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½" 3-CCD DV Camcorder from JVC

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"DV500 vs. DSR-300", by Perry Mitchell

GY-DV500U front-left

Sony DSR-300
Sony DSR-300
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JVC GY-DV500 and Sony DSR-300 Review, by Perry Mitchell

In the last issue we looked at the JVC GY-DV500 camcorder from the perspective of two other quite different cameras.  This time we look at it with its obvious rival, the Sony DSR-300 DVCAM.  It is important to emphasize 2 things right up front:

  1. The Sony costs a lot more than the JVC, indeed around twice as much.

  2. Cameramen are notorious for their personal foibles, one man’s meat etc.

There are several other reviews currently in print of these cameras, and I would particularly recommend readers to look at the one in the May edition of our US cousin, DV Magazine.  These will give the features and basic performance descriptions, but I would like to concentrate first on the actual image quality.

Sony DSR-300

Sony DSR-300 - this link will take you to DSR-300's page on Sony web site

Both cameras claim 800 lines resolution, and a sensitivity of f11 at 2000lux.  The sensors principally determine the basic imaging performance, and both cameras use 3 of half-inch CCD chips, apparently both made by Sony and with the same pixel count of 752x582.  This gives a useful amount of oversampling to derive the DV line sample rate of 720.  CCD cameras need an optical anti-alias filter to avoid Moiré type patterns with incoming image detail, and these are provided as a pack of glass plates mounted behind the lens in front of the colour splitting prism.   They are rather inefficient and will eat into the available sample size of the chips, so any oversampling will help retain the required codec resolution.  I suspect that these cameras use different filter packs since I found slightly different effects when playing with a zone chart.   This is a collection of about 500 concentric circles that give endless possibilities for aliasing effects as the lens is slowly zoomed in and out.  Neither camera showed anything to cause any problems on real pictures, so the filters are obviously working well.  It is the anti alias filter by the way that causes the 6-pointed star to be seen on bright highlights.

There are ‘Lies, damn lies, and camera resolution specs’ so the 800 lines figure should be dismissed as marketing nonsense!  Both cameras gave a very solid output at 600+ lines which is plenty to fit in the 720 samples of the DV codec (use a 75% scaling factor to align with normal broadcast practice).

Both cameras use their own versions of Digital Signal Processing, or DSP, which offer the virtues of accurate processing and easily adjusted variables via menu control.  Set to the factory default set-ups, the JVC had rather more obvious levels of aperture correction or ‘detail’.  This is artificial edge enhancement that is added to the basic optical image to give a sharper appearance.  If it is overdone, ugly overshoots become too obvious as dark or light haloes around objects.  Both these cameras allowed extensive control of not only the amount of correction but also the boost ‘frequency’.  This observer would probably decrease the default detail somewhat but they both produced attractive crisp pictures that would be spot-on for many other users.

GY-DV500U vs. DSR-300
Pic. 1 - GY-DV500 with default set-up
Pic. 2 - GY-DV500 with ‘Matrix’ switched off
Pic. 3 - DSR-300 with default set-up

Pointing the cameras at a coloured still life scene revealed quite different looking pictures with the default set-ups.  The scene was deliberately lit with a single key to produce a deep shadow and strong contrast. The Sony is brighter in mid tones and less saturated than the JVC.  After the last test I was advised to try turning off the Matrix on the JVC and sure enough this reduced the colour saturation considerably.  Normally a colour matrix is supposed to improve the accuracy of a camera’s colourimetry but apparently this one is intended to appeal to wedding videographers!  It does produce very rosy tones so some folk will like it’s cheerful results.  These initial images produced are shown in the top row of the montage printed above, the differences will be somewhat emphasized in print.  Viewed on a Grade 1 broadcast monitor, the central JVC image was the nearest to the truth, but all three images were quite acceptable in isolation.  Note that the three images were all exposed for a white target, which has been cropped off in these pictures.

Pic. 4 - GY-DV500 with preferred ‘detail’
Pic. 5 - DSR-300 adjusted to approx match JVC in Pic. 4

The JVC has a rather more limited selection of adjustments available in the user menus.  I understand that this is something under continuous review and is one of the benefits of DSP, it is relatively easy to add or change functions with a software update!  The Sony has an extended menu available by holding down the menu select switch on power up, and this offers quite an extensive list of variables.  I’m sure that should the occasion demand it would be possible to match the pictures from both cameras with reasonable accuracy.  I very quickly adjusted the Sony gamma, saturation and black level, and managed to get the pictures a lot nearer to the JVC as shown on the bottom row of the montage.  I also made a quick attempt to get a ‘detail’ value that I liked but this would need more realistic subjects.  Whilst I make no claims to exact matching, the exercise proves that there is very little difference in the basic image quality or colourimetry of either camera,  and despite the differences in cost there is no reason to deduce that the Sony has any better quality DSP than the JVC.

Looking now at some general operational matters, the Sony is a couple of pounds heavier than the JVC but its gel type pad gives a very comfortable fit, although it doesn’t feel quite as stable on the shoulder as the conventional pad on the JVC.  The Sony is probably very good for those folk who have a non-standard slope on their shoulder and thus have trouble keeping the camera level.  The viewfinder on the JVC suffers rather in comparison to the Sony, which has a superior image quality, adjustment and apparent build quality. I also found the Sony Zebra patterns much better but this is definitely into personal preferences territory. The JVC did produce a bigger image though, which was appreciated.   Since any viewfinder on the JVC is an option, it is perfectly acceptable to buy the viewfinder from the DY-90E, which is a straight replacement and would offer much better quality.  The handle on the Sony was a little easier to use for handheld shots but like all current camcorders there is little thought given by any manufacturers to this mode of use.  Both cameras appear to be solidly constructed with alloy bodies and good protection for switches and connectors.  The Sony consumes a couple more watts of power than the JVC and will therefore have slightly shorter battery life.

At the end of the day, many users will decide on the basis of their chosen tape format, although both formats have the same basic video and audio performance.  The Sony uses the DVCAM format which does offer a few feature advantages, whilst the JVC uses a slight variation on the basic DV format.  The JVC is also limited to MiniDV cassettes and therefore a nominal 60-minute duration.  Both cameras offer forms of scene identification that may well prove of great value, but are not widely supported by editing software at the moment.  The JVC and the more recent DSR-300AP version of the Sony also feature a Firewire (IEEE-1394) port, but I will reserve discussion of this for another day.

In conclusion, for those uncommitted folk looking to buy a low cost, fully professional digital camera then the JVC is tremendous value for money.  The Sony is probably a little more solid and has more user adjustments available, but the JVC can produce very similar picture quality for a lot less investment and for many that will be enough.

"JVC didn't cut corners with a budget camera" - says Vernon Kato in May issue of DV Magazine.

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