camcorders

Panasonic PV-GS59 Camcorder Review

November 16, 2006
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Performance

**

**

Video Performance* (5.25)*

The Panasonic PV-GS59 offers a single 1/6" CCD, with 800K gross pixels (290K effective pixels in 4:3 aspect ratio, 380K effective pixels in 16:9 aspect ratio). This camcorder is the top of the line one-chip MiniDV model from the company. The CCD is native 16:9, meaning it shoots at a higher resolution and captures more information in the 16:9 aspect ratio rather than at 4:3, as most camcorders do. This is the same chip found in the next model down, the PV-GS39.

At 3000 lux, the PV-GS59 performed average for a MiniDV camcorder in this price range. The chief asset of the PV-GS59 seems to be its perfect adequacy in all regards; it did not wow us with color, sharpness, or noise suppression, but neither did it suffer unduly in any of these ways. The PV-GS59, and the PV-GS39 are the Ford Taurus, the Hershey chocolate bar, the Kansas of MiniDV camcorders (Kansans are now formally invited to post complaints at the bottom of this review).

The colors do tend to run together a little in the yellow-green portions of the spectrum, and the blue channel was weaker than the rest. It could not hope to compare to the three-CCD next model up, the PV-GS180. Noise was clearly evident, and higher than most competing camcorders. Fine detail capture was passable, even cromulent, but then again, we’ve seen better.

The PV-GS39, by comparison, was essentially the same – no surprises here considering it has the same innards as the PV-GS59. The JVC GR-D395 made for an interesting contrast. While it looked much sharper, due largely to the lack of noise, the colors were washed out, with a particularly pale red channel. Fine details looked slightly better than the PV-GS59, and the resolution scores (see below) confirm this.

The Sony DCR-HC36 was the next closest comparison. Color balance and vividness were Sony’s two main strengths. Unfortunately, noise was a problem. It’s not that the DCR-HC36 had more noise, per se, but the texture of the noise made it more noticeable. While the noise of the Panasonics appear as a general fuzz, Sony’s noise looks like a denim weave coursing across the screen, making it stand out more.

Finally, the Canon Elura 100 stepped up and showed them how to do it right. We love this little powerhouse of a camcorder, which produces incredible sharpness and vivacity for under $400. No other camcorder in its class can beat it for performance.

{column='Video Performance' models='Panasonic PV-GS59,Panasonic PV-GS39,Sony DCR-HC36,Canon Elura 100'}

Video Resolution* (9.7)*

The video from the PV-GS59 was tested for its resolution by shooting a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart. We then ran stills of that footage through Imatest imaging software. In 4:3 aspect ratio, the PV-GS59 produced 306.0 lines of horizontal resolution (with an average clipping of 0.67%) and 316.0 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 96696.0. In 16:9 aspect ratio, the camcorder produced 369.5 (with an average clipping of 0.55%) lines of horizontal resolution and 308.9 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 114138.55. As you can see, the resolution is higher in 16:9, as this is the chip’s native format. However, for consistency the score is based on its 4:3 aspect ratio. Please keep this in mind when comparing it to other camcorders.

Clipping occurs when a percentage of the image cannot be read by Imatest, in this case because certain pixels bottomed out (all channels registered zero). Clipping can cause some inaccuracies in scoring.

The chart below shows how the PV-GS59 fared against the competition. The PV-GS59 and PV-GS39 were statically the same. The Canon Elura 100 scored much better.

{column='Video Resolution' models='Panasonic PV-GS59,Panasonic PV-GS39,Sony DCR-HC36,Canon Elura 100'}

Low Light Performance* (4.75)*

Low light performance is based largely on imager size, as it ultimately dictates how much light is to be captured. A 1/6" chip is as small as you’ll find on a consumer camcorder, so we don’t expect much from the PV-GS59. But other factors can play a role, so let’s take a look.

At 60 lux, the PV-GS59 is a good deal darker than the image at 3000 lux – that comes as no surprise. While each of the colors is individually darker, the color differentiation has not suffered that much, which is a testament to the camcorder’s auto gain control. Noise, an unavoidable byproduct of gain, increases but does not overwhelm the image. The gain also tends to overrun some of the fine detail.

The Panasonic PV-GS39 is, again, about the same, though the greens and yellows appear slightly more saturated. The JVC GR-D395 tells the same story that it did in bright light. It handles fine detail a little better, and the image is brighter overall, but the colors are lacking. The Sony DCR-HC36 was darker than the PV-GS59, but the colors appeared more saturated, and are more likely to stand out if you are shooting against a dark background. Noise increased dramatically, much more so than the PV-GS59. Finally, the Canon Elura 100 produced a darker image with colors struggling to saturate and push through the darkness. Noise levels were high, though, and contributed to the dark look of the image. However, the camcorder is still much better at capturing fine detail than the Panasonic PV-GS59.

Like all 2006 Panasonics, the PV-GS59 offers manual gain in 1dB from 0dB to 18dB. At 60 lux, the auto gain had already placed the gain at about 12-13dB. At 15dB, the brightness increases, but the colors begin to wash. At the maximum 18dB, the picture is unusable; it is entirely washed out.

At 15 lux, the PV-GS59 lost most of the color information. Noise levels are very high, and easily overwhelm the fine detail. You could say that the camcorder hits its performance wall somewhere between 60 lux and 15 lux. There is little improving this image through manual controls, either. The gain is already maxed out at 18dB. You could try slowing down the shutter speed with MagicPix mode, but anything in motion, including the camera itself, will result in significant blurring.

The Panasonic PV-GS39 is once again essentially identical to the PV-GS59. The JVC GR-D395 lost even more of its color information, creating almost greyscale image. As with the PV-GS59, it is no longer a useable image. The Sony DCR-HC36 manages to hang on to a respectable amount of color for a 1/6" chip thanks to heavy saturation and gain. Noise levels are very high, but there is some fine detail retention. Finally, the Canon Elura 100 proved its worth by retaining a surprising amount of color and fine detail. Disappointing at 60 lux, it redeemed its good name here. Noise levels are high, and there are even trace amounts of blue noise, but it performs head and shoulders above the competition.

Overall, the Panasonic PV-GS59 is not a low light performer. If you plan a lot of night shots, either invest in a lighting kit or pursue a camcorder with a larger imager.

{column='Low Light Performance' models='Panasonic PV-GS59,Panasonic PV-GS39,Sony DCR-HC36,Canon Elura 100'}

Wide Angle* (9.0)*

Wide Angle measurements were taken of the PV-GS59’s 4:3 and 16:9 modes. In 4:3 mode, this model’s widest angle was 45 degrees, while it measured 57 degrees in widescreen mode (16:9). This additional screen capture indicates the PV-GS59 does offer true 16:9 widescreen.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

Sections

  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
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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