Comparing Some Sony, Panasonic, and Canon     
Mini-DV Camcorders 

(Last modified 12/25/07)

I have borrowed and tried out, briefly owned, or own several compact Sony, Panasonic, and Canon Mini-DV camcorders - and I thought people might be interested in some opinions on these from a user...

The Cameras:

The Sony PC-1, TRV-9, TRV-900, VX-1000; Panasonic AG-EZ30U; and Canon GL-1  
and XL-1 are compared, with a Sony UVW-100 Beta SP with Canon YH1-8x6.7 lens used 
as a reference. Comments about the Sony TRV-950, VX-700, and PC-7, the Panasonic 
AG-EZ1U, and the Canon GL-2 are also included here, though these were not checked along 
with the others. For a comparison of the picture quality of the Sony VX-2000 (same as 
PD-150/DSR-250), TRV-900 (same as PD-100a), TRV-30 (same as PC-120), PC-100 
(same as PC-110/TRV-20), and PC-9 (same as PC-5/TRV-11/TRV-17), go

In addition, I have included a separate review of the Sony VX-2000/PD-150, with more frame grabs at the end of that review comparing it with some other camcorders. The VX-2000 and PD-150 were not available at the time I checked out the camcorders reviewed below, and I have added comments on the VX-2000 relative to the others in the "Conclusions" section (near the end of this article).

A review of the amazing new (2007) Canon HV20 HD camcorder appears here.

The Procedures:

Footage was shot using all-auto mode with all but the Beta SP (it doesn't have as many auto features as consumer cameras...). For these comparisons, the digital stabilizers were turned off (so that all were shooting at 1/60th second), and all available standard auto modes were engaged (auto focus, aperture, gain, and white balance). The exposures were noted when the camcorder tape data code was readable (and the exposure values may reasonably vary from camera to camera, even with the same image brightness on tape).  Direct FireWire capture of the footage to my computer was used (with all but the Beta SP footage, which was first copied onto Mini-DV tape), with Premiere used for editing clips together into suitable groups, labeling the clips, and frame-grabbing. The frames shown here were taken from footage shot hand-held (except the Beta SP, which was tripod-mounted), selected for best sharpness. The frame-grabs were unmodified BMP files left in 720x480 proportion, which were compressed to JPG files using the same compression factor for all (selected to maintain the original BMP frame information [except for anomalies around the labeling] while allowing reasonable down-load times). The footage was shot at the widest zoom settings, from the same floor locations, and under the following conditions:
  -- Interior
      - Tungsten side-light of Peter, dark clothes, white wall behind
        (to show tungsten auto-white balance, skin-tone, side-light
        contrast, and sharpening edge effects [visible at the edge of
        the dark clothes against the light background]).
      - Tungsten room light, fairly bright, with many nearly vertical
        and horizontal lines (to show tungsten auto-white balance,
        contrast differences between the bookcase area and the wall
        on the right, general image sharpness, sharpening artifacts
        [visible on picture-frame edges], and stair-stepping effects
        [both with near-vertical and near-horizontal lines, visible
        on picture-frame edges and in the books, though often this
        effect doesn't show well in the stills since I selected the
        frames used for best image quality]).
      - Daylight from a small window, low-light level beyond the
        ability of any of the camcorders to record well (to show the
        relative ability of the camcorders to shoot in difficult low
        light situations, and to show the image noise differences
        [though several of the camcorders are limited to +12db
        gain, the others +18, which would generally show more 
  -- Exterior
      - Street scene, overcast daylight (to show daylight auto-white
        color balance, color saturation and subtle-color rendering
        [note the differences in the colors of the houses],
        [sky-tone compared with medium tones], fine detail sharpness 
        [in trees, buildings, and textures], and oversharpening effects
        [obvious in the nearby lamp-post details]).
      - Overcast daylight side-light of Peter (to show daylight
        auto-white color balance, color saturation, daylight skin
        tone, highlight handling [in the hair, column, and sky],
        contrast [across face], and sharpness [Peter, bridge, houses,
        trees, etc.]).

A note about the video frame-grabs: these can be useful for evaluating relative picture sharpness (including center-to-corner variation), excess-sharpening artifacts, contrast, and color balance and saturation, but they tend to exaggerate camera color differences between different cameras (though not if different cameras are used in a multi-camera shoot...), and they do not show much about the appearance of the image with motion, or how it will appear on a TV screen (where color and contrast are different). All the Mini-DV camcorders show very noticeable near-horizontal-line "stair-stepping" with motion, but some also show various amounts of near-vertical-line stair-stepping with motion (stair-stepping tends to reduce or disappear soon after motion stops). I tried, in the review of each camcorder, to comment on picture characteristics not shown in the frame grabs, but long-term use of gear is a better test than any quick comparison such as this one. For descriptions and examples of the various video picture characteristics to look for, go

A note about the sound: I did not do a thorough sound check in this comparison, but in watching the clips edited together (with the same situations edited into groups), there were obvious differences in the auto sound levels and sound "color" (aided by having a rushing stream close by in the street scene - it provided a fairly uniform loud broad-band noise which makes evaluation of relative sound level and color easy [and I know the sound quality of many of these camcorders well from extensive use]). I tried to characterize the level and color of each camcorder's sound using its provided microphone (and the noise level and type) in a note following the frame-grab links for each camcorder.

