camcorders

Panasonic SDR-S150 Camcorder Review

$971.00 at Walmart
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Performance

Video Performance* (8.0)*

The Panasonic SDR-S150 comes equipped with three 1/6" CCDs, each with 800K gross pixels (640K effective pixels in 4:3, and 540K effective pixels in 16:9). In a three-chip configuration, the incoming light is split into three primary colors – red, green, and blue – and assigned to each chip. The result is improved color performance. That was certainly the case with the SDR-S150. Like last year’s SDR-S100, the picture had exceptionally good color balance. Unlike most consumer camcorders, the colors were balanced without oversaturation. Pitch perfect color, we couldn’t be happier. One thing that set the SDR-S150 apart from most of the Panasonic camcorder this year is the lack of noise. It was a great image all around.

However, the SDR-S150 did seem to have some issues with smooth motion. If you play back the footage through a digital connection, like the USB cable, the interlace fields become readily visible, and gives a jagged appearance to moving objects. We found that if footage was played back through an analog connection, like the AV cable, or if the footage was imported into Motion SD Studio (the included software) and outputted in any form, the lines disappeared. This is likely a result of a smoothing over of the heavy MPEG-2 compression. Losing a little detail, in this case, makes for an overall improvement in video quality. Also, as a USB connection is the least likely way people will watch their final video, we don’t see it as too big a detriment.

Last year’s SDR-S100 had essentially the same image. Color performance, resolution, and noise were all at similar levels. We also looked at the VDR-D300, Panasonic’s top-end 3-CCD DVD camcorder. While people interested in the SD-card recording of the SDR-S150, and not a DVD camcorder, they are the same price, from the same manufacturer, and the same MSRP, making it a persuasive competitor. The VDR-D300 produced exactly the same color performance. In fact, everything looks exactly the same, which is really no surprise. The imaging specs are the same as the SDR-S150.

The JVC GZ-MG77, a hard disk drive (HDD) which runs about $200 less than the SDR-S150, was not much competition. The image was overexposed and not as sharp. It was able to match the noise suppression of the Panasonic, but overall, the SDR-S150 was much better.

The DCR-SR100, Sony’s first HDD camcorder, running slightly under the SDR-S150 in street prices, produced an image that looked nearly as good. The color balance was just as good here, but leaned a little more towards the red. To the eye, the SDR-S150 looks a little sharper. But overall, these are evenly matched in video performance.

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**Video Resolution ***(16.2)*

The Panasonic SDR-S150’s video was tested for its resolution by shooting a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart and running those stills through Imatest imaging software. We looked at both the 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios. In 4:3, the SDR-S150 produced 520.9 lines of horizontal resolution and 310.9 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 161947.81. In 16:9, the camcorder produced 508.2 lines of horizontal resolution and 298.0 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate total of 151443.6.

These scores on right on par with the VDR-D300 and SDR-S100 (perhaps a little higher than the latter). All of these camcorders use imaging systems with similar specs, so there are really no surprises there.

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**Low Light Performance ***(3.5)*

The Panasonic SDR-S150 was tested for its low light performance, like all our camcorders, by looking at them in two light levels, 60 lux and 15 lux. At 60 lux, the SDR-S150 was disappointing. While three CCDs can make a big difference in performance under good light conditions, in low light, it’s size that counts – that’s the size of the chips and the size of the individual sensors on the chips. 1/6 of an inch is pretty small – as small as you’ll find on a consumer camcorder – and fitting 800,000 little sensors on a chip that size is no mean feat. It also doesn’t leave much space for light gathering.

The 60 lux image lost a lot of color information. It also looked very dark – as dark as you’ll see on some 15 lux images from camcorders with larger imagers. Noise picked up a fair amount as well. The noise did not interfere with fine detail too bad.

As in bright light, last year’s SDR-S100 looked exactly the same as the SDR-S150. Sadly, the VDR-D300 did as well. I’m not sure why that seems more disappointing, perhaps because it’s a top of the line model, while the SDR-S150 is a standalone product.

The JVC GZ-MG77 produced a very bright image, though not in a pleasing way. The camcorder seemed to automatically boost the gain to an extreme end, overexposing the image and washing out the colors. Noise increased, including some splotchy noise blue-grey noise.

The Sony DCR-SR100, with a large 1/3" CCD, far outclassed every camcorder in this category. The image is bright and bold. While there is some oversaturation, it’s much preferable to the SDR-S150’s darkness.

Like all Panasonics, the SDR-S150 offers manual gain control in 3dB increments from 0dB to 18dB. Gain is a digital signal boost that helps brighten dark images. But like an signal increase, there is a corresponding increase in noise. We tested the gain at 60 lux to see how it could help. In auto mode, the camcorder chose to place the gain at around 16-17dB. A manual setting of 12dB produced a darker image few benefits regarding noise reduction. 15dB was pretty much the same as auto mode. 18dB was arguably preferable to the auto setting, as the enhanced brightness and color performance (albeit minor) exceeded the increase in noise.

At 15 lux, the Panasonic SDR-S150 produced a virtually useless image. It was far too dark to make out fine detail, and was overwrought with noise. This is simply not a heavy hitter in the low light category. Last year’s SDR-S100 and this year’s top-end DVD camcorder, the VDR-D300 were identical in their performances.

The JVC GZ-MG77 was about the same, as was the Sony DCR-SR100. 15 lux is the performance wall for most camcorders, and it takes a true performer to overcome it.

The manual gain settings did nothing to improve the performance of the SDR-S150, as the auto gain had already been maxed out at 18dB.

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Wide Angle* (8.8)*

The SDR-S150’s widest angle was measured in both 4:3 and 16:9 mode. In 4:3 mode the camcorder had a measurement of 44 degrees, and an identical wide angle measurement of 44 degrees in 16:9 mode. This indicates that this camcorder uses a crop and zoom technique to achieve wide angle video, with a loss of total screen resolution in 16:9 mode.

Comparable Products

Before you buy the Panasonic SDR-S150, take a look at these other camcorders.

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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