Sony DCR-DVD505 Camcorder Review
We tested the DCR-DVD505 for video performance by shooting a calibrated color chart at 3000 lux, then taking stills from that footage and comparing them to stills from other camcorders. Our procedures for this particular camcorder were a little different, however. When testing MiniDV cams, the process by which we obtain the stills is simple. We capture footage with commercially available editing software, then pull stills off the timeline in the highest quality JPEG format.
But DVD camcorders are more complicated, as the editing software cannot capture directly from a DVD disc. Sometimes, the camcorder can be connected via USB and the disc read as a drive. Or the disc can be inserted into the computer and read as a drive. Many camcorders, however, format their footage so that it cannot be directly imported onto a computer. This is this case with the Sony DVD505. The camcorder comes supplied with Sony PicturePackage 1.8.1, which we used to copy the footage over to the computer’s hard drive. It is a rudimentary program that does not offer options for quality control. Files are simply copied over and converted to MPEG-2 file types that can then be imported into the editing software’s timeline. The extent to which this process affects image quality is unknown, but this is the only means available to us.
The DVD505 uses an Advanced HAD 1/3" ClearVID CMOS sensor. This new sensor design promises a number of benefits over the traditional CCD. In addition to CMOS’s more efficient energy use, the chip tilts the pixels at 45 degrees to improve picture quality. Also, it boosts the number of green pixels, the color which the human eye sees in greatest detail. The DVD505 also uses the Primary Color Filter found on most Sony upper-end camcorders. This is similar to the chip found in the HD camcorder, the HDR-HC1. But the HC1’s chip has an effective pixel count of 1910K in 4:3 mode and 1430K in 16:9 mode. The DVD505 does not offer true widescreen.
At 3000 lux, the Sony DCR-DVD505 produced a very well balanced color spectrum. The picture lacked the super-saturation of last year’s DVD403. These are more accurate colors, to be sure. The green pixel count is also higher, so the CMOS chip is living up to that expectation. Green pixels registered higher in most color tiles, from the greens to the yellows to the magentas, in all but the blue, where they actually scored lower. That’s not too say that the picture looks overly green. As mentioned, it’s an extremely well balanced image.
The picture is far from perfect, however. The problem is sharpness. The DVD505 is not sharp; it has a soft fuzzy look that you don’t find in MiniDV. We’re not looking to put down the DVD format altogether. It’s just that MiniDV cams of this caliber, like the HC96, do not have this problem. What’s worse, the problem isn’t getting better. We were surprised to find that when we held up stills from the DVD403, the sharpness wasn’t even close. The in-camera sharpening is too high, and gives the picture a very hard time with curving lines. This was not the case at all with the DVD403.
The problem must be new to the 2006 camcorders, because the DVD405 showed exactly the same sharpening issues. (We have tested the DVD405, and the full review will be out shortly). And the DVD405 uses a CCD rather than the ClearVID CMOS, so this may be a systemic issue with processors on Sony DVD camcorders. We’ll have to see about that as the year goes on.
We compared the DVD505 to other camcorders to evaluate performance. We have compared it with the DVD403 in some detail already, but we’ll reiterate that the saturation levels on the DVD403 are much higher. It caused some excitement with our original reviewers, but lately there has been some criticism about the saturation being overbearing. Whites were also much whiter.
The DVD405, the next model down in the 2006 line, had a similar color palette, with slightly less saturated magenta tones. The in-camera sharpening seems worse in the DVD405, which created more pronounced halos in the high contrast borders.
We also compared it to the Panasonic VDR-D300, which has 3 1/6" CCD chips. The D300 had an exceptionally sharp picture. There is no contest between this and the DVD505. The D300’s problem was noise, though. As you zoom in, you can see dark, small grained noise throughout the image. The DVD505, despite having the traditionally noisier CMOS chip, managed to suppress it better.
*Crops of the video performance results (blown up 200%) from:
DCR-DVD505 (left), the DCR-DVD403 (center), VDR-D300 (right). *
Overall, we are disappointed with the DVD505’s video performance becuase of the lack of sharpness. A highly anticipated camcorder with a highly anticipated imager failed to deliver the goods when it came to resolution. We’ll give it credit for better color representation than any Sony DVD camcorder so far, but that’s hardly enough to call it the best of the year.
The DVD505’s video was tested for resolution by shooting a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart and running stills from that footage into Imatest imaging software. In 4:3 aspect ratio, the camcorder produced 457.6 lines of horizontal resolution and 296.3 lines of vertical resolution, producing an approximate resolution of 135586.88. In 16:9 aspect ratio, the camcorder produced 436.7 lines of horizontal resolution and 278.8 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 121751.96.