General Comments on These Mini-DV Camcorders:

-- Fold-out viewing-screens are not very useful under many shooting conditions, since the image is easily washed out by high ambient light (they can sometimes be useful in room-light conditions, for overhead holding of the camcorder, and for playback), so I comment only on the unusually good one found on the TRV-900.
-- The traditional-type viewfinders are barely good enough for focusing with a wide-angle converter attached to the lens (with the exception of the excellent viewfinder on the AG-EZ1U), though some are good enough for evaluating exposure accuracy.
-- All have useable manual-focus rings (though they are all of the "electronic servo" type, without direct connection to the lens elements or CCDs moved).
-- None of these camcorders has a real wide-angle of lens coverage (except for the XL-1, with its accessory WA zoom installed), and some work better than others with various WA and fisheye converters.
-- All have stabilization systems, with the optical stabilizers of the Sony and Canon camcorders working well (the Sony digital stabilizers used in the one-CCD models also work well, though they rob gain by forcing a higher shutter speed when engaged, and the smaller CCD pixel size needed to maintain resolution also contributes to increased gain noise in low-light images), but 
the digital systems of the Panasonic 3-chip camcorders covered here are useless since they noticeably degrade image sharpness when engaged.
-- The manufacturers' claims of battery run-time are universally inflated, often outrageously so.
-- These camcorders all have program modes, most of which are silly - a good 
aperture/shutter-priority auto-exposure system with a bias override is far more useful, though almost all the camcorders do a reasonably good job of producing generally well-exposed, 
in-focus footage with acceptable white balance when in auto modes.
-- All have the usual assortment of mostly useless digital effects (though I find B&W mode quite useful sometimes, especially when combined with the infrared mode in my older Sony TRV-9, which does not have the daylight IR feature disabled).
-- All NTSC versions have FireWire in/out and analogue out except the Panasonic AG-EZ1U, which has no FireWire connector. The Sony TRV-9 and TRV-900 and the Canon GL-1 also have the useful analogue-in feature. Some later camcorders (such as the VX-2000) permit "on the fly" A->D conversion from the analogue inputs to the FireWire outputs without having to first record the analogue signal to tape.
-- Some of these camcorders have a maximum of +12db of available gain, some +18db (those with greater available gain will generally operate in lower light levels, but with more picture noise).
-- Some use more picture sharpening than others, resulting in artifacts with good focus (visible in the frame-grabs as a light outline around dark subject parts, though it can also appear as a dark outline around light subject parts) - which make further sharpening during editing difficult, and which can show undesirable "bright-edge" effects when slightly de-focusing.
-- Some of the 3-chip camcorders that use pixel-offset (and most of the one-chippers) show vertical-line stair-stepping with motion (it is similar to, but less intense than, the common horizontal-line stair-stepping seen with near-horizontal lines in motion), which can sometimes be seen in the bright-light room frame grabs (look carefully at the books in the book case - though the stills may not show it for camcorders that are particularly bad in this respect [the GL-1, 
PC-1, and EZ30U] if the camera was not moving much during the frame grabbed).
-- Most have at least some audio pickup of camera noise, mostly audible only in quiet places 
(this is generally less of a problem in 3-chip and newer models than it was in older camcorders, especially the less expensive ones).
-- Some have still-photo capability, which is a generally useless feature for anything but making small screen images, so there is little said about it here (but this issue is revisited in the VX-2000 review...).

The Particulars:


>>> PC-1
This is a VERY compact camcorder with a sharp lens, an excellent digital stabilizer (though engaging it switches the shutter speed from 1/60th to 1/100th, eating up useful sensitivity in low light), good AF, good color balance and saturation in good light for a one-chip camcorder (though locking it into DWB and adding an 81A filter improves the somewhat cool white balance in daylight shooting - and the image quality is also good in medium light levels with the stabilizer switched off, but it has poor image quality in very-low light levels. The high available gain (18db) and fast lens make low-light shooting possible (oddly, using the slow shutter speeds does not appear to improve low-light image quality much). There is noticeable stair-stepping with motion (with both horizontal and vertical lines), surprisingly good sound using the built-in mic (and the background noise level was fairly low in three samples, but it is audible in a quiet room), and auto-exposure control only - with lock-and-shift exposure override (no manual, AE-aperture, or AE-shutter modes, though it has the usual useless program modes and menu-buried white-balance choices). The tripod mount of the PC-1 is poor, with plastic threads (mounted not quite level in my PC-1). I recently experimented with several WA adapters on this camcorder (the lens filter thread size is 30mm), and the best of those tried were: the Raynox Pro .5X zoom-through, with spacers (though it was somewhat over-weight/size for the very small PC-1); next, a small Kalimar fisheye; and then the large-diameter, flat, non-zoom-through Sony VCL-ES06 on a 30 -> 37mm ring with an extra filter-rim width added. The Sony .6X converter made for the PC-1 (VCL-0630S) is now available, but I was not happy with its performance at wide stops at the wide end of the zoom range, though at f11 or smaller it looked good. A .45X "Titanium" was very wide, with less than usual linear distortion, but it was not truly zoom-through, and the edges and corners were not very sharp.
  -- Conclusion: for a REALLY small one-chip camcorder, this one is good for both image and sound quality. Though the picture is not as smooth or quite as sharp as one from a good 3-chip camcorder (stair-stepping, both horizontal and vertical, and moiré patterns are more evident, giving the video picture a very "busy" look which is not as evident in the still frame grabs as when watching footage with motion) and texture is less well-defined, the images of most subjects in good light generally look good. (The later PC-5 and PC-9 show improved performance, though...)

