3CCD vs. 1CCD?
April 5, 2005 7:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering the purchase of one of Panasonic's 3CCD camcorders - is it worth it?

I'm in the market for a new camcorder. I've done a boat-load of research on the subject, but I can't seem to weed through the millions of contradicting reviews and myriad of models, makes and features that today's market offers. I've been thinking heavily on getting one of the Panasonic 3CCD models, but I'm curious:

--Is the extra money spent for a 3CCD worth it?
--Why are there similarly priced cameras under different makes that offer only 1CCD?
--Would my money be better spent on a camera in the same price range, but from a better brand (say, Sony?) and only 1 CCD?

I feel that I mostly understand the technology behind 1CCD vs. 3CCD, but what I am lacking is real-world experience and side-by-side comparisons. I've found some reviews and messageboards with video samples comparing the two, but most of these were compressed for the web, thus hard to tell what the final product will look like.

I've attempted to visit local retailers who stock the Panasonic 3CCD's and other cameras, but my attempts to fully test the products in the store failed. (Best Buy sucks - they claimed they weren't allowed to hook the camera up to one of their TV's, and claimed that "the resolution you see on the LCD is a good representation of what you'll see on TV"!). Their return policy also prevents me from purchasing the camera and taking it home for a few hours. They have a 15% restocking fee.

I'm looking to do amateur shots, nothing professional, but a bit more than "family picnic" style shooting. I'd like a camera that, with the right lighting and directing, can achieve a broadcast-like quality.

This post is a bit of a mess, and I apologize... but I appreciate any advice you could throw my way.
posted by nitsuj to Technology (13 answers total)
I eagerly await an answer to this, and I'd like it if the tech-savvy MeFite who answers it can explain 24p while he or she is at it.
posted by goatdog at 7:54 AM on April 5, 2005

The flaw I spotted with those Panasonic models is that they only use 1/6 inch CCD chips (ie very small). Compare that to the semipro Sony VX2000 which has three 1/3 inch CCD chips, which have 4 times the area and therefore 4 times as much light hits them and you get much less noise (and that huge lens doesn't hurt either).

On the other hand, the average single CCD camera only has a single 1/6 inch chip, so given the choice between the two I'd go for the 3CCD (I've no hands-on experience with such models, however).
posted by cillit bang at 8:03 AM on April 5, 2005

I should also mention that my price range is <$700.
posted by nitsuj at 8:04 AM on April 5, 2005

24p = the camera takes 24 still frames a second, the same as a film camera, so in theory motion looks the same as if you had used film.

(a normal video camera takes 60 fields a second, which is kind of like taking 30 frames, but not, making it hard to add special effects; and it doesn't look right in the cinema, since it has to be converted to 24p which isn't pretty)
posted by cillit bang at 8:09 AM on April 5, 2005

You will definitely see a difference between a 1 CCD camera and a 3 CCD camera. 3 CCD cameras will edge you much closer to broadcast quality.

Whether it's "worth" it or not has to do with your preferences. If image quality is the most important then- ther you go. However if size of camera, zoom power, still camera capabilities, steadyshot, etc are important then factor that in..

I can't really help you on the side-by-side comparisons. Try to find an independent video store as they will most likely be more helpful.

Honestly, any camera on this list, will give you a great image.

The differences in prices has to do with feature set, as you could have guessed. A 3 CCD camera with a lousy lens is not much good.
It's kinda hard to boil the 24p down, but basically, most video captures images at 30 frames a second, 24P cameras capture at 24 frames per second which is the same as film. The difference (among a few other things) results in a more "filmlike" image. But this describes it on way more detail.
posted by jeremias at 8:13 AM on April 5, 2005

I have a Panasonic PV-DV953D. Its about 14 months old and Panasonic isn't making it anymore. My impressions.
If you are shooting with plenty of light, this camera is amazing. Outside or in a room with lots of windows in the day gives wonderful results.

However, its low light perfomance is lacking. I did a lot of research before I bought the camera and knew this might be an issue. cillit bang was totally dead on when he talked about sensor size. My camera has 1/6 sensorsn and this is probably what causes the poor low light performance. If you can afford bigger, go for it. On the flip side, the lens in the 953D is quite good.
If you're comparing other aspects of the camera, try to find one with an optical image stabilizer as opposed to an electronic image stabilizer. Also, some of the Sonys have most of their controls to be on the LCD, the LCD is a touch pad. This was a bit awkward for me while I was shooting.

The single best resource I found for camcorders is camcorderinfo.com.

These things are expensive, especially if you go the 3-ccd route so expect some buyers remorse no matter what you choose. :)
posted by tayknight at 8:36 AM on April 5, 2005

A 3 CCD camera will give you substantially better color fidelity, contrast and detail as well potentially better resolution (depending on the size of the compared CCDs).

