Sony DCR-DVD405 Camcorder Review
The Sony DCR-DVD405 has a 1/3" CCD with 3.31 gross MP. This are the same specs of the imager found on last year’s DVD403, the model which the DVD405 is replacing. This imager gives an effective pixel count of 2.05 MP in 4:3 aspect ratio and 2.06 MP in 16:9 aspect ratio. A CCD of this size should produce a strong, sharp image, as it measures twice the size of the typical low-end chip. Larger imagers also typically produce good video in low light.
At 3000 lux, the DCR-DVD405 had very good color balance. Last year’s DVD403 was initially praised for its great color, but in retrospect, perhaps the praise was more for the high levels of saturation, which are bold but not accurate. Saturation levels have been reduced, but not erased entirely. You still get the color "popping" that helped make the DVD403 such a popular camcorder. The picture is less bright overall, but this is a good thing. The whites were too bright in the DVD403 and came close to blowing out.
The in-camera sharpening process has changed in this year’s Sony DVD camcorders. We talked about it in the DVD505 review as well. If you visit that review, you’ll see some more examples.
Perhaps in an attempt to curb the color fringing of last year’s DVD403, Sony increased the in-camera sharpening. While this helped with a fringing along relatively horizontal and vertical lines, curved lines were treated to some intense stair-stepping. Below are some crops of the DVD403, DVD405, and DVD505.
*200% crops of the DCR-DVD403, DVD405, and DVD505 (left to right). *
The DVD505, the next model up from the DVD405, has the same size sensor, but uses a ClearVID CMOS rather than a CCD. This was expected to produce superior results, given the hype and the $200 price jump. But our testing showed that these camcorders produced very similar looking video. An overview shows approximately the same levels of saturation and color balance. The DVD405 was more likely to produce halos along lines of heavy contrast. The DVD505, on the other hand, was more likely to lean towards anti-aliasing, which created blurs along some edges. Both the DVD405 and DVD505 showed the same in-camera sharpening problems along curved lines.
There was slightly less noise overall in the DVD505. Neither image was particularly noisy, but DVD405’s noise had a blue-ish tint, a problem that has overwhelmed some Sony CCD camcorders from the last few years.
The Panasonic VDR-D300, by comparison, uses three 1/6" CCDs. The next step-down model, the D250, is actually at the same price point as the DVD405, but we have not yet had a chance to review it. The D250 has the same three-chip configuration. At 3000 lux, the D300 showed a much sharper picture overall. Fine grain black noise was present, and there was more color gradation inside color tiles than in shots from the DVD405. The D300 did not show any of the in-camera sharpening problems that the Sony camcorders have. The D300 also had significant levels of saturation, but boosted the greens rather than the yellows. The camcorders had approximately the same level of brightness.
Finally, we compared the DVD405 to this year’s JVC hard disk drive camcorder, the GZ-MG37. Like DVD camcorders, it encodes video into the MPEG-2 format. The MG37 has significantly less under the hood – a 1/6" CCD – but the price point is only $100 less than the DVD405. In testing, the MG37 gave a terrible performance. Colors were mostly blown out and the picture lacked sharpness. Serious color fringing occurred along the red portions of the spectrum. In short, it could not be compared the DVD405 is any way but price.
In summary, the DVD405 has better colors than its predecessor, but the sharpness has taken a steep decline.
**Video Resolution ***(14.2)*
The DCR-DVD405’s video was tested for resolution using a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart and Imatest imaging software. In 4:3 mode, the camcorder yielded 450.3 lines of horizontal resolution and 315.7 lines of vertical resolution, producing an approximate resolution of 142159.71. In 16:9, the DVD405 yielded 490.2 lines of horizontal resolution and 295.2 lines of vertical resolution, producing an approximate resolution of 144707.04. As a means of standardization, the score is based on the 4:3 resolution.
The increase in the resolution score, despite the apparent decline in sharpness, is a bit puzzling. We ran the tests several times and came up with the similar results. We welcome comments from readers on this matter.
**Low Light Performance ***(5.75)*
At 60 lux, the DCR-DVD405 retained a significant amount of color information. Brightness has decreased only minimally, and sharpness has decreased only slightly. The noise increased, though it remained a fine grain. These are all the hallmarks of a large imager coupled with good automatic gain.
The DVD505 has the same size imager, though it’s a 1/3" CMOS in contrast to the DVD405’s CCD. The DVD505 actually has a darker image. Certain colors are showing the same amounts of saturation: yellow and green. Others – red, blue, and violet – have less saturation. The whites are also less bright. While over-saturation is something we would like a camcorder to avoid in bright light, in low light it can be a real boon.
The types of noise and sharpening in each camcorder differed. The DVD405 had a fine grain, dark noise. The sharpening created slight halos along high contrast borders, and there are some occurrences of Moiré patterns appearing in the trumpets that border the color tiles. The DVD505 produced a blue-ish noise that was not quite as fine as the DVD405’s. It avoids the halos and the Moiré patterns.
Last year’s DVD403 showed intense saturation, which made the yellows and greens bright enough to burn retinas. It managed to suppress a surprising amount of noise for the amount of gain it employs, but the picture lost a good deal of sharpness from the 3000 lux tests. There were slight Moiré patterns in the trumpets, but less so than in the DVD405’s images. No question, though; the DVD405 is much better in low light than the DVD403.
The Panasonic VDR-D300 lost a great deal of color information from 3000 lux, due to its small 1/6" CCDs. Even though it has three chips to the DVD405’s one chip, it is chip size rather than number that counts in low light performance. Sharpness was better in the DVD405. Finally, the JVC GZ-MG37 lost a good deal of color information and presented a rather dull picture with a lot of noise.
At 15 lux, the picture quality on the Sony DVD505 began to fail. The automatic gain and saturation were clearly exhausted. While most colors are still discernable, this would not likely be a usable picture. Noise increased, but not overwhelmingly so.
Here, the DVD505 was clearly superior. Though the blue noise is plainly evident, the picture is brighter overall and retained more color information. The DVD403 is also brighter, and at this light level, I would consider it the better performance (not so at 60 lux). Certain colors – green and yellow, in particular – appear much stronger in the DVD403’s image. The Panasonic VDR-D300 is much, much darker, and virtually unusable at this light level. The JVC GZ-MG37 was similar to the D300, but with more noise.
In short, the DVD405 had excellent low light performance, and finished only just behind the DVD505, which is darker but sharper. This is a top class performer in this category.
|Low Light Performance|
Wide Angle* (8.6)*
The DCR-DVD405 was tested for width of field in both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios in order to gauge whether this camcorder can produce a true 16:9 frame. When shooting in 4:3 the camcorder had an angle of 43 degrees. When switched into 16:9 format, the DVD405 did show an increase in width of field, with a final measurement of 47 degrees. But when shooting in 16:9 the camcorder will also crop and zoom slightly, and while a marginal amount of additional information is supplied on the sides, information will be lost on the top and bottom of the frame. With barely any difference between 16:9 and 4:3, and the use of crop and zoom to attain these results, we can conclusively state that the Sony DCR-DVD405 does not have a true wide angle 16:9 format.
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