The Sony PC-1 frame-grabs:
 (For descriptions of various video picture characteristics, with examples, look here.)
  -- Interior

      - Tungsten side-light of Peter  (f1.6, +3db)
      - Tungsten room light, fairly bright  (f1.6, +3db)
      - Daylight from small window, low-light level  (f1.6, +18db)
  -- Exterior
      - Street scene, overcast daylight  (f4, 0db)
      - Overcast daylight side-light of Peter  (f2.4, 0db)
  -- Sound
      - Level: higher than normal
      - Noise in quiet room: slight whine + some hiss
      - Color: "full" + slightly dull

>>> PC-7 (brief encounter)
I sold this very early compact camcorder model within a day of purchase. The picture and sound quality were not good enough for me, and there were no redeeming characteristics that would entice me into liking this camcorder (except for its small size) - it shares the problems of the TRV-9, but it doesn't offer the easy tape change, analogue input, and the B&W IR capability of the (early) TRV-9.

>>> TRV-9
This moderately compact camcorder has relatively poor image color quality under some conditions (it has slightly low color saturation [especially foliage greens] and poor low-light 
ability - but in bright lighting conditions [or medium light levels, with the stabilizer switched off] the image quality can sometimes be good), an excellent digital stabilizer, and  very good AF. 
The sound in one sample is very poor from the built-in mic (the camcorder noise is audible above even high-level ambient sound), but OK in a second sample I tried. I keep mine for three reasons: it serves as a convenient deck (with a viewing screen) for viewing/dumping tapes shot 
in other camcorders; it has an analogue input, useful for copying other formats onto Mini-DV tape (or for copying DV tapes passed through analogue picture and sound equalizers); and the B&W infrared image (pre August '98 manufactured - see samples
here) is excellent for shooting landscapes, city-scapes, etc. (BTW, the infrared feature does NOT work well for "seeing through clothes" - this is a silly myth). The Sony VCL-ES06 .6X converter works well with the TRV-9, especially when three empty filter rings are used as spacers between the lens and .6X converter (this converter is not zoom-through, though - only about 1/3 of the short end of the zoom range is useable). The lens filter thread is 37mm.
  -- Conclusions: the color image can be acceptable or even good under some lighting conditions, as in contrasty sunlight when using a polarizing filter, or in bright interiors with the stabilizer disengaged (the stabilizer switches the shutter speed to 1/100th from 1/60th, increasing gain when the lens is wide open); the sound problems of one of the samples can be cured with an external mic (with a tape strip placed under the battery to keep it from "thunking"); the convenience of tape-loading, ease of control, the analogue input, and the viewing screen make it a useful deck; and the IR B&W performance is excellent (it is useable without a filter, but has slightly better performance using a red filter, and there is slightly more IR effect with a no. 87 IR filter) - but TRV-9's made after August '98 have had the daylight-IR feature disabled, alas... 
The TRV-9 is not the best camcorder in this group, but when using work-arounds for its shortcomings, it can still have advantages over most Hi-8 camcorders. (Later similar models 
like the TRV-11/17/18 show much improved performance.)

The Sony TRV-9 frame-grabs:
 (For descriptions of various video picture characteristics, with examples, look here.)
  -- Interior

      - Tungsten side-light of Peter  (f2, 0db)
      - Tungsten room light, fairly bright  (f2, 0db)
      - Daylight from small window, low-light level  (f1.8, +18db)
  -- Exterior
      - Street scene, overcast daylight  (f4, 0db)
      - Overcast daylight side-light of Peter  (f2.4, 0db)
  -- Sound
      - Level: normal
      - Noise in quiet room: loud whine + some hiss; some whine + some hiss
      - Color: slightly dull

  -- Daylight Infrared frame-grabs

>>> TRV-900 (PD100a is the DVCam version)
This moderately compact (slightly larger than the TRV-9, about the same size as the EZ30U) 
and fairly light-weight (it is noticeably heavier than the EZ30U, though...) camcorder has an image with very good sharpness, good picture smoothness, and very good low-light capability (with the greatest low-light reach of all the camcorders in this group [very noticeably exceeded by the VX-2000, though]). Some samples show color fringing under some shooting conditions. The TRV-900 has excellent optical stabilization and  very good AF systems. This camcorder has good sound using the built-in mic (though the auto-level with it is a bit high, which can result in more audible compression effects in auto-gain, and more "clipping" on sudden loud sounds than usual), a noise level that is reasonably low (camera noise is very slightly audible in a quiet room), and a mic placement that makes manual focus difficult without interfering with the built-in mic. The popular Sennheiser MKE-300 short shotgun mic can pick up very noticeable mechanical noise (it sounds like hum) from the TRV-900 when mounted on it (the Sony ECM-Z157 short shotgun mic appears to work better on this camcorder - though this mic has been unfortunately discontinued). The Sony ECM-908c stereo mic is a good match for the TRV-900, and a Radio Shack wind screen is a near-perfect fit for it (part number 33-373A). The TRV-900 has a really excellent fold-out finder (it is nearly useless in most outdoor situations, but for interior work the color quality of this one is good enough to aid in judging color balance), an analogue input (useful for copying other formats onto Mini-DV tape, but it does not permit analogue pass-through), easy and fast tape loading, a built-in ND filter with VF indicator, and available manual control over the most common functions. The lens filter thread size is 52mm. The lens is not quite as good as some others wider than about f4, but it is otherwise quite sharp. The Sony HG .7X converters work well, both in the 52mm and 37mm threaded versions (the latter with a 52 to 37mm step-down ring). The Kenko .5X VC-050Hi(n), the Raynox Pro .5X, and the Canon WD-55 and WD-58 .7X are good wide-angle converters for the TRV-900 that I've tried (though some have been discontinued, unfortunately...). The Sony VCL-ES06 .6X WA converter (with three filter rings between the converter and the lens, for wide-angle use only - it is not zoom-through) and all of my larger series-VII fisheyes also work well with this camcorder (I have even successfully mounted the tiny Olympus fisheye on the TRV-900). The Raynox HD6600-58 .66X is an unusually low-distortion converter that is light, inexpensive, and excellent for wide-angle views, but it loses some edge sharpness as the lens is zoomed toward the long end, and it shows a bit more flare than the Canon and Sony converters - but otherwise I prefer it over most of the other choices on the TRV900 (I add an empty thick filter ring between it and the lens for best results). My large Kenko .5X VC-050Hi did not work well on the TRV-900, nor did a smallish Kenko .5X and a large Kenko KNW-05Hi, which are sometimes sold for use with this camcorder. The TRV-900 (and the other Sony camcorders that can accept the same batteries) have available the very high capacity NP-F950/960 batteries, which can solve many location power problems when long continuous run-time and inability to use the AC adapter are factors. A small percentage of TRV-900 owners report tape-mangling problems, mostly after a considerable number of hours of use (and generally at the point of rewinding from the end of the tape - see John Beale's web page for more on this, listed below...). I find it useful to place thick tape strips on the camcorder under the battery to keep the battery from "thunking" when the camcorder is tipped. Adding a VX-1000 eyecup to the eyepiece viewfinder makes the otherwise difficult to see VF easier to use in bright light. Other problems noted in a few samples: greater than usual flare (green) in the image, and a dead left-channel internal mic (the audio is then stereo-OK with external mics, but sounds centered-mono with the mic dead). The supplied floppy drive is awkward to use for capturing stills, but a PC-MCI card adapter can be used with Compact Flash memory cards instead. Stills are small (640x480), but can be excellent for web use.
  -- Conclusions: I have played with several of these (and I chose to own a few as a result of these tests...), and except for the slight color-balance issue with some samples, a bit of sound concern, some difficulty seeing the eyepiece viewfinder easily in bright light for framing (and in dim light for manual focusing - solved by adding the large VX1000 eyecup), and for the difficulty in finding very wide WA converters that are satisfactorily sharp on the TRV-900 at wide stops, I like this camcorder - it has what I consider to be the best balance of picture and sound quality, package size and weight, and price - and overall this is one of the three or four best small Mini-DV camcorders I have seen (the shortcomings do sometimes bug me, though - but the replacement TRV-950 is generally not an improvement over the TRV-900, and I do not like that camera as much as I like the TRV-900...)

The Sony TRV-900 frame-grabs:
 (For descriptions of various video picture characteristics, with examples, look here.)
  -- Interior

      - Tungsten side-light of Peter  (f2.8, 0db)
      - Tungsten room light, fairly bright  (f2.8, 0db)
      - Daylight from small window, low-light level  (f1.6, +18db)
  -- Exterior
      - Street scene, overcast daylight  (f6.8, 0db)
      - Overcast daylight side-light of Peter  (f4.8, 0db)
  -- Sound
      - Level: higher than normal
      - Noise in quiet room: very slight whine + slight hiss
      - Color: slightly "full" + very slightly dull

For more (much more...;-) on the TRV-900 (and some other camcorders, too...), visit John Beale's excellent web site at:

>>> VX-700 
Similar in appearance to the VX-1000, the VX-700 has one CCD instead of three, is missing the custom picture controls, doesn't have manual exposure controls (except lock-and-shift), has a microphone integral with the body (with more noise pickup), and has a picture that is not quite as sharp or good in color (especially foliage greens) as that of the VX-1000. On the plus side it is slightly shorter and lighter, and in marginal light, its color can be slightly better.
-- Conclusions: the VX-700 is a sturdy few-frills one-chipper, but if you can afford the 3-chip VX-1000, it is a better camera in almost every way.

