camcorders

Sony DCR-SR80 Camcorder Review

November 02, 2006
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Performance

Video**Performance***(6.0)*The Sony DCR-SR80 comes outfitted with a 1/5.5" CCD, the same imager found in the next model down, the DCR-SR60. It offers a gross pixel count of 1.07MP. In 4:3, this equates to an effective pixel count of 690K, and in 16:9, an effective pixel count of 670K. The bottom-rung DCR-SR40 has a slightly smaller 1/6" CCD.  After writing these reviews for a while, you learn to identify some manufacturers by a glance at their chart performance. At 3000 lux, this image looks every bit a Sony. It has all the telltale signs shared by so many of their camcorders in the mid-level price range. The colors are bold and saturated, fairly even but with an emphasis on the blues. Unfortunately, the DCR-SR80 shares the Sony tendency towards bluish noise, evident here in the violets and all through the grays. This issue has perpetuated through multiple models over the last couple of years, all in the under-$1000 range. We can only hope by the time the 2007 models arrive it is addressed.   We also saw evidence of over sharpening and contrast boosting, common in consumer camcorders as a way to increase the illusion of better resolution. It does help draw out high contrast details like text on a light background, but it may also be responsible for some of the noise, of which there is a lot. In short, this is certainly not one of Sony’s best performing camcorders this year.  By contrast, the Sony DCR-DVD305 uses the same size imager, but it manages to avoid a lot of that noise. The apparent sharpness is about the same, and both share the blue noise issues, which seem to be separate from the fine grain black noise. Color performance was very similar, with the DVD305 producing a slightly brighter picture.  The JVC GZ-MG77, an HDD camcorder with the same MSRP, produced a much brighter image than the SR80. It showed far less noise, and none of the Sony blue noise. The color strength was not as even, however, and weakened in the greens and yellows. The grey scale was also not as clearly defined, and is more likely to blow out bright spots. Overall, the MG77 was sharper. With a manual exposure adjustment darkening the frame, the image would likely prove better than the DCR-SR80 for outdoor shooting.  The Sony DCR-SR100 is the next HDD model up from the DCR-SR80, priced considerably higher (approx. $300 more) but clearly superior. The SR100’s 1/3 CCD showed an exceptionally sharper image, with very low noise and a great color balance. The colors were also more accurate here, avoiding the over saturation of the low- and mid-line models.  Finally, the Panasonic SDR-S150, also a more substantial investment (approx. $200 more) produced an image with outstanding color. This 3 CCD, SD card-recording camcorder was able to claim that as its greatest strength. Apparent sharpness was much better, as well, rivaling the DCR-SR100. The SDR-S150 outclassed the DCR-SR80 pretty much every way possible.  {column='Video Performance' models='Sony DCR-SR80,Sony DCR-DVD305,Sony DCR-SR100,JVC GZ-MG77,Panasonic SDR-S150'} **Video Resolution*** (15.4)*The Sony DCR-SR80 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 411.2 lines of horizontal resolution and 375.2 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 154282.24. In 16:9 aspect ratio, the DCR-SR80 produced 368.0 lines of horizontal resolution and 334.5 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 123096.0.  This resolution score relatively close to the Sony DCR-DVD205 and DCR-DVD305, as well as the JVC GZ-MG77 and Panasonic SDR-S150, but much lower than the Sony DCR-SR100.  {column='Video Resolution' models='Sony DCR-SR80,Sony DCR-DVD305,Sony DCR-SR100,JVC GZ-MG77,Panasonic SDR-S150'}**Low Light Performance*** (3.25) Low light performance is a good litmus test of a camcorder’s overall quality, because you’ll be shooting in low light more often than you think.  At 60 lux, approximately the lighting you would find in an interior hallway, the DCR-SR80 fared very poorly. Noise levels went through the roof, and the blue noise levels rose to unacceptable levels. The colors, already heavily saturated in bright light, were still easily recognizable, but this is not an image anybody would be pleased with. Despite multiple attempts, the SR80 also had trouble focusing, a very rare occurrence in only moderate low light.   The Sony DCR-DVD305 was no great performer itself, but it outclassed the SR80 with aplomb. The general luminance was higher, and the noise was much lower. We saw similar discrepancies in bright light, but the gap widened considerably here. The JVC GZ-MG77 failed in an entirely different way, overexposing the image and washing out the colors. If I had to pick between these two, I wouldn’t. I’d move onto the next paragraph.  The Sony DCR-SR100 produced a beautiful image at 60 lux, keeping noise at a minimum and still managing great color. This is an exceptional imager for low light – the results were very much the same for its DVD-equivalent, the DCR-DVD405. Finally, the Panasonic SDR-S150 showed us that just because a camcorder is a star in bright light, that it will maintain quality when the lights dim. The SDR-S150 lost a great deal of color information at 60 lux. The picture is just too dark. It was, however, still preferable to the noise-fest that the DCR-SR80 produced.  At 15 lux – dim lighting – the DCR-SR80 went to pieces. Most color information departed and black noise overwhelmed the image. If the 60 lux performance was nearly unusable, this is far beyond.   15 lux is no easy feat for most camcorders, though. The DCR-DVD305 did no better here. The JVC GZ-MG77 managed to produce a slightly brighter picture, but you still could not use the footage. The Sony DCR-SR100 was a little brighter, as well. It also staved off a lot of noise, considering the light level. Most color information was lost, though. The Panasonic SDR-S150 was only slightly better than the DCR-SR80, with the same poor color retention, but slightly lower noise levels.  In all, the DCR-SR80 is a poor low light performer, making it a questionable value at this price point. Many MiniDV camcorders of a similar price could easily outperform it.

 {column='Low Light Performance' models='Sony DCR-SR80,Sony DCR-DVD305,Sony DCR-SR100,JVC GZ-MG77,Panasonic SDR-S150'}
*Wide Angle***(7.2) *The Sony DCR-SR80 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 39 degree field of view, while in 16:9 mode the field of view increased to 46 degrees. The number of effective pixels decreases slightly from 690K pixels in 4:3 mode to 670K pixels in 16:9 mode indicating that the DCR-SR80 uses a crop and zoom technique to achieve a widescreen look, and is not a 16:9 native camcorder.

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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