Have you ever noticed how when you watch home videos, even stuff shot on DV, things appear a little "flatter" color wise? Sometimes they even look a little cooler (leaning towards the blue tones) because there isn't as much chromacity. That's largely the effect of a single CCD->DV. A single CCD cannot capture as much color information as when it is split by a prism and each channel is recorded independently.

I personally use a 3CCD camera (Canon GL1) and love it. Everything else just seems so washed out to me. You'll never get anything like "broadcast quality" out of a single CCD.

I'm sure that you've seen this page, but this guy is using a 3CCD camera that was under $700 and I think you can see the difference. Even though these images are smaller so you can't see the small details like blades of grass (which wouldn't likely be different) the color detail is clear. Even if you were to up the saturation in the images on the left, you would be missing out on the contrast details in things like the shadows under the treads of the bulldozer, etc.

As for 24P -
In the US, televisions run at 60 fields per second or 60i. You get 60 unique frames but they are interlaced meaning you see 2 images only half the vertical resolution of the screen and each line is weaved together as though you are interlocking fingers. This is why when you pause a VCR on a frame that has fast motion you see a flicker where something is moving. That is the flickering between the 2 fields.

Film, on the other hand, takes 24 unique pictures per second. Each frame is full resolution and doesn't interlace with any other. It is "progressive," which means the lines progress from top to bottom in order (as opposed to interlaced where they alternate).

The easiest way to see the difference is to notice the "movie" feel of a show, like ER, that is shot on film, versus a soap opera, shot on video, that looks like TV.

For film (or a 24P video camera) to show on television properly, allowances must be made. In order to have 24p frames a second to show at 60i frames per second, each frame is held for an alternating 2 and 3 fields which is called a 3:2 pulldown but getting WAAAY beyond the scope of this question.
posted by aaronh at 8:38 AM on April 5, 2005

I have the PV-GS400, which is the update for the PV-DV953 mentioned by tayknight.

I concur with tayknight on the low-light issues. The more light you can throw around the better, and while that's true of any camera it's even more true in the case of these.

Even under the best circumstances, you're not going to get as good an image as you would from, for example, the XL2. But I can't afford an XL2, and I doubt you want to try that either.

I'm generally very satisfied with mine. It really comes down to how much light you're going to throw around. If you're in sunlight, you're gravy. Indoors, you're going to need some powerful lamps to make up for it -- you'll never get anything that looks good for broadcast in ordinary practical interior lighting. You're better off with a single-chip (1/4") Sony for that kind of thing *at the same price point*.
posted by dragstroke at 8:51 AM on April 5, 2005

In late 2003 I bought the compact Panasonic 3CCD GS70, the one now named GS120 on your linked page, and I'm glad I did because of the color and Leica lens image quality mentioned by others. The low light performance is not as good as other makes, and the night shot mode is just a novelty. Digital image stabilization on this model is passable, but the new 250 model has OIS, which is great. For some potentially commercial work I'm now doing I'm currently looking to buy the 400 with its bigger CCD on an auction site, since the prices for new ones are now down around the prices I paid for the 70 at the end of 2003.One good point of the new models is the new menu navigation controller and indicators. I like them.

The comparison to a VX2000 is misleading because that is a different category of camera. I sometimes work with a guy who uses a Panasonic professional camera and they are quite competitive with Sony/Canon in quality of results.
posted by planetkyoto at 9:09 AM on April 5, 2005

I've got the PV-DV953 that tayknight has.

I'd concur with the other comments regarding Panasonic's consumer-grade 3-CCD cameras: When properly lit, the video looks amazing. Superb color, details, resolution.

Most of the indoor video I've shot, however, is pretty disappointing.

One point that hasn't come up is that the PV-DV953 is also excellent for recording sound, compared to its price-class peers.

Since I bought the camera mainly to record my son, I'm disappointed in the videos shot indoors. On the other hand, the sound-fidelity almost makes up for this. Still, if I had it to do all over again, I'd get a camera with better low-light recording ability.
posted by u2604ab at 9:11 AM on April 5, 2005

GS400/953 owners, how do you rate the OIS (if possible in comparison with sony/canon models)?
posted by planetkyoto at 9:22 AM on April 5, 2005

I mostly do tripod-based shots, so I've not noticed the image stabilization much. However, when I'm using my jury-rigged steadicam-like thingamajig, I get pretty good, fluid movement without a lot of bouncing around. I'm pretty certain that the OIS is helping me out.

I haven't done enough hand-held to notice or care what it's doing for me there.
posted by dragstroke at 10:28 AM on April 5, 2005

I built a thingamajig as well. It makes a _huge_ difference. absolutely night and day. I also made something like this (except not so tall) that doesn't look so dorky. homebuiltstabilizers.com is a cool site as well.
posted by tayknight at 1:27 PM on April 5, 2005

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