>>> VX-1000 (DSR200 is the shoulder-mount DVCam version)
The second largest and heaviest of this Mini-DV camcorder group, the VX-1000 is still very compact compared with older video cameras with approximately equal image and sound recording quality. My two VX-1000's had an image (and the two camcorders matched very well!) with excellent sharpness and smoothness in high and moderate light levels, and with the ability to go to very low light levels (candle-lighted room) with acceptable image quality using the 1/15th second shutter speed (with up to +18db gain available); excellent color balance and saturation (but with a usually-pleasant slightly greenish-yellow picture color cast); unusual freedom from red blooming; picture and sound controls not found on most other compact camcorders - with adjustments for picture hue-shift, saturation, AE-bias, sharpness, and gain-shift (and for sound level, with meter); excellent AF and optical stabilization systems; a large (servo...) manual-focus ring; excellent exposure control with manual, shutter-priority, and aperture-priority modes - plus the usual useless program modes; a built-in ND filter, with a VF warning when needed; a useful top-placed carrying handle (with record stop/start buttons under it); very good sound from the built-in mic (though sound can only be recorded on one of the 12-bit tracks, a problem when using older digital NLE computer programs that can't handle 12-bit sound well); a very good viewfinder (which is unusually large, and which has adjustments for brightness and color saturation - and dialing the saturation down gives a slightly sharper-looking B&W image, useful for focusing with WA lens converters [but unfortunately the eyepiece lens is not rigidly fixed, so tipping the camera up or down refocuses the eyepiece slightly...]); no "off" switch for the tally light (unlike most other Sony camcorders); relatively slow tape loading; enough space on top (and enough camcorder weight...) to make placing a video light and a couple of shotgun mics or wireless receivers on the camera practical; and a reputation for durability in the field and the ability to have many hundreds of hours of tape run through it without problems. Unlike the other Sony camcorders in this group, the VX-1000 has a small power outlet plug for DC to run mics with a separate supply plug. The deep-set lens (52mm filter thread) makes using WA lens converters more difficult, but a large-front zoom-through Kenko KNW-05Hi .5X model works well even at wide stops (though it can vignette slightly at the shortest zoom setting), the Canon WD-58 (with 58->52mm step-down adapter ring) is very sharp and zoom-through but not very wide at .7X, the older VC-050Hi (no "n") works well for interiors by around f4-5.6 and for exteriors around f8-11, the non-zoom-through Sony VCL-ES06 (with no spacer rings added) is quite sharp (but it is not zoom-through...), and I have found two fisheye adapters (of many tried...) that are very sharp on the VX-1000, though their lack of coating makes for problems with backlight. There is no fold-out screen or analogue signal input. The internally-placed battery does not need to be removed when the camcorder is connected by a simple plug to the external AC power-supply/charger - and the supply can simultaneously charge the internal battery as well as one on the supply. Also, the internal placement keeps the battery warm during cold-weather operation, a real advantage (though it also limits the battery choice to two similar-capacity batteries). Of importance to editors - as with the XL-1, the GL-1 image area is not quite 720 pixels wide, so black bars are left at the picture sides (these are not normally seen, but with some transitions and effects used in editing, these could be visible and troublesome).
  -- Conclusions: this is one of the most versatile of the camcorders in this group, with the fewest limitations, but at a cost in greater size, weight, and purchase price than all but the XL-1. With a good side-handle, the VX-1000 is very stable for hand-held work. I use the custom picture controls to get the image character I prefer - I like this feature! Overall, considering sound and image quality, versatility, durability, and portability, this is still my first choice in this group. (Second, now that the VX-2000/PD150 are out, though these are not better in every way - I prefer in the VX-1000 the viewfinder, the stabilizer at long zoom settings, and the relative ease of adding external mics. For more, go to the separate review of the Sony VX-2000, where it is compared with the VX-1000, TRV-900, and EZ30U. The recent small, light, and inexpensive Canon HV20 HD camcorder, though, far surpasses the image quality of *all* SD camcorders, except perhaps for the VX2000/2100 in very low light - see the HV20 review here.)

The Sony VX-1000 frame-grabs (custom controls off, though I generally switch them on, with saturation at +2, sharpness at +1, WB at 0, AE at -1 or 0 depending on conditions, and gain 
at -3db):
 (For descriptions of various video picture characteristics, with examples, look
  -- Interior

      - Tungsten side-light of Peter  (f2.4, 0db)
      - Tungsten room light, fairly bright  (f2.4, 0db)
      - Daylight from small window, low-light level  (f1.6, +18db)
  -- Exterior
      - Street scene, overcast daylight  (f5.6, 0db)
      - Overcast daylight side-light of Peter  (f3.4, 0db)
  -- Sound
      - Level: normal
      - Noise in quiet room: very slight whine + some hiss
      - Color: "presence-peaked" + very slightly "nasal"

>>> VX-2000/PD-150 (DSR250 is the shoulder-mount DVCam version)


>>> AG-EZ1U (brief encounter)
This moderately compact 3-chip camcorder has an image with excellent sharpness, smoothness, and low-light capability (but with a somewhat greenish image color cast in the one I tried), a wonderful standard-type viewfinder, unacceptable noise in the audio using the built-in mic (though it is not as noisy as the TRV-9...), very good AF, and an unacceptable digital stabilizer (image sharpness is spoiled and a "digital-telephoto-effect" is introduced when the stabilizer is engaged). There is no fold-out screen, there are no slow shutter speeds, and there is no FireWire connector.
  -- Conclusions: if the AG-EZ1U is used for WA work hand-held (or it is placed on a tripod), 
if an external mic is used, and if a work-around is used for the color cast, the image and sound quality can be excellent - but this may not be a good camcorder choice for the average user...

>>> AG-EZ30U (PV-DV950, AG-DV10)
This compact and light (the lightest 3-chipper in this group) 3-chip camcorder has an image with really excellent sharpness under some conditions, including fast motion (but so-so sharpness under other conditions [I have not yet figured this one out - and it does show moderate stair-stepping on vertical lines, which may be due to the use of pixel off-set]), excellent color and color neutrality (the best of all in these characteristics that I have seen - and I have seen three samples of this camcorder, all equally good [and this camcorder's image shows unusually low red blooming]), excellent high and moderate light level color and picture smoothness, poor low light ability (the camcorder seems to have unusually low gain, making a ND filter unnecessary 
in bright light but providing little ability to shoot in very low light situations, even with the slow shutter mode engaged - and its maximum gain is +12), obviously stepping exposure (exposures change in discrete increments that are too large, giving a "klunk, klunk, klunk" look to 
auto-exposure compensation for subject brightness changes), WB that if not locked down in daylight can move toward blue when the EZ30U is pointed toward the sun, excellent on-camera mic sound (maybe the best of all the compact camcorders, though the auto-level is lower than average [making compression or clipping less likely], but with some types of sound, compression effects appear worse than with the Sony models), an unacceptable digital stabilizer (similar to the one in the AG-EZ1U), OK AF ability (AF sometimes does not appear to work well when using WA converters), and fast but less precise tape loading than the Sony camcorders (which reload tape nearly frame-accurate). It is difficult/awkward/expensive to set up this camcorder with a Panasonic battery-power recording time greater than what is provided by the single small internally-placed battery (though the internal placement offers an advantage for cold-weather shooting, and the camera runs a surprisingly long time on a battery), but it appears that Bescor makes an inexpensive gel-cell that will work with the EZ30U for longer run-time. It has shutter-priority auto (without bias adjust) and manual exposure, but no aperture-priority auto mode. The unaided lens (43mm filter thread) is slightly wider than that of most of the other camcorders in this group. For WA work, the Sony VCL-ES06 .6X converter (with one thin empty filter ring added between the lens and the converter) works well (it is not zoom-through, though), as does a small Kalimar fisheye converter and one of my many large "no-name" Series-VII fisheye converters - and for only a moderate angle increase over using no converter, a Focal WA converter is very sharp . The supplied .7X converter is not as good at wide stops at the wide end of the zoom range as the others, and it is nowhere near as wide as most others - regardless of the magnification numbers.
  -- Conclusions: the EZ-30U is a "sleeper" (it is a relatively unknown camcorder, given its 
quality - maybe due to its originally excessively high price...) - this camcorder is excellent for some uses, and even without a useable stabilizer it can be a good general-use camcorder with an added side handle for stability. Due to its generally good image and sound quality and small size and weight, I find myself liking this camcorder more than I expected to (once I got used to its foibles...), and it is my fourth favorite camcorder in this group (after the VX-2000, VX-1000, and  TRV-900), but the lack of a good stabilizer is a decided negative, as is the relatively poor imaging of vertical lines. (Panasonic has since brought out the excellent AG-DVX100 series of camcorders that solve most of the problems noted above.)

The Panasonic AG-EZ30U frame-grabs (no exposure information):
 (For descriptions of various video picture characteristics, with examples, look
  -- Interior

      - Tungsten side-light of Peter
      - Tungsten room light, fairly bright
      - Daylight from small window, low-light level
  -- Exterior
      - Street scene, overcast daylight
      - Overcast daylight side-light of Peter
  -- Sound
      - Level: lower than normal
      - Noise in quiet room: very slight hiss
      - Color: very slightly "full"


>>> GL-1 (brief encounter, called XM-1 outside US)
This fairly compact camcorder looks like a knock-off of the VX-1000 visually, but with a shortened body - and it adds a fold-out viewing screen and analogue inputs. As with the 
VX-1000, handling is pleasant. Controls are good, and well-placed. There is a wide focus ring, and there are additional zoom and record controls on top of the carrying handle (useful for low-level placement of the camcorder while recording). The zoom range is unusually long, at 20:1, and the lens appears unusually good at wide stops. The lens 58mm front thread limits the range of useable inexpensive WA converters. Picture sharpness is OK (but well short of the best in this group) - though there is noticeable outlining on contrasty edges due to excessive image sharpening. There is also very noticeable vertical-line stair-stepping seen with some subjects, and some "JPG-like" compression effects also show (they are quite visible in the bare tree against the white house in the street scene in motion-video).  The GL-1 (and PC-1) showed the most noticeable vertical-line stair-stepping in this group (dialing down the sharpness on the GL-1 reduces the degree of negative picture characteristics, but at a cost in apparent sharpness). Color balance is generally good, but there is a sometimes-bothersome overall redness to the color balance and a lack of showing of subtle color differences. There are no slow shutter speeds available. In moderately low light levels the picture smoothness is excellent - the gain maximum is limited to 12db, limiting its ultimate low-light reach (but like the AG-EZ30U, until its limits are reached, the picture is relatively smooth compared with camcorders with more available gain and therefore greater low-light reach). I was not happy with the sound (it has a bit of audible camera-noise pickup in the built-in mics in a quiet room [not unusual for Mini-DV camcorders], an unusually low auto-gain sound level, no manual sound-level adjustments, and a very colored "heavy-but-nasal" sound quality, which is my biggest objection [this sample of this camcorder had the least "flat" response through its built-in mics of all the camcorders in this group]). There are picture adjustment controls for sharpness, hue, and AE bias - I like having these controls, but the picture shows noticeable sharpening artifacts without added sharpening, making additional sharpening unwise. Of importance to editors: as with the XL-1, the GL-1 image area is not 720 pixels wide, so wide black bars are left at the picture sides (these are not normally seen, but with some transitions and effects used in editing, these could be visible and troublesome).
  -- Conclusion: even with the sound and picture concerns (the picture has a more "busy" look with motion than the other 3-chip camcorders in this group, with an image more akin to what a good one-chip camcorder produces - and the sound color is annoying to this audiomaniac...), this camcorder has a few things going for it - especially for those who like longer-than-usual lenses, who regularly shoot at light levels near its lower limit, or who value normal-speed 
frame-mode shooting ability (of possibly great value in a PAL [XM-1] version for shooting 
video intended to be transferred frame-by-frame to film). Overall, though, I did not like this camcorder, and I place it at the bottom of the 3-chip camcorders in this group. For me, the picture and sound quality on tape are the most important characteristics of a camcorder's performance, and I did not generally like what I saw and heard as recorded on tape by this camcorder (though others may value its virtues more than I do...;-).

The Canon GL-1 frame-grabs:
 (For descriptions of various video picture characteristics, with examples, look
  -- Interior

      - Tungsten side-light of Peter  (f2.4, 0db)
      - Tungsten room light, fairly bright  (f2.4, 0db)
      - Daylight from small window, low-light level  (f1.6, +12db)
  -- Exterior
      - Street scene, overcast daylight  (f?, 0db)
      - Overcast daylight side-light of Peter  (f4, 0db)
  -- Sound
      - Level: lower than normal
      - Noise in quiet room: slight whine + slight hiss
      - Color: "bassy" + very "nasal"

For more on the GL-1 (and some other camcorders, too...), visit John Beale's excellent web 
site at:

