For the last year or so I have been using my Nokia N95 as my primary video recording device. As you understand, I am currently more serious about stills photography. But I need to do occasional video recordings and the quality of my N95 is great for a mobile phone, but not very good compared to a proper video camera.
So I wanted something better than the N95, but small and portable. I narrowed my possibilities down to two cameras recording straight to solid state memory. The Sony HDR-CX7 or the Panasonic HDC-SD5. After some googling and a quick test in the store I decided to go for the Panasonic. Mostly because I don’t like Sony’s stupid memory stick and because I read that the AVCHD-compression in the Sony camera had some issues with high motion scenes. According to what I have been reading the Panasonic is not as good as the Sony in low light conditions. But a compression that breaks into artifacts in high motion is worse than a problem with some noise in low light.
I also like the navigation on the Panasonic better. Sony rely on a touch screen that force you to use both hands when operating. The Panasonic lets you operate most of the menus with one hand on the back of the unit. In addition to this the Panasonic has a pretty useful pre recording function and good macro possibilities. So far I have only one issue with the camera. A low volume high frequency noise that is captured by the microphone while recording. A well known problem on tape based and HD based cameras, but I thought that wouldn’t be a problem on a solid state camera. Maybe it’s a problem with my camera only. I’ll have to investigate this further. You can hear the noise in the last test clip. Downloads at the bottom of this article.
Both cameras are recording AVCHD, meaning heavy compression and a native format that is not suitable for editing. For the record, the Sony camera can also record standard definition MPEG2 (not very good for editing either), while the Panasonic is AVCHD only. I am not going to use this camera for making hollywood style movies. I am going to make some quick demonstrations for my presentations and for my blog. And the occasional documentation of some events in my family.
When surfing around looking for reviews of these cameras I was disappointed of sites that claim to have a proper review up, but don’t provide any test clips for download.
So to help people that is about to buy a new camcorder I’ll provide you with some test clips and images here.
On Mac OSX you can import AVCHD to iMovie 08, Final Cut Express 4 and the latest version of Final Cut Pro. Because AVCHD is highly compressed in a way that is technically very difficult to edit the software trans codes the files into an intermediate format that is easier to edit. This takes some time and generates pretty big files, but I found the process pretty easy and well functioning in both iMovie 08 and Final Cut Express 4.
I have used iMovie 08 and Final Cut Express 4 to make the test clips. And decided to make the clips available in several different formats. All the 50p files are deinterlaced with the excellent JES Deinterlacer. All the files where originally recorded in the highest quality setting on the camera, to 1080i, 25 fps.
Here’s one of the files embedded as a flash movie (there’s no audio):
Or click through to Revver to watch it there. But to be able to judge the quality of the camera you need to download a high quality test clip. Choose from below.
The first clip is some simple tests in pretty low light and rain, a bit of zooming and panning over some trees to show high motion performance and a bit of experimenting with the tele macro function on the camera. I removed the audio because it was mostly noise and people talking nonsense…
Download any of these files (right click and “save as”):
Panasonic_HDC-SD5_Test1_720x400-25p.mp4 (57.2 MB)
Panasonic_HDC-SD5_Test1_1024x576-50p.mp4 (148.6 MB)
Panasonic_HDC-SD5_Test1_1280x720-50p.mp4 (307.3 MB)
And if you want to have a look at something that is close to the original files from the camera I have provided a monster file in the Apple Intermediate format.
Panasonic_HDC-SD5_Test1_1080i-AppleIntermediate (1790 MB)
The second clip is done in pretty good conditions with more light. I kept the audio on this one. Not much to listen to, but hey – it’s a test.
Download any of these files (right click and “save as”):
Panasonic_HDC-SD5_Test2_720x400-25p.mp4 (21 MB)
Panasonic_HDC-SD5_Test2_1024x576-50p.mp4 (49.5 MB)
Panasonic_HDC-SD5_Test2_1280x720-50p.mp4 (121.7 MB)
And that Apple Intermediate monster file for you to play around with:
Panasonic_HDC-SD5_Test2_1080i-AppleIntermediate (771.8 MB)
The last file is a special test in very low light conditions. Low ambient light in the room and one 25W standard light bulb to the left of my scene. With audio as well. In this clip you can clearly hear a noise that the camera makes. I’ll have to investigate this further. Very annoying. Don’t know if this is a problem with my camera only or a problem in general on these cameras.
And the stills? I probably won’t use this camera to snap stills, because I usually bring my Canon 400D for that. But I’ve provided some tests here as well. Nicely grouped into a set on flickr. Or you can download the image files from here.
I’ve uploaded some more test clips. More low light experiments and a couple of raw MTS-files directly from the camera.
Low light experiments in this directory. The file name indicates the settings. The main point here was to show the difference between a shutter of 1/50 and a shutter of 1/25. And you find the original MTS-streams of these files here.
And the original MTS files for some of the other test clips here.
Hope this helps when you surf around doing your evaluations.
Feel free to use the comments if you have any questions or want to share some experience with this camera, the Sony HDR-CX7 or AVCHD in general.
Update 2 – End of story
I have done more tests and the audio noise is too disturbing for my use. My conclusion is that the camera is excellent. It has just enough manual control, the image quality is very good and the files imports well on my mac.
But for me I need audio with no noise. So I need another camera or one with a possibility for an external mic. Conclusion: I returned the camera today. (And by the way, Oslo Kameraservice, or Fotoknudsen PRO that they have started calling themselves gave me a truly excellent service all the way). But I need to find another camera. Maybe a bit of patience and one of the new Canon models (HF10 and HF100) will be the solution?
If you need examples of the noise please feel free to download one of these samples and listen carefully in a set of high quality headphones. Probably no problem for most people, but too much for me. These clips have audio: