Sony DCR-DVD508 Camcorder Review
The DCR-DVD508 is Sony’s top standard definition camcorder for 2007. It replaces the DCR-DVD505, which performed very well last year. Sony has upped the ante by equipping the new camcorder with an even more powerful CMOS sensor and optical image stabilization. Though high definition camcorders have captivated the imagination of the tech community, there is a still a big demand for standard def. The best DVD camcorder combines ease of use with great performance, and the DVD508 is expected to deliver.
Video Performance* (6.0)*
The Sony DCR-DVD508 comes equipped with Sony’s top imager this year, the 1/2.9-inch ClearVID CMOS sensor, slightly larger than last year’s 1/3-inch CMOS, which has been moved down the line to the penultimate model, the DCR-DVD408. The 1/2.9-inch CMOS has a gross pixel count of 3,200,000 (compared to the 1/3-inch CMOS with a gross pixel count of 2,100,000). The effective pixel count of the DCR-DVD508 when shooting in 16:9 is 2,280,000; in 4:3 the effective pixel count is 1,710,000.
In short, this is a solid performer for a standard definition DVD camcorder— among the best, in fact. Color performance is essentially identical to last year’s DCR-DVD505. The color balance is even across the spectrum, with a healthy amount of saturation. Lower-end Sony camcorders tend to push the saturation too high. The difference between this year and last is the sharpness. The pixel count has increased considerably, boosting resolution. The image this year is noticeably crisper.
In casual shooting, we found the basic performance to be more than satisfactory. True, standard definition looks a little more disappointing with each passing day, but the DCR-DVD508 will serve you well as a vacation/birthday/holiday camcorder – typically what a DVD camcorder is destined to do. As we’ll get into a little later, the auto white balance could push the image too warm, but a simple manual white balance can fix that.
There are two primary competitors: the Canon DC50 and the Panasonic VDR-D310. The Canon DC50 produced a deeper, richer looking image than the Sony by pushing the contrasts a little harder and saturating the reds a bit more. However, the Canon DC50 showed higher noise levels, even at this bright light level. The Panasonic VDR-D310 was not able to achieve the sharpness of either the Sony DCR-DVD508 or the Canon DC50. The colors were also less saturated. Of course, they were more accurate, but that often gets overlooked by consumers preferring bold color.
Overall, we liked this camcorder’s performance in bright light a great deal.
Video Resolution* (5.25)*
We tested the video resolution by shooting a DSC Labs video resolution chart at an even 3000 lux, then looking at the recorded footage on an HD monitor. Resolution is measured in line widths per picture height (lw/ph). This test measures the resolution of the final recorded image rather than the resolution of the imaging chip that manufacturers like to advertise.
The Sony DCR-DVD508 was able to produce an approximate horizontal resolution of 350 lw/ph and a vertical resolution of 300 lw/ph. This score is on par with other camcorders in its class.
Low Light Performance* (6.35)*
To test low light performance, we first shoot our trusty DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde color chip chart at an even 60 lux and 15 lux. At 60 lux, we were disappointed to see a steep increase in noise. Fuzzy, fuzzy, fuzzy. Sony’s track record this year in low light has erred on the side of noise, but this is worse than usual, especially for the price range and position in the product line. The problem is the upgraded imager, which has far more pixels than last year’s imager. Though they have increased the overall size of the chip to accommodate some of that increase, that increase in size was only 3.45 percent, while the increase in pixels was a whopping 52 percent. That means those individual pixels got a whole lot smaller, which accounts for the increase in noise.
It’s amazing to us that camcorder and camera manufacturers can’t see the error of their ways. Every year, it seems they push the pixel count up in order to impress consumers, while image quality suffers. Thankfully, the next model down, the DCR-DVD408, inherited last year’s 1/3-inch CMOS sensor, which avoided a lot of these problems.
The color performance in the DCR-DVD508 at 60 lux is about the same as last year’s DCR-DVD505. The noise levels kill the DCR-DVD508, however. The Canon DC50 did not expose as brightly and had its own noise issues, but not nearly as bad as the DVD508. The Panasonic VDR-D310 has three smaller CCDs, rather than the single large chip in the Canon and the Sony. As a result, the low light performance suffered. The image was much darker and lost a lot of color information compared to the 3000 lux image.
At 15 lux, the DCR-DVD508 produced a terrible image that lost quite a bit of color and was simply awash with noise. Last year’s DCR-DVD505 was slightly better, at least in terms of noise. The DC50 was right on par with the DVD505. The Panasonic VDR-D310 was completely unusable.
The second part of the test determines sensitivity. We lower the lighting at a steady, even pace, monitoring the IRE levels (an exposure value) until the camcorder can produce a peak 50 IRE. The DCR-DVD508 performed admirably in this regard, able to drop down as low as 9 lux.
Finally, we shoot the GretagMacBeth Color Checker chart at 60 lux, then run frames through Imatest imaging software to ascertain color accuracy, noise, and saturation. The DCR-DVD508 produced a color error of 11.2, which is fair to average. The noise level was high, at 1.4025 percent, with a saturation of 72.18 percent.
Overall, we were disappointed with the DCR-DVD508’s low light performance. The noise levels were a bad surprise compared to the top Sony DVD camcorders of years past.
We tested the effectiveness of the DCR-DVD508’s SteadyShot optical image stabilization (OIS) using our custom built camcorder shake emulator. The DCR-DVD508 was set to Auto mode with the LCD flipped out for this test. Two speeds were used to gauge the versatility of the OIS. Speed one is tantamount to a casual stroll down the sidewalk, while Speed Two is more along the lines of a bumpy car ride or light jog.
The DCR-DVD508 churned a very respectable image stabilization performance with an 82.5 percent shake reduction at Speed One and an 81.8 percent shake reduction at Speed Two, proving the most consistent image stabilization we’ve seen all year.
Wide Angle* (10.0)*
We measured the DCR-DVD508’s maximum field of view by using a vertical laser. The camcorder was placed on a tripod with the zoom pulled back fully, the LCD flipped out, and OIS turned off. The DCR-DVD508 produced a maximum field of view of 50 degrees, which is on the high end of the consumer scale and identical to its predecessor, the DCR-DVD505.
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