>>> XL-1 (brief encounter - recently replaced with the similar XL-1s)
This is by far the largest and heaviest Mini-DV camcorder in this group, though it is easy to get used to handling it - and a multitude of well-placed and (mostly...) well-designed controls and switches make it handier to operate than it would appear to be at first sight. The XL-1 is quite front-heavy, though, and it is not designed to be a shoulder-mount camera despite its appearance. In common with most of the other 3-CCD models in this group, there is manual control over a wide range of camera functions. The sound is excellent (this camcorder has overall the best sound quality, and the best stereo image, in this group), as is the range of sound control capability (this is the only camcorder in this group that can record four channels of sound simultaneously). The rocker zoom control works as badly (or well) as most others, but the separate zoom ring is difficult for me to operate (complicated by defective zoom action in one of two samples tried) - and even with the better sample, I found it hard to do a continuous slow zoom from one end of the range to the other. Both the focus and zoom rings on the two samples of the XL-1 I tried operated with different (poor) feel and effect (rather odd...), and the zoom setting is easy to change accidentally while holding the camera ready for shooting. AF seems to have problems under some surprisingly easy conditions, as did auto-exposure - difficult to understand for a camcorder in this price range. When tripod-mounted with both AF and the stabilizer on (a useful way of using some other camcorders in this group), tapping the tripod control arm lightly caused the AF to shift and the stabilizer to "swim" - though otherwise the stabilizer appears to be very effective. When the image is slightly defocused rapidly, there is a peculiar "white-edging" of subjects with contrasty edges - not a pleasant-looking effect, which makes nice-looking "focus-through" difficult. Some other camcorders in this group (especially the GL-1) also show this "oversharpening" effect, but it generally appears less obvious. The auto white balance in medium tungsten light levels was rather orange in one sample, a bit less so in the other. Subtle colors are not well recorded by this camera, and tend toward neutral. The sharpness of the image at the wide end of the standard zoom was just OK in one sample and only slightly better in the other; but the sharpness of both lenses was very good when zoomed away from the short end. The second sample of the zoom lens held focus with zooming well enough - the first one didn't. Using WA converters is awkward on the large zoom that comes with the XL-1 (72mm filter thread), and the accessory wide-angle zoom (lenses are interchangeable on the XL-1, a feature unique in this group of Mini-DV camcorders) is expensive and without a stabilizer or much zooming range (only 3:1). I tried the .7X (zoom-through) and fisheye (non-zoom-through) Century WA converters (I did not try the .6X non-zoom-through Century converter), which bayonet onto the lens front (with locking ring), but they are large, heavy, and expensive. They work fairly well (the .7X does show considerable color fringing and image softness near the corners, the fisheye is somewhat better [frame-grabs below]), but lens converters (and much cheaper ones at that) generally worked better on most of the other models in this group. Available for the XL-1, among other lens choices, is a Canon 14X zoom with normal (non-servo) controls for zoom, focus, and aperture - though it is without an image stabilizer, alas... Also available: an adapter for using Canon 35mm-format lenses (at about 7.5X effective magnification, interesting for macro and long-telephoto work, but useless for wide-angle), and a high-resolution B&W viewfinder (a very useful accessory, but VERY expensive...). Of importance to editors: as with the XG-1, the XL-1 image area is not 720 pixels wide, so wide black bars are left at the picture sides (these are not normally seen, but with some transitions and effects used in editing, these could be visible and troublesome).
  -- Conclusion: relatively high in size, weight, and price (especially when equipped with a sharp viewfinder, a long-run-time battery solution, and a wide-angle converter or lens), this camcorder is also very versatile, and it looks the most "professional" of all the cameras in this group (excepting, of course, the Beta SP...) - though some important basic manual and auto controls are decidedly "unprofessional" in operation. Lens-converter wide-angle solutions for this camera are not as light/small/cheap/good as they are for most of the other camcorders in this group, but the (untried) interchangeable Canon wide-angle lens made for this camcorder may offer a better solution than add-on converters for wide angle work. Sound capability and quality is the best in this group, and the excellent sound of the XL-1 and the lens interchangeability may be THE reasons for choosing this camcorder over most others, though the Sony PD150 is about as good for sound quality (plus it offers built-in XLR connectors and phantom power in addition to the noticeably better picture, low-light range, manual and auto controls, and battery power solutions...), and some of the other camcorders in this group outperform this one in picture quality and control capability. It seems to me that the XL-1 sits positioned awkwardly between better-performing and less expensive "amateur-but-small/light/convenient-to-carry" camcorders and low-end "professional" shoulder-mount Mini-DV video cameras. For some, this is a useful compromise - and many people do like the XL-1. Maybe when equipped with the manual-control zoom lens, B&W viewfinder, and an Anton Bauer battery pack, this camcorder comes into its own as a "mini-pro" camcorder (with good picture quality and unusually capable sound recording ability) instead of as an awkwardly-overgrown "handy-cam" - but the cost of adding these accessories is high, bringing the total cost within the range of more professional camcorders from Sony, JVC, and Panasonic... Overall, if lens interchangeability and the sound quality and capability of this camcorder are not of paramount importance, I would look elsewhere, given its size, weight, price, picture limitations, and control problems (as I did, when the second tested sample was offered to me at a very good price - and as its former owner did when he switched to the JVC DV500 camcorder, and later to the Sony PD-150...). Some people claim that the XL-1s improves some of the deficiencies of the original XL-1, but I have seen little evidence that its performance is improved enough to make it a good buy relative to several other entries in or near its price class, unless its particular strengths and characteristics are essential to the user.

