Sony DCR-HC26 Camcorder Review
The DCR-HC26 features a 1/6" CCD with a 680K gross (340K effective) pixel count. At 3000 lux, the camcorder produced tones in accordance with its bottom-of-the-barrel position in the product line. The picture was exceptionally noisy, even at this bright light level. It shows almost no improvement over last year’s HC21, and includes all of the same flaws. The colors are saturated, which may please some people who are tired of the flat tones that a Canon might produce. But the Canon’s colors are accurate. The HC26 presents what one earlier reviewer referred to as "nuclear colors" on the HC21. By this, I believe the reviewer meant that the automatic gain and color correction have been jacked up to such a degree that making the colors "pop" has taken on a far greater priority than representing the colors as they appear to the human eye. On the plus side, the whites are marginally brighter on the HC26 than on last year’s model.
By comparison, the last year’s bottom-end Canon ZR100 produced analogous saturation, with a bit more emphasis on the greens, but did so without nearly so much noise. Cutting down on noise also reduced some sharpness, but overall, the ZR100 offers a preferable picture. This year’s ZR500 is expected to produce similar results.
The Panasonic PV-GS39, a new model at the same $350 price point, has a very similar picture to the HC26. Both are excessively noisy and approximately equal in saturation. The Sony tended to push the blues values further into the magenta area, making a lilac tone. Panasonic’s magenta tile (upper right corner) has a more pinkish blush.
**Video Resolution ***(9.5)*
The Sony DCR-HC26 was tested for its video resolution in 4:3 and 16:9 using a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart and Imatest imaging software. In 4:3, the HC26 produced 333.7 lines of horizontal resolution and 285.3 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 95204.61. In 16:9, the camcorder produced 335.7 lines of horizontal resolution and 205.0 lines of vertical resolution, yielding an approximate resolution of 68818.5.
Low Light Performance* (3.0)*
The low light performance of the DCR-HC26 was disappointing yet expected. A 1/6-inch chip is simply not large enough to gather much light. At 60 lux, the HC26 had an exceptionally noisy image that one could not overlook. This should not come as surprise after looking at the performance in bright light, which was also noisy, perhaps indicating that the camcorder is too quickly maxing out its automatic gain. Whatever the case, the picture shows that a lot of color information has been lost, particularly in the green-yellow portion of the spectrum. One note in the camcorder’s defense (the same note as mentioned in the Video Performance section, when footage is shot at 3000 lux) – the white remains fairly strong.
Last year’s HC21 showed a slightly stronger performance in the yellows and greens, though the noise was just as prevalent. The Canon ZR100 also had a noisy picture, but retained more color information. Panasonic’s PV-GS39 was far and away the winner at 60 lux among the competition, producing a much brighter picture while managing to push down noise levels to the same amount found at 3000 lux.
At 15 lux, all bets are off. The picture has been reduced to near black and white, with noise running rampant. Again, the whites are strong, but that is just about the only thing in the HC26’s favor. Last year’s HC21 tells the same story. The Canon ZR100 pulls through with just enough color information for us to identify what the colors are, but not enough to like them much. The PV-GS39 gave up fending off noise at 15 lux, and is a match for the HC26 in that category. It did, however, manage to reproduce recognizable color tones.
Wide Angle* (8.8)*
We tested the Sony DCR-HC26 for the width of its field in both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios. In 4:3, the HC26 had a wide angle of 44 degrees. In 16:9, the HC26 had an identical score of 44 degrees. This proves that the camcorder does not possess native, or "true" widescreen. Instead, it employs a cropping technique which clips the frame at the top and bottom, then blows up the remaining picture to conform to 16:9 aspect ratio frames like widescreen TVs. In this process, you actually lose information rather than gaining information on the sides, as you would in a true widescreen mode.
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