camcorders

Sony DCR-SR40 Camcorder Review

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Performance

Video Performance ***(4.85)*The Sony DCR-SR40 features a 1/6' 680K gross pixels CCD, a sensor that boasts the same specs as the CCD found on the company’s entry-level DVD model, the DCR-DVD105. Sensors of this size are very common on entry-level camcorders, and the step-up models in Sony’s HDD line, the SR60 and SR80 both employ slightly larger 1/5.5" CCDs. The effective pixel count for the SR40’s 1/6" chip is 340K pixels. The SR60 and SR80’s larger sensor yields a bump in terms of video resolution, to a gross pixel count of 1.07MP, and an effective pixel count of 690K in 4:3 and 670K in 16:9.

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 The DCR-SR40’s performance is mediocre, but in the ballpark of the other entry-level camcorders. The colors are strong and saturated, but there is slightly less emphasis on the blue end of the spectrum than we’ve found in most consumer camcorders. Overall, the SR40 produced an image that was slightly less blue than the DVD105 and its sibling, the SR80. Unfortunately, the bluish noise issues that plagued those camcorders also affect the SR40, though to a slightly lesser degree. The three Sonys also employ a significant degree of in-camera sharpening and contrast enhancement, which are built into many consumer camcorders to produce an image that manufacturers believe is more appealing to consumers. The operating assumption behind this kind of video processing is that what a consumer perceives in the image on their screen is more important than how clean an image actually is. The effects of over-sharpening and contrast boost are present in all three of these Sonys, and are easily visible when the images are studied closely. The boundaries between colored boxes are blotchy, noisy, and muddy, especially in the DCR-SR40 and DCR-DVD105 which both struggle against the limitations of their 340K effective pixel CCDs. The DCR-SR80 fares a little better given its superior resolution, but the same processing aimed at producing video that looks better on a TV is present.  The GZ-MG37 shares many specs with the SR40, and is second from the bottom in JVC’s Everio HDD camcorder line. Just as the GZ-MG77 produced brighter colors when we compared it to the SR80, the MG37 proved brighter than the SR40. It also suffered from noise, but it took on a finer grain than the blotchy noise that characterized the Sony. Colors were rendered with more subtlety, and contrast was less intense across the board with lesser delineation color squares in the yellow and green areas of the chart. The JVC’s handling of greys scale was relatively imbalanced, and its reds registered much higher than greens and blues. The Sony’s greys were darker, but very balanced, without notable differences in the intensity of reds, greens or blues. This speaks either to better white balancing, or more accurate color processing on the part of the Sony. We have included the Panasonic SDR-S150 because it’s also a simple and very compact camcorder that records MPEG2 video, though it retails for a relatively astronomical $999 MSRP, nearly double the cost of the Sony DCR-SR40, and records video to removable SD and SDHC cards. It also has an advantage as a 3-CCD camcorder, employing three 1/6" sensors with one each for red, green and blue. In keeping with its higher price point, and 3-CCD array, it scored higher in terms of video performance and resolution than the others we discuss here, with the DCR-SR80 coming in a close second. Noise levels were low, and the Panasonic managed to handle transitions between colors with an impressive degree of refinement, though it gave slightly more emphasis to greens and reds throughout the colored areas than the Sony. Greyscale was rendered very faithfully, with excellent balance across the spectrum.  {column='Video Performance' models='Sony DCR-SR40,Sony DCR-SR80,Sony DCR-DVD105, JVC GZ-MG37,Panasonic SDR-S150'} Video Resolution *(11.0)*The Sony DCR-SR40 was tested for its video resolution by shooting a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart and running stills from that footage through Imatest imaging software. In 4:3 aspect ratio, the camcorder produced 343.3 lines of horizontal resolution and 321.9 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 110508.27. In 16:9 aspect ratio, the DCR-SR40 produced 294.1 lines of horizontal resolution and 209.5 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 61613.95. This resolution score relatively close to the Sony DCR-DVD105, Canon DC100 and JVC GZ-MG37, but it is much lower than the Sony DCR-SR80 and Panasonic SDR-S150. {column='Video Resolution' models='Sony DCR-SR40,Sony DCR-SR80,Sony DCR-DVD105, JVC GZ-MG37,Panasonic SDR-S150'}Low Light Performance***(3.0)*By a quick look at the specs, the Sony DCR-SR40 should not be expected to perform well in low light (we’ll save you the anticipation… it didn’t), due to the small 1/6" imager. This is the bare minimum size for an imager on a camcorder, and size is the key factor for determining low light performance – more chip space means more surface area to capture light.
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 At 60 lux, the DCR-SR40 produced a very noisy image – fine grain noise piled on pretty heavily with some Sony-standard blue noise, though less than on many models. Colors dimmed, but its color performance overall was not too bad. That is to say, it didn’t look that good in bright light, and it didn’t get too much worse here. The noise was the real issues.  The Sony DCR-DVD105 produced essentially the same image. It was nominally brighter, but its noise and color performance were the same. The DCR-SR80, with a slightly larger imager, produced an arguably worse image. Yes, it was a little brighter, but the imaging system also managed to load on the blue noise that has plagued Sony camcorders for the last few years. It had less black, fine grain noise, however, which helped increase the fine detail.  The JVC GZ-MG37, with the auto gain control (AGC) on, was completely washed out. The color performance was abysmal, and noise levels were just as bad as the DCR-SR40. Even the Panasonic SDR-S150, which is a far better camcorder than any of these models in bright light and still performance, is no great low light performer. Noise levels are lower than any of the Sonys or the JVC, but the color performance at 60 lux dropped off considerably from 3000 lux – the reds and blues fell off the map. Clearly, good low light performers are few and far between.
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 At 15 lux, the Sony DCR-SR40 produced an image that was nearly black and white, with so much grain that most fine detail was lost. This is not a usable image. The Sony DCR-DVD105 is identical. The Sony DCR-SR80 had marginally better color, but it was still an image that you would not want to use. The JVC GZ-MG37, with the AGC on, had even less color and was completely overrun with noise. Finally, the Panasonic SDR-S150 managed to hold on to a little color and did not have nearly as much noise as the other camcorders here. That said, this was not a great performance, either, just better.  Overall, the DCR-SR40 is not a low light performer.  {column='Low Light Performance' models='Sony DCR-SR40,Sony DCR-DVD105,Sony DCR-SR80, JVC GZ-MG37,Panasonic SDR-S150'}**Wide Angle*** (9.0)*The Sony DCR-SR40 records video in both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios, and we tested it to determine the camcorder’s actual field of view. In 4:3 mode, the camcorder produced a 45 degree field of view, and in 16:9 mode the field of view measured an identical 45 degrees. The number of effective pixels is 340K pixels in 4:3 mode, and Sony does not specify the effective pixel count in 16:9 mode, but our resolution tests indicate a sharp drop in resolution when shooting widescreen video with the DCR-SR40. This evidence, combined with the 4:3 native CCD, indicates that DCR-SR40 uses an aggressive crop and zoom method to achieve a widescreen look.**

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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