorder will have already punched up the gain to 12dB. The controls offer a boost up to 18db: when we manually boosted the image to 15dB, the image brightened a great deal. While the increase is noise becomes very apparent, this might not be a bad setting for getting details out of a shadowy area.

At the maximum gain setting, 18dB, color performance begins to suffer a great deal. The whites are close to blowing out, and this is not the sort of image you’d really want to be using.

We also looked at 60 lux in Pro Cinema mode. At 30 fps, the amount of incoming light has decreased notably. Noise is not so much of an issue, but the image as a whole looks blurred and soft.

At 15 lux in auto mode, the GS500 lost a good deal more color information. Noise also continued to increase, degrading fine details and decreasing sharpness along lines and borders. This may be a result of the noise suppression system mistaking fine detail for noise. However, the colors are still clearly recognizable, and the sharpness relatively good compared to the competition.

The GS400 produced an even brighter image at 15 lux, but the noise was more apparent. The image looks less sharp, and may have had trouble focusing at this light level. In testing, we use auto focus as a control measure.

The PV-GS300 was significantly darker, showing once again what a step down in chip size can cost. Noise levels are much higher, killing much of the fine detail. The Canon Optura 600 managed to retain a lot of detail, but did so at the cost of color performance: its image is bright enough, but seems to be moving toward a greyscale. All the Panasonic models (GS500, GS400, and GS300) showed more saturation. The Optura also produced a good deal of noise. Finally, the Sony HC96 again showed very high saturation levels. At 15 lux, however, the color balance and accuracy was totally off. This image had the least fine detail of any of the camcorders’, and, in some places, the noise appeared as blue rather than black.

We also looked at how a boost in gain affected the GS500 at 15 lux. The camcorder had automatically boosted gain to 15dB, leaving us only one increment higher, 18dB, to play with. This bump showed virtually no improvement in performance, though it did smooth out much of the noise. This might have been a boon to the image, have the image sharpness not been so adversely affected.

The ProCinema image at 15 lux was, again, slightly darker than the 4:3 image. The progressive capture seems to produce a totally different type of noise than the interlaced image – less individual pixels of noise and more blocky patterns. The interlaced image is much sharper, though, and carries more detail.

In conclusion, the GS500 is a solid performer in its class in terms of low light performance. Noise is an issue, as it was in bright light conditions, but the noise reduction system seems to keep it in check as the light levels decrease. Noise never overwhelms the image, and details can still be made out quite clearly at a macro level, even at 15 lux. Very small, pixel-width details can be lost, but this is something you’d find with just about any camcorder.

Low Light Performance  
Panasonic PV-GS500  6.75 
 Panasonic PV-GS300  5.5
 Sony DCR-HC96  6.75
 Canon Optura 600  5.75

Wide Angle* (8.6)*

The GS500 was tested for the width of its field it its 4:3 and 16:9 modes. In 4:3, the camcorder showed a wide angle of 43 degrees. In 16:9, it produced a wide angle of 52 degrees. This large jump in the wide angle, without any loss to the information along the top and bottom of the image, prove that the camcorder offers true widescreen.

Comparable Products

Before you buy the Panasonic PV-GS500, 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