Panasonic VDR-D230 Camcorder Review
The Panasonic VDR-D230 ($499 MSRP) is a mid-level DVD camcorder. It’s a crowded market at this price point, but the VDR-D230 manages to distinguish itself. It features the typically strong set of Panasonic manual controls along with optical image stabilization and a handful of special offerings. We also found some pleasantly surprising results in the performance. All told, this is definitely a camcorder worth considering.
Video Performance* (3.0)*
The Panasonic VDR-D230 is equipped with a 1/6-inch CCD, with a gross pixel count of 680,000. The effective pixel count in 16:9 aspect ratio is 460,000 pixels, and in 4:3 aspect ratio it’s 340,000 pixels. This is the standard imager for entry level camcorders, which should give you some idea of what to expect in image quality.
First, we took the VDR-D230 into the lab to shoot our DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde color chart at an even 3000 lux. Under these conditions, ideal for any camcorder, the performance left a lot to be desired. The color performance was on the pale side, an unusual result for entry- and mid-level camcorders that typically oversaturate. While these colors are probably more accurate than those oversaturated models, it would be nice if Panasonic offered some ability to dial the colors up and down, as you find on Canon camcorders. Noise was high. It was very interesting to hold this up against the cousin-camcorder, the PV-GS85, a MiniDV model that shares the same imager. A side-by-side comparison of the two showed just how detrimental the MPEG2 compression of DVD camcorders is. The VDR-D230 produces a myriad of compression artifacts, which only exacerbates that "noisy" look.
The next step up, the Panasonic VDR-D310 produced an entirely different and much better look image. The colors were much richer, due mostly to the three-CCD imaging system, The VDR-D310 was also able to retain a lot more fine detail with less noise. Next, the Sony DCR-DVD108 also produced an image with more saturated colors, which most consumers will prefer. Pros will counter than the Panasonic has truer color. The Hitachi DZ-HS300A is a similarly priced camcorder that records to both DVD and an internal HDD. It produced much bolder colors, but these felt clearly oversaturated. It also lacked even the scant fine detail that the VDR-D230 was able to pick up.
Motion was an issue with the VDR-D230. Again, holding it up to its MiniDV counterpart, the PV-GS85, brought the MPEG2 compression issue to the forefront. While the PV-GS85 was able to render motion will relative fluidity, the VDR-D230 was stuttered and produced moderate amounts of trailing. Of course, we saw similar results in all DVD camcorders in this price range.
Overall, the VDR-D230 is among the better DVD camcorders in its price class, but low-end DVD leaves a great deal to be desired. If price and performance are your two chief concerns, we recommend a MiniDV camcorder.
Video Resolution* (4.88)*
The video resolution of the Panasonic VDR-D230 was tested by shooting a DSC Labs video resolution chart, then watching the playback footage on an HD monitor. It’s important to note that this test looks at the actual outputted video of the camcorder – what you’ll see on your TV – not the idealized resolution of the imaging chip. We found the VDR-D230 to produce a horizontal resolution of 325 line widths per picture height (lw/ph) and a vertical resolution of 300 lw/ph.
Low Light Performance* (5.0)*
The low light performance of the VDR-D230 was tested in three stages. First, we shot the DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde color chart at an even 60 lux and 15 lux. At 60 lux, the camcorder produced a brightly exposed image, and though the colors failed to pop, they looked more appropriate here in low light than the same dull colors in bright light. Often, cheaper camcorder produce absurdly saturated images in low light. The major fault in the VDR-D230’s performance was a grainy look, created by both the noise and the compression artifacts.
The Sony DCR-DVD108 was one of those camcorders with oversaturate colors in low light. The blues, in particular, looked very bad, and there were heavy amounts of blue noise. The Panasonic VDR-D310 produced a very similar color pallet to the VDR-D310, a big change from the rich colors in bright light. It surpassed the D230 with a cleaner image. Finally, the Hitachi DZ-HS300A produced a noisier image at 60 lux, with skewed colors and a problem focusing.
The Panasonic VDR-D230 offers manual gain, something that can be quite handy in low light. At 60 lux, the auto gain had been set to somewhere near 12dB. When we raised the gain to 15dB, the resulting image was not that useful. Brightness picked up, but the colors became washed out and there was more attention draw to the noise. Raising it to 18dB completely blew out the image.
At 15 lux, the VDR-D230 was able to retain a respectable amount of color info. Noise was very high at this point, but the whites remained bright enough that any fine detail standing in contrast to the white, such as the text on the labels, could be read with relative ease. The Sony DCR-DVD108 retained virtually no color information. The Panasonic VDR-D310, amazingly, was much darker. We suspect that the algorithms for the auto gain may have a lower threshold in the D310, meaning the camcorder is less willing to sacrifice noise suppression for brightness.
The next stage of the test is shooting the GretagMacBeth Color Checker start at an even 60 lux, then outputted frame grabs to Imatest imaging software to determine color accuracy, noise, and saturation. According to Imatest, the VDR-D230 produced a color error of 17.2, a little higher than its MiniDV counterpart, the PV-GS85. The noise measured 1.22%, which is average. The saturation measured 52.74%.
Finally, we tested for sensitivity by continuously lowering the light until the VDR-D230 was producing a maximum output of 50IRE (a measurement of exposure). The camcorder was able to achieve this at a light level of 12 lux, the same as the PV-GS85.
All Panasonics are equipped with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), a system that is superior to Electronic Image Stabilization. Rather than digitally render a buffer around the recorded frame like EIS, OIS functions by stabilizing the lens element itself, proving to be more effective and salvaging resolution.
We tested the capability of the VDR-D230’s OIS using our custom-built shake emulator at two speeds that simulate typical recording patterns. Speed One is akin to stationary handheld shake while Speed Two is more along the lines of a light jog down the sidewalk, camcorder in hand. The VDR-D230 exhibited a 75% shake reduction t Speed One and an 83.33% shake reduction at Speed Two, placing the camcorder ahead of the pack within its class.
Wide Angle* (11.4)*
We tested the VDR-D230’s maximum wide angle capability using a vertical laser. The camcorder was tested in manual mode with OIS disabled and the Zoom pulled back fully. The VDR-D230 displayed a wide angle measurement of 57 degrees, which is identical to Panasonic’s entry-level MiniDV PV-GS85. If you have a huge Italian family, the VDR-D230 will fit most of them in the shot.
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