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Thread: What's the best camcorder under low light?

  1. #1

    Question HD Writer AE 2.1 doesn't keep video format?

    Well, I went out that day and tested the camcorders, to me, there wasn't much of a difference in noise level for me between the Sony and Panasonic, maybe a bit. And so I bought the Panasonic only because it was on sale and it had a internal memory(takes less power and it will work in loud environments). If I'm not not satisfied, and I am really satisfied, I'll return it. It does have a bit of noise but it's not too noticable. It's better than my Panasonic HDC-HS60 which I had returned.

    But now I got another problem, I heard that the software that comes with the camcorder does not keep the video quality after extracting it. Is this true? I can't really tell. What would be a easy-to-use software that can keep the video quality? I'm willing to spend some money on the software so I don't mind if it is not free. Also the 5.1ch seems to be echoing some of the noise. How can I fix this?
    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ ___________________________________

    I was looking at the sony handycams and the panasonic hdc-tm700. Do all sony handycams perform good under low light and very low light conidions? Do all the handycams give the same quality pictures because of the examor sensor and how does that compare to panasonic's 3mos sensor?
    These are the camcorders I was looking at:
    Sony HDR-XR550V
    Sony HDR-XR350V
    Sony HDR-CX350V
    Panasonic HDC-TM700
    What's the better sensor, 3MOS or Exmor R?
    Thanks for any help.
    Last edited by raemen; 02-13-2011 at 06:44 PM.

  2. #2


    Would someone please help me?

  3. #3


    Very few people will have experience of all the different cameras you mention. Especially in low light conditions.
    As far as sensors are concerned, the nomclature can be confusing. Basically there are only two types, CMOS and CCD, with CCD being the older technology. CMOS, nowadays, are the better choice (IMHO) as there development has caught up with CCD and their low light performance is better.
    The next thing you need to look at is how many sensors? Camcorders come with either a single sensor or three sensors. Therefore a 3MOS indicates that the camcorder has 3 x CMOS sensors. But, is 3 better than one? For this you need to check out the size of the sensor (It should be in the specs for the camera) and by this, I mean the physical area, not the number of pixels. The larger the better, and don't forget that a 1/6 sensor is smaller than a 1/3 sensor. There are explanations on the web about sensor size.
    Then look at the number of pixels packed onto that chip. Too many and the low light performance will be limited, as larger pixels tend to perform better in low light conditions. This is where, on occasions, a single sensor of a larger size can outperform a triple sensor where, in the same price bracket, the triple sensors tend to be smaller.
    I have two consumer camcorders, one with a triple CCD and one with a single CMOS, and the single sensor performs better in low light. I've never used a triple sensor CMOS, so have no direct comparison, but I would imagine it would perform better than the 3 CCD but may or may not do better than the single CMOS for the above variable reasons.

    I have six honest, serving men. They taught me all I knew.
    Their names are What and Why and When. And How and Where and Who! (Rudyard Kipling)

  4. #4


    Out of the four cameras you mention three use modern 1/4 inch chips, and one has a larger 1/3 inch (roughly) chip. The older ccd's needed more light, as did the tubes that existed before them. But these all all have similar chips at the similar sizes.

    The sony cameras each have a single chip, but two of them have back-illuminated xmor sensors, these should be able to work in lower light conditions with lower noise levels. I havn't compared to otherwise identical chips in otherwise identical cameras to know how well it does this, but that's the claim.

    The Sony XR550V has the largest (backlit) 1/3 inch chip so in regards to image sensor it should perform best in low light. The XC350V has the 1/4 inch (not backlit) chip so should have the worst performance.

    The panasonic has 3 1/4 inch chips, this means that each of the red, green and blue channels get separated through prisms before being captured to each of their dedicated chips. Then the images are put back together on the recording medium. This gives better colour quality and makes a big difference when doing colour grading.

    There's more to it than just the chips, there's also the lens, all the sony cameras seem to have the same lens with a max aperture of f1.8-3.4 so they should all be relative to each other allowing comparison to be done by comparing chips.

    The panasonic has a max aperture of f1.5-2.8 so the lens it's self lets more light in than the best of the sony's. It has a smaller sensor size but may still perform better in low light.

