Sony DCR-HC96 Camcorder Review



Video Performance*(7.85)*

At 3000 lux, the DCR-HC96 had very good video performance. For the top model in its class, it should. The HC96 packs a big 1/3" CCD with 3.31 gross MP (2.05 effective MP). This is one of the big differences between manufacturers in their upper-tier models. Panasonic and JVC go towards the 3 CCD route, while Sony and Canon use larger single chips. At 3000 lux, the differences between these choices can vary, and the processing systems factor in a great deal as well. Larger chips, however, invariably do better in low light, and the HC96 was no exception. More on that later.

Here we see the picture has excellent color balance and a minimum of noise, something that this year’s Panasonics have been showing a distinct increase in. Also, the HC96 managed to sidestep the faded-out look of the low-end HC26. The grey scale was also clearly defined, though the blacks could have been a little darker without bottoming out.

Compared to last year’s HC90, the HC96 shows an increased sharpness, thought the tonal range is more of less the same. The top-end Canon Optura 600 had a similar tonal range, as well, although the Canon’s picture was a little brighter. Canon showed an inclination towards green/yellow more than blue comparatively.

The JVC GR-X5, a favorite camcorder of ours from last year, had a higher saturation, particularly in the reds, and much whiter whites. You might say that the HC96 had truer colors, though some non-professionals prefer a more saturated image. The Sony DVD403 is proof of that.

Video Performance  
Sony DCR-HC96   7.85
 *Sony DCR-HC90*  7.0
 *Canon Optura 600* 7.85 
 *JVC GR-X5*  7.85

Video Resolution (17.7)

The Sony DCR-HC96 was tested for video resolution using a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart and Imatest imaging software in both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios. In 4:3, the HC96 produced 443.0 lines of horizontal resolution and 400.2 lines of vertical resolution, giving an approximate resolution of 177288.6. In 16:9 mode, the HC96 produced 487.2 lines of horizontal resolution and 327.1 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 159363.12. This is an excellent resolution score, higher than we've seen for a MIniDV cam so far.

Low Light Performance* (6.75)*

The performance of the HC96 at 60 lux is remarkably good. This is a perfect example of a large chip size giving you the advantage in low light shooting. At 60 lux, the picture is nearly as bright and strong as at 3000 lux. Even the whites held up extremely well. The noticeable degradation comes in the category of noise. Noise increases, and it’s not the finest grain noise either. Thankfully, it’s not the blue-ish noise that was plaguing last year’s Sony camcorders.

By comparison, last year’s HC90 had more noise issues, but similar color performance. The picture was not as bright, however. The Canon Optura 600 had an overall darker picture, but that was also a problem at 3000 lux. Here at 60 lux, the color distinctions between the two camcorders becomes more apparent. The HC96 showed much better yellows and oranges. Noise was more noticeable in the Canon picture. The JVC GR-X5 was a poor performer in automatic at any low light level, but JVC camcorders also come equipped with a pretty powerful auto gain control (AGC), which can be turned on and off. With the AGC on, the picture was so bright that it appeared blown-out. The middle ground just isn’t there, and the HC96 looks much better.

At 15 lux, the HC96 lost most of its color information. The grey scale was still in tact however, so if color is not your chief concern when shooting at this light level, you might find the picture acceptable. Noise is kept to a minimum.

The HC90 and HC96 are again showing strong similarities, with slightly better noise suppression in the newer model. The Canon Optura 600 lost even more color information and displayed even more noise. The JVC GR-X5 had nothing, virtually nothing, at 15 lux with the AGC off. With the AGC on, the X5 had ever so slightly better color performance than the HC96, but far more noise.

Overall, we are impressed with this camcorder. Mark low light performance as a selling point strongly in favor of the HC96.

Wide Angle* (8.6)

*The Sony DCR-HC96 was tested for the width of its field in both 4:3 and wide mode. In 4:3, the camcorder gave a wide angle of 43 degrees. In wide mode, the camcorder gave a wide angle of 49 degrees. The difference between these modes shows that there is more information in the sides of the picture when you switch to wide mode. However, the picture also shows evidence of cropping from the top and bottom, thus losing information here. The reason the camcorder does this is to conform to a 16:9 aspect ratio frame. The added information on the sides is just not enough to fill out the frame, so it cuts from the top. Good, but not great. Canon, on the other hand, adds all the information on the sides with no cropping.

Comparable Products

Before you buy the Sony DCR-HC96, take a look at these other camcorders.

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  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