Impromptu DV comparison

by Walter Graff 11/14/2004


This page will take a moment to load so read-on:

Just a note about what I am presenting; I've always said you can not completely judge the quality of a video picture from seeing it on a computer screen. The translation from interlace to progressive changes things and sometimes one doesn't see things the same way they see them on a regular TV set. In addition, depending on where your monitors gammas are set, colors can look different.

I was down at B&H Photo and happened to have a DV tape in my pocket. So I thought it would be fun to see what different cameras look like both in still and moving video. I decided on four cameras in the same price range and one in a higher price range as a reference to differences in camera cost and value.

Keep in mind that this is in no way a test that you can use to make a clear-cut evaluation. But I do have a purpose for this test. You may have heard me time and again say that any camera in the same price range is really the same camera with different ergonomics, and features but not that much of a different in overall picture. I think you will see the subtle differences here and see that for the most part, my statement is true. Of course with any of these cameras you can create all sort so looks,but the point is that if I tried, I could make them all look the same, and none of them would look bad or very different. I use a more expensive DSR570 as a gold standard here as it simply makes a better picture than any of the other four 1/3 inch CCD cameras in the test.

I set all the cameras to 60i. I set white balance to normal. Without much fanfare, I tried to set all the cameras to basically look the same. While they all shoot slightly different angles of the same area, you can get an idea of their performance compared to one another. One note. I recorded the FX1 footage in both 16x9 and 4:3 and accidentally recorded over the 4:3 so I only have the 16x9 which doesn't change anything really. And B&H should be thanked for their equipment. It's still a great place with knowledgeable people. I was there to buy some stock that day so that is what got me there in the first place.

Some purists like to argue that one can not make an accurate judgment as the angles of the cameras ar all different. That I could not control. The lighting hitting this set was from above, I am looking as specific spots in the scene, namely the lines of horizontal and vertical with the color turned off to see the resolution expressed. In doing so, it matters little to me that the shots are not identical for this experiment as the results are clear. If I had htem lined up together it simpy would have been a clearer representation of what I show. Had there been more discrepancies in the four cameras, it would be another story, but the results show all the cameras make nearly identical pictures.

The cameras are:

1. PD-170

2. DVX-100A

3. XL2

4. FX1 HDV set in DV mode

5. DSR 570

I used firewire into aG5 FCP HD from a DV deck and create uncompressed full-size JPG's for the photos below. For the video, I did compress the frame as raw it's 212 megs. You see it clearly but it's a smaller frame.


The Stills

First off lets see what the perceived resolution looks like translated to a computer screen.

I am turing off the color so that we can appreciate contrast which in realty is what gives you the perception of resolution and detail. It's one of the tricks to plasma Screens and LCD screens; they have higher contrast ratios than tube sets, so appear sharper. It's actually a big part of what makes the "H" in HDTV.

Canon XL2 (below)

DVX100A (Below)

PD170 (below)

FX1 (Below)

DSR570 (Below)


The images of the four cameras in the same price range all look very similar to me. I am looking at the horizontal and vertical railings for that determination of what I see as perceived sharpness, etc. The differences in background tone I am ignoring as there were any number of gray values behind each camera angle. The DSR570 looks sharper and more detailed than any of the other cameras in my opinion. It should, it has a larger CCD and more sophisticated method of processing information. The other four cameras all look similar as I scan the slivers above.

Now we will turn the color on. I have all cameras set in normal color mode and have done my best to get accurate white balances.






Once again, I notice no real noticeably difference between the four cameras in the same price range. Here is a composite:

Subjectively I do notice a few things. Both Sony cameras have that similar pastel color rendition that I normally associate with Sony chips. Look at their two slivers above and see that reddish ringing that always comes with Sony cameras, even their broadcast cameras. The FX1 has more chroma than it's competitors but that should be ignored since if this was an accurate test I would have tried to match all cameras in a different standard than what I did in this impromptu test.

Of the four in the same price range, the XL2 seemed to make the better picture of them all to me. This camera feels like it had a slightly shallower depth of field too. I know, you'll tell me that all 1/3 inch chip cameras are the same but I feel this camera just feels better in the focus regard.

And the XL2 seemed more professional to handle and easier to manipulate the settings with. The bigger lens looks a bit awkward but gives me the best feel to hold and manipulate. Folks complained that it took along time for this camera to be released, but I think Canon did a fantastic job on it's second generation camera and it was worth the wait.

I would say the DVX 100A was a close second. It felt flimsier to hold as in cheaper but I liked its viewfinder and screen second best. It would be an easier camera to handle in certain situations. I like the way video looks on it. Overall, I liked the color rendition best on this camera although in this one sample you could not judge that. You may not see it in this demo, but from the other stuff I did not post here of wide shot comparisons, the DVX has very accurate color rendition.

A close third to the DVX100 would be the PD170. It's a great camera and feels solid. I think of the DVX, 170, and the Canon, this camera feels like it is built most solid. I don't like that it has a small screen an viewfinder. Overall picture wise, it just looks a bit softer in its shot than the others but not in a good way.

Forth and probably a statistical tie with the PD170 would be the FX1. Outside of HDV which is a feature that does little unless you are keeping your video in HDV from acquisition to distribution and maintaining the H part of HDV, it's really just a DV camera. I have been told that in tests of taking HDV to DVD that their is some advantage which I would expect with the higher headroom, but this is NOT about HDV, only different DV cameras. That is another conversation.

Just to make it clear, there is no advantage for using the FX1camera in regular DV mode over the others. It does not make a better picture in DV mode, it makes a higher resolution picture in HDV mode, but as I said, unless you keep it in H, you gain little. Something to get used to with this camera is that you load the tape on the user side (left side). I liked the menu system in this camera. It was on the back and easy to use. It's longer than the PD170 but feels nearly as solid to hold.

So if I walked into a store and had nothing but what you saw here to judge which is better, I'd certainly pick the DSR570 over any of the cameras, but then again you get what you pay for. Second would be Canon, then probably a tie with Panasonic and Sony.

And finally, I just wanted to make a comment about trade magazines and any articles you read reviewing cameras. Any magazine that takes ads can not completely explore the good and the bad of a camera or any other piece of equipment that their advertisers make. In fact in many trade magazines articles are sponsored by the manufacturers and disguised as stories about users. I saw one the other day in Film and Video which was about a friend I spoke to him about it. He said since he bought their camera and had developed a special relationship with them recently, that they asked him to help put together some photos of him using it so they could create an article. In other words, while you'll see some pros and cons listed in any article about equipment, it would behoove an editor to make sure that any article reviewing a piece of equipment does not trash it or explore areas that manufacturers do not

The point is, unless you actually test it yourself, you'll never know if it's something you will like. Rely on yourself in the end, not everyone else. Use magazines, and websites as guides, but see what features it is you are looking for, and test them out.

Here is a short 21 meg video movie of the five cameras


Copyright 2013 by Walter Graff. This article may be circulated and shared as long as the following reference is made: 'This article appears courtesy of Walter Graff-'