    The other thing to consider is electronics. The sony's all claim a minimum illumination of 3 LUX and the panasonic claims 1.6LUX and even 1LUX with the night mode on. But all these claims are based on slowing the shutter speed right down and pushing the gain right up which lowers the image quality.

    Relating to this it seems that the panasonic is definately capable of recording in the lowest light, but not necesarily at the best performance. I tend to ignore claims made the need for electronic enhancment and judge based on sensor and opticss, this is what will get the best quality image at the lowest light possible.

    In theory either the sony XR550V or the Panasonic HDC-TM700 are the cameras you want to look into. It's pretty safe to say that the others pretty much certainly don't perform as well as either of these two. You'd need to try them out or look for low light sample footage on youtube to compare.

    Personally I'd go with the panasonic to get the 3 sensors, but the best of the sony's has a noticibly larger sensor which woud also give you a little more control over depth of field.


  5. #5


    Thanks for the great information ! So it seems like the Panasonic is better but then again Sony does have a bigger sensor. Wouldn't the Panasonic perform well in low light because of the 3 CMOS sensors? Wouldn't it be 3 x 1/4 inch which would make it bigger and better than Sony's? Would an aperture of f1.5-2.8 perform better than an aperture of f1.8-3.4? How do these two camcorders compare to the Canon VIXIA HF S21?

  6. #6


    For a 3 chip camera it wouldn't be 3 x the 1/4 inch, each of the 3 sensors is capturing the same image.

    The light enters the camera through the lens and hits a glass prism. The light seperates as it refracts while passing through the prism and the three sensors are positioned accurately in the correct positions so as one collects the red light, one the blue and the other the green. So they each only gets part of the information from the same image, but it's not all the information from 1/3 of the image, it's 1/3 (not exactly) of the information from the full image.

    The f number relates to how wide you can open the iris, it's a bit more complex than that, it's calculated using the relationships between the iris diameter and other dimensions of the lens/sensor system.

    It is accuratelly a measue of the amount of light entering the camera, the lower the f number, the wider the iris and the more light that is entering the camera.

    Even with the iris opened, at a set physical diameter, the mathematics change as the dimensions change when the lens is zoomed right in or righ out. That's where the max aperture of f1.5-f2.8 comes in. It's the amount of light you can get in, when the iris is fully opened, depending on where your zoom is set. It will be f1.5 with it set wide, f 2.8 with it set narrow and somewhere in between for somewhere in between.

    If you get a camera, set the zoom to full wide, open the iris right up and zoom in tight you will notice the picture gets darker as you zoom. The iris doesn't close, it's the relationship between its diameter and the positions of the lenses as they move.

    Some expensive lenses compensate for this giving equal amounts of light at either end of the zoom.

    It's all very complicated maths that can be worked out with great precision by engineers. An aperture setting of f1.5 will perform better than that of f1.8, on equal sized sensors, as it is an exact measure of more light getting in.

    I'm sure there is a way to calculate if an aperture setting of f1.5 with a 1/4 sensor will perform better than f1.8 on a 1/3 inch sensor, but it's way beyond me to work that out.

    It's a bit more complex too as the sensors aren't only different sizes, they are also slightly different technologies, the backlight technology on the sony, I can image, would make the bigger difference. But you'd really need to try these out, or find a comparison/review, to see for sure.

    The Canon is unlikely to perform as well as the Sony as it has a similar max aperture of f1.8-f3 (compared to the sonys f1.8-3.4) but has a slightly smaller sensor (still bigger than the panasonics). The max aperture range is different, even though they both have 10x zooms, as the zoom range is different. The canon wont go as wide as the sony and the sony wont go as long as the canon.

    If the the backlit sensor on the sony does make that much of a difference it would probably be most noticable between these 2 cameras, so maybe looking for a comparison between these 2 would help clear that up.


  7. #7


    Also, I just got my first Sony cam, and I can testify that it's true what they say about Sony cams having more usable gain before noise sets in. This essentially means that many of the Sony units can get by with smaller sensors and still produce a low light picture that rivals other manufacturer's cams utilizing larger sensors.

  8. #8


    So basically the Canon won’t be better than the Sony because of the smaller sensor.

    I tested the camcorders at a retail store and for the one that costs the least was the Panasonic. There was a HDTV beside the camcorders to try each camcorder. I hooked up the Panasonic and when I was pointing at the black bottom of the TV it looked good but it only turned bad when I zoomed in and the noise level increased and the picture got a little mud-like.