The high resolution on this camcorder bears some explanation. As we'll comment throughout this review, DVD camcorders differ from MiniDV in their compression rates. DVD has a much higher compression rate, which results in less quality. A camcorder like the DVD505 can still score well on this type of test, however, because of a significant amount of in-camera sharpening. This gave the camcorder trouble with curved lines, as talked about in the Video Performance section above, but seemed to help it with the diagonal lines of the vide resolution test. What matters though is what is recorded to disc and beaucse of the lower bit rate, 8 Megabits per second vs. 25 Megabits per second, a DVD video is always going to be less sharp than a MiniDV video. What's even more suprising about this conclusion is the fact that the same chip that is on the DVD505 is on Sony's high definition HDR-HC3. Although we haven't tested the HC3 yet officially, we've seen the video and it looks very sharp. This proves even further how it is not the chip, but the compressoin which is making the picture so fuzzy.
Low Light Performance*(5.75)*
The DVD505 was tested, like all camcorders we receive, for its performance in two low light levels, 60 lux and 15 lux. At 60 lux, this camcorder’s images look fantastic. This is where larger chips tend to distinguish themselves, and the DVD505’s 1/3" inch CMOS is no exception. The results look so similar to the 3000 lux stills that it’s startling. Noise increased, naturally, but not dramatically. It was most evident in the greens, and there it was very noticeable. This may or may not have something to do with the green boost that the ClearVID CMOS is performing. Thankfully, there was no appearance of the blue noise that gave so many Sony camcorders problems last year. The whites still remained strong and bright.
By comparison, the DVD403 from last year was even brighter, with colors that burst out of the frame like neon lights. This is an extension of the over-saturation that we saw in bright light, but it certainly doesn’t hurt once the lights are dimmed. In terms of color information loss from 3000 lux to 60 lux, however, the DVD403 and DVD505 are about equal. The DVD403 showed a greater tendency towards gradation within the color tiles. Noise was about even in bright colors, while the DVD403 had more noise in the dark gray tones.
The Canon DC10, with its 1/4" chip, produced a relatively sharp image, but suffered from a lot of blackish noise. The Panasonic VDR-D300, with its three smaller 1/6" chips, helps prove the point that larger chips, not more chips, make the difference in low light. The D300 had much less color information, and noise increased more from 3000 lux than it did on the DVD505.
The DVD405, the next step down from the DVD505, had a similar image. The greens and yellows look a little brighter, as though the auto gain control had boosted those color tones specifically. All the other colors were about the same. Like the DVD403 of last year, the DVD405 (which uses the same 1/3" CCD imager, incidentally), had the same tendency towards creating gradations in the colors rather than presenting them as solid blocks.
At 15 lux, much of the color information has been retained, making for an impressive performance at this level. However, the DVD505 shows a sharp increase in noise. And here the blue-ish noise makes an appearance, across nearly every color in the spectrum. The whites still remain bright, though.
By comparison, the DVD403 had stronger colors, but this kind of strength at 15 lux looks unnatural, and the DVD505 is an aesthetically preferable image. The camcorders had approximately equal whites. The Canon DC10 had a much noisier picture, far worse than any of these camcorders, though brightness was still good.
The VDR-D300 has a much darker image, and it’s noisy. But the noise was fine grained and black, less distracting than the blue noise of the DVD505. Overall, these camcorders are tied in a sense. In low light, the struggle for a camcorder is noise versus detail. The D300 is sharper, but at the cost of noise and color. The DVD505 is brighter, but at the cost of sharpness and noise. You can have a preference, but generally we prefer the sharper image. You can usually turn on a light if you really have to.
Wide Angle* (10.0)*
The DVD505 was tested for the width of its field in both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios, partially in order to determine if the camcorder offers true 16:9 widescreen. In 4:3, the wide screen angle measured 50 degrees, a very wide field indeed. This is approximately what most camcorders have when they are in 16:9 aspect ratio. When the DVD505 was in 16:9, it has a wide angle of 50 degrees, exactly the same width as in 4:3. Normally, we would say that if the 4:3 and 16:9 wide angle scores are the same, the camcorder does not possess true widescreen. But with a field this wide, perhaps the camcorder is native 16:9 and the 4:3 bounding boxes are imposed. This would be the case, except that information is definitely lost from the top and bottom of the frame when switching over to 16:9. Therefore, this camcorder does not have true widescreen, just a very wide angle in both modes.**
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