camcorders

Sony DCR-HC46 Camcorder Review

June 18, 2006
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Performance

**Video Performance ***(6.0)*

The Sony DCR-HC46 features a 1/5.5" CCD with 1.07 gross MP. The manual lists 690K effective pixels, though it does not specify what aspect ratio this refers to or whether this is with the electronic image stabilization on or off (it reduces the number of effective pixels when on).

At 3000 lux, the HC46 produced a very good image in most regards. The picture looks sharp, much sharper than that produced by most camcorders with only slightly smaller 1/6" chips. Subject borders and lines are crisp, but not because of excessive in-camera sharpening, which you’ll often see on consumer camcorders. The camcorder is just making good use of the chips.

Color balance is good for its price class. No, it cannot compete with the next model up, the HC96, but that’s a good $250 - $300 more. There is clearly some color saturation going on in the blue-- nothing new for Sony. As a result, the HC46 has some blue noise issues. These carry across into much of the spectrum, and become particularly noticeable in low light. We believed Sony had eradicated this problem since last year: the HC26, HC36, and HC96 all showed an improvement in this area. Perhaps the HC46 was the only model to not receive an upgraded imager. The image from last year’s DCR-HC42, which the HC46 is replacing, is essentially identical.

The biggest problem with the HC46’s image is the noise. The blue noise is a part of it, but there is also general noise, both dark and light, across the image. It doesn’t take away too much from the overall quality of the picture, but it’s definitely not helping.

The "next step down" model HC36 ($400 MSRP) showed what a difference the imager size makes. Its 1/6" CCD produced a picture with noticeably less sharp. Edges and borders have a general fuzziness to them. More strangely, the color balance between the HC36 and HC46 is very different. While the HC46 has a higher blue saturation, the HC36 had much stronger reds.

The Panasonic PV-GS39, which also has a 1/6" CCD, produced an inferior image to the HC46. The image was less sharp, with a less even color balance. The JVC GR-DF550 also had a less even color balance, pushing the reds while ignoring the rest of the spectrum. At least the HC46 is over-saturated across the board.

The Canon Elura 100, one of the strongest mid-level performers we’ve seen this year, had excellent color balance without the high saturation levels of the HC46. There is less noise, no blue noise, and very clean, crisp lines.

Video Performance  
 Sony DCR-HC46  6.0
 Sony DCR-HC42 5.0
 Sony DCR-HC36  5.1
 Panasonic PV-GS39  5.25
Canon Elura 100   7.6

**Video Resolution ***(13.5)*

The Sony DCR-HC46 was tested for the resolution of its video by shooting a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart and running stills from that footage through Imatest imaging software. In 4:3, the HC46 produced 397.9 lines of horizontal resolution and 338.4 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 134649.36. In 16:9 aspect ratio, the camcorder produced 408.4 lines of horizontal resolution and 299.0 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 122111.6.

The chart below shows how the Sony HC46 performed compared to competing camcorders.

 **Video Resolution** 
Sony DCR-HC46  13.5 
 Sony DCR-HC42 12.0
 Sony DCR-HC36  8.9
 Panasonic PV-GS39  9.8
 Canon Elura 100  15.5

Low Light Performance*(2.75)*

At 60 lux, the DCR-HC46 maintained the colors that were strongly saturated in bright light, like the blues and greens, and lost the less saturated reds. As a result, this mid-low light image is rather uneven. The reds are clearly under-represented and appear weak. Noise increased a great deal, with the blue noise issue appearing all over the image. As Sony knew last year that this was a problem, it has no real excuse for allowing it to continue. The HC36 and HC96 did not have nearly as much of a problem with blue noise, which seems to indicate that the HC46 did not receive an upgraded imaging set.

Last year’s HC42 had similar noise and color balance issues, though the saturation levels were generally lower. This year’s HC36 was generally darker and had a lot more fine grain noise. That said, the HC36 had a much more even color balance and none of the blue noise. Sure it’s darker, but compared to the totally skewed color performance of the HC46, the HC36 is preferable.

The Panasonic PV-GS39 showed stronger reds than any other color, and its color balance was slightly better than the HC46. Noise was high in the Panasonic image, but it did not have any of the blue noise issues. Last year’s JVC GR-DF550 had the best color balance and most even saturation. The camcorder did seem to have some focusing issues at this light level, and its image was slightly blurry and soft around the edges. The Canon Elura 100 was much darker and did not have much in the way of color saturation. It also had a good amount of fine grain black noise. That said, its image has more apparent sharpness and would be preferable if you are more interested in capturing detail than color.

At 15 lux, the HC46’s image most of the color information was lost. If any good came from this, it was that the blue in the blue noise also disappeared. There was still a decent amount of detail left, and the terrible color of the 60 lux image no longer distracted from that.

Surprisingly, the HC36’s image was brighter. Black noise was rampant across the image, but there was more detail in this picture than in that from the HC46, despite the smaller imager. Last year’s HC42 had an immense amount of blue noise, putting the HC46 at a slight advantage.

The Panasonic PV-GS39 was much noisier, and the noise tended to tramp all over some of the fine detail. The JVC GR-DF550 had a slightly brighter image than the HC46, but no increase in color information. The Canon Elura 100 was the best of all 15 lux performances. Though very noisy, its color performance was vastly superior without showing the nasty side effects of over-saturation.

Overall, the HC46 failed to impress in the low light category. What’s more, the HC36, the next model down, was preferable in many ways.

Low Light Performance 
Sony DCR-HC46   2.75
 Sony DCR-HC42  2.0
 Sony DCR-HC36  3.0
 Panasonic PV-GS39  4.75
 Canon Elura 100  4.75

Wide Angle* (7.8)

*The DCR-HC46 was tested for the width of its angle for video in both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios. In 4:3, the camcorder offered a wide angle of 39 degrees. In 16:9, the camcorder offered 44 degrees. While the field of view does open up significantly when switching to widescreen, there is also a loss of information from the top and bottom of the screen. This means you’re are gaining information in one direction, but losing it in another.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

Sections

  1. Performance
  2. Format
  3. Tour
  4. Auto/Manual Controls
  5. Still Features
  6. Handling and Use
  7. Audio/Playback/Connectivity
  8. Other Features
  9. Comparisons/Conclusion
  10. Specs/Ratings
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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