Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Comparison of Digital Camcorder Sensors

Few days ago, I did some research on the digital camcorder models. I have created an interesting matrix comparing the sensors of the cameras at different price levels. I'll share that with you here.

If you are new to the digital camcorder world, you can check out the introductory articles in the links provided at the end of this post. I'll put some summary here:

Definition: There are two types of definitions: Standard and High definition (Hi-def). Standard is an old technology for regular TVs providing 540 lines of resolution. Hi-def is newer and superior to Standard defition, providing 1080 lines (4 times) of resolution on hi-def TVs. Hi-def is a very expensive technology at this moment but in near future (say in next 3 years), this will be the widely accepted one.

I'll refer to standard definition in this article and the comparison table is for standard definition cameras.

Storage/Media Types: This plays a vital role on the price and performance of the camera. There are 4 main types of storages: Mini DV, Mini DVD, Hard Drive and SD (or SDHC). Here's a very brif summary of these formats:
  1. MiniDV is the least expensive, has capacity of 1 hour of high quality video. Data format is DV and takes 2+ hours (approx.) to transfer to PC and write a DVD before you can play it on your DVD player.
  2. MiniDVD is expensive, has capacity of 20 mins of high quality video. Data format is MPEG2 and can be played back on DVD player instantly.
  3. Hard Drive (HDD) has no external media requirement and thus has no running cost. It has capacity of 7 hours (on 30 GB, 15 hours on 60 GB) of high quality video. Data format is MPEG2 and takes around 30 mins (approx.) to transfer to a PC and write a DVD.
  4. SD/SDHC is very expensive, 2 GB SD card can hold 20 mins of high quality video only. Like HDD, it takes 30 mins (approx.) to prepare a DVD using a PC.
Manufacturers: The four main manufacturer companies are: Sony, Panasonic, Canon and JVC. Canon and Sony dominates the lower price models, Panasonic dominates the 3 CCD world and JVC dominates with a lot of Hard Drive cameras.

Sensor: This is the first most important factor behind picture quality. Sensor type, physical size and resolution (number of pixels) are important. There are two types of sensors CCD and CMOS. Just a high level summary would be: lower range of camcorders have 1/6" CCD sensors and higher ends have 1/3" or better CMOS sensors. The higher resolution of the sensor is, the better the picture gets.

In the comparison table, the column 'Sensor - Total Pixels' specifies the total number of pixel the camera sensor has and the column 'Sensor - Effective Pixels' specifies the effective number of pixels used to capture the video.

The comparison table:

Here it goes:
Price Range
(Approx.)
Model Storage Type Sensor - Type Sensor - Total Pixels Sensor - Effective Pixels
US$ 285 (BDT 20k) Sony DCR-HC26 Mini DV CCD 680k 340k
Sony DCR-HC28 Mini DV CCD 680k 340k
Panasonic NV-GS27 Mini DV CCD 800k 400k
US$ 357 (BDT 25k) Sony DCR-HC36 Mini DV CCD 680k 340k
US$ 428 (BDT 30k) Sony DCR-HC46 Mini DV CCD 1M 680k
Sony DCR-DVD605 Mini DVD CCD 800k 400k
Sony DCR-DVD608 Mini DVD CCD 640k 340k
US$ 500 (BDT 35k) Panasonic NV-GS230 Mini DV 3CCD 800k x 3 400k x 3
Panasonic NV-GS180 Mini DV 3CCD 800k x 3 400k x 3
Sony DCR-DVD705/708 Mini DVD CCD 1M 690k
US$ 570 (BDT 40k) Panasonic VDR-D250 Mini DVD 3CCD 800k 340k
Sony DCR-GS320 Mini DV 3CCD 800k x 3 640k x 3
Sony DCR-SR42 HDD CCD 680k 340k
US$ 642 (BDT 45k) Sony DCR-SR62 HDD CCD 1M 690k
JVC GZ-MG155 HDD CCD 1M 690k
Panasonic SDR-H250 HDD/SD 3CCD 800k x 3 640k x 3
US$ 714 (BDT 50k) Sony DCR-HC96 Mini DV CCD 3.3M 2.05M
Sony DCR-DVD805/405 Mini DVD 1/3" CCD 3.3M 2M
US$ 857+ (BDT 60k+)
Sony DCR-DVD905/505 Mini DVD 1/3" ClearVID CMOS 2M 1.9M
Sony DCR-SR200 HDD 1/3" ClearVid CMOS 2M 1M
Sony DCR-SR300 HDD 1/2.9" ClearVid CMOS 3M 1.7M

(Prices are as of August 2007 in Dhaka, Bangladesh).

Summary/Notes:

  • Lower end camcorders having 340k effective pixel sensors produce bad quality videos.
  • Cameras with 640k/690k effective pixel sensors produces moderate quality videos.
  • Mid range 3CCD camcorders produces superb and natural colors and brightness.
  • If you have the budget, go for 1/3.0" ClearVid CMOS or better sensors.
  • miniDV produces highest quality videos. Hard drive, on the other hand, gives most room and conveniences for managing clips.
Links:
These are some very good sites where you'll get a lot of reviews and specs:
I hope the article will be helpful to you.