    I also tried the Sony which I also pointed at the same thing. Same as the Panasonic the Picture was clear when it wasn't zoomed in. But the Sony seemed a bit better and had a little less noise than the Panasonic, but it wasn't too noticeable. When I zoomed in with the Sony, the picture started showing more noise but again less than the Panasonic, but not by much.

    Unfortunately, there was no Canon VIXIA HF S21. So I couldn’t test it. But there was a S20, so I checked that one. Good picture quality, not as good as Sony's picture quality but it was a bit better on low light than the Panasonic.

    Since the Panasonic takes 1080p videos and the Sony takes 1080i, the Panasonic looked very good when it was pointed at a place with more light. The colour was also very good, looked well than the Sony, I guess it was because of the 3 sensors. I also noticed that the Panasonic had a manual adjustment ring on the lens part of the camcorder while the Sony just had a knob-like adjuster. I prefer the Panasonic one. But it would be nice if the camcorders had a mini video light built-in, just like the Panasonic HDC-HS60, Which I had returned because of the bad image quality on low light.

    I take videos 35% in low light and 65% in normal light or higher than normal light just to tell you. So which camcorder would you guys recommend out of the three (Sony, Panasonic or Canon)?
    Last edited by raemen; 02-07-2011 at 10:01 PM.

  9. #9


    The HDR-XR550V ought to blow the others out of the water when it comes to low light. Sony's are good in low light to begin with, and that particular model has a sensor almost twice as big as ther others you mentioned. I'm guessing that's not the Sony you tried in the store though. Anyhow, like Dave was saying, the size of the lens is important in this low light thing too, but I think he'd agree that given a choice between a bigger lens and a bigger sensor, the latter will usually give you more light.

    Some of the small consumer models Canon is coming out with use huge lenses for such small cams and with a 1/2" sensor. They ought to be very good in low light, but I don't know anybody that has one that can testify to that. The reviews look very good though. Canon is generally king of the heap when it comes to color reproduction as well. That VIXIA HF S21 you mentioned ought to beat these other cams hands down in everything but color. The Panny might beat it in that department with its 3 sensors, but don't let the single sensor models fool ya. Some of them have great color as well, and Canon's are second to none. If it were me, I wouldn't do amything until I had a chance to check out that Canon.

  10. #10


    Well the size of the lens and the size of the sensor are directly related. Lenses are designed and built to fit specifically to work with certain size sensors. You can use adaptors to put larger lenses on smaller sensors, and now that DSLR's are being thrown aside as the demand is being met to fit the desire for large format video, even smaller lenses on larger sensors.

    The lens will of course give more light as sensors don't give light, they read light, it's the lens that's designed to work with the larger sensors that makes the difference in larger sensor cameras working better in low light. So I suppose yes, a large sensor by definition comes with a large lens.

    I think the question relates to the difference in max aperture. I'm thinking a sensor close to 1/3" with a max aperture of f1.8 would probably perform better than a 1/4" inch sensor at f1.4 but I don't know for sure, it might not be the case. I'd be curious about a comparison with two similar model cameras with different size chips of the same tech at these setting. On top of that, if the sony's backlight technology makes a difference I'd imagine it would probably be so even more. But again, I still don't know.

    I just realised, I said earlier the Canon has a slightly smaller sensor than the best of the sony's, it actually has a slightly larger sensor than the sony (still close to 1/3") but with no backlit technolgy, so I'd still assume that if the backlit tech. makes a difference the sony would perform better.

    If low light really is the main importance to you then look at these 1/2" consumer Canon cameras for sure (which ones are they?) you may find what your looking for, but what needs to be realised is that these are all consumer cameras. Even the most expensive pro cameras need light, studios are full of them after all. To get the best from any camera manipulation of light is necessary. For cameras in the f100 - £1000(ish) price range I've always favoured panasonics 3 chip options, even if there is a bit of a sacrifice in low light performace, light can be adjusted. Once captured the image is the image.

    Single chips today can get great looking colour right enough but three chips do make a difference, particularly when it comes to colour grading.

    What it comes down to really is the right tool for the job, you just need to know what it is you want.


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