Panasonic VDR-D310 Camcorder Review
The Panasonic VDR-D310 ($699 MSRP) is their top-tier DVD camcorder, replacing last year’s VDR-D300. We loved that camcorder for its brilliant performance in bright light and compelling manual control set – once rare assets in a DVD camcorder. However, Sony’s DCR-DVD505 edged it out with an even better looking picture. This year both companies lowered the price of their replacement models considerably. But both also created a much sweeter high-end model – AVCHD high definition DVD camcorders. There was once a large, price gap between the VDR-D310 and the HDC-DX1, but the price of the DX1 keeps falling (currently $899 MSRP), making it a compelling draw.
Video Performance* (5.25)*
The Panasonic VDR-D310 is equipped with three 1/6" CCDs, each with a gross resolution of 800,000 pixels (540,00 effective pixels in 16:9; 640,000 pixels in 4:3). The specs are identical to last year’s VDR-D300. Once again, it is the only consumer 3-chip DVD camcorder. Other manufacturers opt for a single, larger chip, which tend to yield better results in low light. In bright light, the performances can be fairly close. Panasonic’s 3-chip camcorders tend to have great looking color, and developments in the last few years have produced lower noticeable noise levels.
At 3000 lux, the color balance does indeed look great. It’s essentially the same image as last year’s VDR-D300. The green channel read a little higher than the red and blue channels in areas where they should have been even (and this was after a manual white balance). The fine detail retention is pretty good, but we’ve seen sharper from large, single-chip camcorders.
The Canon DC50 produced a more saturated image and exposed darker, creating a much bolder color. While not necessarily more accurate, this is the image that most people are going to prefer. It has the benefit of appearing sharper, as well, really tipping the scales in its favor. The JVC GZ-MG555, which records in the same MPEG-2 compression, but to a hard disk drive (HDD) instead of a DVD, produced a very similar image to the VDR-D310. The color performance, in particular, was nearly identical (less saturated reds, but everything else was the same). The Panasonic staved off noise much better, however, and looked smoother when in motion.
Video Resolution* (4.88)*
In order to determine video resolution, we shoot a DSC Labs video resolution chart and watch the playback footage on an HD monitor. This test measures not the resolution of the imaging chip, which is the advertised resolution, but the resolution of the output as seen to the eye, generally much lower. At best, the Panasonic VDR-D310 produced a horizontal resolution of 325 line widths per picture height (lw/ph) and a vertical resolution of.300 lw/ph.
Low Light Performance* (1.49)*
The three small CCDs did not serve the Panasonic VDR-D310 well in low light. The camcorder actually did slightly worse than the MiniDV sister model, the PV-GS320. While the image didn’t lose much fine detail, the picture dulled considerably when compared to bright light. The colors lost all of their vivacity, and the camcorder could not exposure properly. However, we must applaud Panasonic for staving off noise and leaving what noise there is to a fine grain, black speckle.
All Panasonic camcorders offer the ability to manually control the gain once the aperture has been opened all the way. But a manual gain boost is only useful if the camcorder hasn’t already exhausted the option automatically, which is exactly what happened here. The gain range extends up to 18dB, and the auto control had already pushed it up to that max. There was nowhere to go from here.
Last year’s Panasonic VDR-D300 produced the same results, more or less. The Canon DC50 looked much better. Its single 1/2.7" CCD had much more light-capturing ability. The colors are stronger and the image is brighter overall, with better contrast – that counts for a lot in low light. Noise levels were about the same as the Panasonics. Finally, the JVC GZ-MG555, an MPEG-2 HDD camcorder, produced the brightest image overall. The MG555 at 60 lux did not look all that different from the MG555 in bright light.
At 15 lux, the Panasonic VDR-D310 lost nearly all of its detail and color information. This is not unusual. 15 lux is the widow-maker test in which only the strongest survive. The VDR-D310 did not survive, sadly. The Canon DC50 did fair reasonably well at 15 lux, which is a big achievement. The JVC-GZMG555 faired poorly.
In order to test sensitivity, we monitor IRE levels and lower the light until the camcorder can produce a peak signal of 50IRE. At best, the Panasonic VDR-D310 produced 50 IRE at 27 lux. This was a poor showing. Even the Panasonic PV-GS320, a MiniDV camcorder with the same chip set, managed to scrape down to 23 lux. Most camcorder can go as low as the teens or better. We then raised the light level to 60 lux to test color accuracy, noise, and saturation to create a composite low light performance score. At 60 lux, the VDR-D310 produce a color error of 17.4, with a noise level 0.87% (very good), and a saturation level of 51.26%.
The VDR-D310 was tested using our custom-built shake emulator constructed exclusively for Camcorderinfo.com. The camcorder was set to manual mode and measured at two speeds. Speed one is the equivalent to operating the camcorder while nonchalantly walking down the sidewalk. Speed two pumps up the gyration factor by simulating the operation of the camcorder during a light jog or bumpy car ride.
We found that the VDR-D310’s OIS performed extraordinarily with a 93.75% shake reduction at speed 1 and a 95% shake reduction at speed 2. These results almost mirror outcome of the Panasonic PV-GS320, but in reverse. The PV-GS320 produced a 95% shake reduction at speed 1 and a 91.7% shake reduction at speed 2. The derivation of nearly opposite scores from each camcorder could be attributed to their contrasting weight distributions—the VDR-D310 is tall and thin while the PV-GS320 is short and wide.
Wide Angle* (8.6)*
We tested the VDR-D310’s maximum field of view by placing the camcorder on a tripod with OIS turned off and the zoom pulled back to a full wide angle. The right and left angles were then measured using a vertical laser. The difference between angle measurements gave us the maximum field of view, which on the VDR-D310 proved to be 43 degrees—a narrow scope compared to other camcorders within its price range.
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