The Canon XL-1 frame-grabs:
 (For descriptions of various video picture characteristics, with examples, look
  -- Interior

      - Tungsten side-light of Peter  (f1.6, 0db)
      - Tungsten room light, fairly bright  (f1.6, 0db)
      --- Tungsten room light, fairly bright 2   (2nd sample XL-1, f1.6, 0db)
      - Daylight from small window, low-light level  (f1.6, +12db)
  -- Exterior
      - Street scene, overcast daylight  (f?, 0db)
      - Overcast daylight side-light of Peter  (f2.8, 0db)
      --- Overcast daylight side-light of Peter 2   (2nd sample XL-1, f4, 0db
           [snow has changed the light level and direction, so
           some of the image characteristics are not directly
           comparable with those of the image above])
  -- The Canon XL-1 with Century WA converters:

      - .7X
      - Fisheye
  -- Sound
      - Level: normal
      - Noise in quiet room: slight hum + very slight hiss
      - Color: "neutral" - with an excellent stereo image

>>> HV20 (High Definition camcorder, review is here)

>>> SONY UVW-100, with Canon YH1 8x6.7 lens (brief encounter)
By far the largest, heaviest, and most expensive camera in this group (the lens alone costs more than any of the Mini-DV camcorders here), this shoulder-mount, low-end Beta SP professional camera is included as a reference for this camcorder comparison. (The Beta SP tape was copied onto Mini-DV tape for viewing and frame-grabbing, which adds Mini-DV compression artifacts to the original, though their effects appear to be minimal...)
  -- Conclusion: this camera offers better manual control over most functions, a better viewfinder, and a motion-video picture that has a pleasantly smooth and "quiet" look compared with the relatively "busy" look of many of the Mini-DV camcorders' images - but tape drop-outs abounded in the used Beta SP tape used for this comparison, and the (mono) sound was noisier than with the best Mini-DV camcorders. Size and weight are important to me, so I would much prefer to pack, carry, and use one of the better small 3-chip Mini-DV camcorders even if the picture quality is in some ways sometimes slightly inferior...

The Beta SP frame-grabs (no exposure information):
 (For descriptions of various video picture characteristics, with examples, look
  -- Interior

      - Tungsten room light, fairly bright
      - Daylight from small window, low-light level (gain at mid)
  -- Exterior
      - Street scene, overcast daylight
      - Overcast daylight side-light of Peter
  -- Sound (with mic on camera at time of shooting...)
      - Level: normal
      - Noise in quiet room: slight "machinery-sound"
      - Color: slight "presence-peak" + slightly dull - and mono sound

My Overall Conclusions:

-- The VX-1000, TRV-900, EZ30U, XL-1, and GL-1 have the best overall image quality in this group (not surprising, since these are the 3-chip entries in this group of camcorders) - with the VX-1000 (with custom picture controls used) the "richest"-looking image; with the VX-1000 showing the least oversharpening artifacts (it is the only one showing no bright outlining on contrasty edges, giving the picture a less "busy" look with contrasty subjects, and the least irregularity in the image with focus change); with the VX-1000, TRV-900, and XL-1 the smoothest image with motion (they have the least vertical-line "stair-stepping", with the VX-1000 having the least of all); with the TRV-900 and VX-1000 having the sharpest-looking images at the short end of their zoom ranges (where I made the comparisons); with the GL-1 having the longest FL in its wide zoom range; and with the EZ30U having the most "neutral" color balance overall. The PC-1 picture is better than one might expect from a single-chip camcorder (though it shares the "most busy-looking picture" title with the GL-1). Overall, I prefer the pictures of the VX-1000, TRV-900, and EZ30U in this group. The VX-1000 is the best Mini-DV match for the Sony UVW-100 Beta SP footage, at least in good light (with the best match of color, contrast, and freedom from picture artifacts) - but the lower light levels show the advantage of the larger chips in the Beta SP camera. (Overall, the VX-2000 picture quality easily surpasses the others - see the Sony VX-2000 review for more...).
-- The TRV-900 has the best low-light ability in this group (and it has slow shutter speeds in addition...), with the EZ1U also being very good in low light. The GL-1 has a less grainy picture in low light (as does the EZ30U at its modest low light limit, since they share the +12db gain limit compared with the +18db of the others), and the XL-1 a smoother one yet, but they can't operate in quite as low a light level as the TRV-900. (Best overall in low light is the

Sony VX-2000
, though, by a wide margin...)
-- The VX-1000 and XL-1 have the most versatile and useful controls (though the zoom controls of the TRV-9, TRV-900, and AG-EZ30U are better - and I did not like the way the focus and zoom rings operated on the XL-1). (Once again, though, the
Sony VX-2000 is best here...)
-- The XL-1, EZ30U, VX-1000, and TRV-900 have the best sound - with the XL-1 the clear winner in respect to sound quality (color, auto-level, noise, and stereo image) and versatility (with its 4-channel recording and manual control capabilities). (The
Sony VX-2000 also has excellent sound quality with its built-in mic, and this mic is unusually insensitive to wind problems - and the PD150 version adds built-in XLRs and phantom power.)
-- The AF and stabilizer seem best on the TRV-9, though the AF ability of most of the others is good, and the other Sony and the Canon stabilizers are excellent. (The AF ability of the
Sony VX-2000 is superior to the others, though, and it is also unusually good in low light levels.)
-- The EZ1U has the best traditional-type viewfinder (the VX-1000 in B&W mode is a distant second best, though all of them are useable with care for good focus - and the XL-1 finder can be used without close eye position [the accessory 500-line XL-1 B&W finder may be the best of all, but I did not try it - it is incredibly expensive]), and the TRV-900 has the best fold-out screen (most are not good enough for color balance evaluation, and they are generally useless in bright light). (The
Sony PD150 B&W finder is the sharpest of all of these, and the easiest to use for critical manual focus.)
-- The VX-1000, PC-1, GL-1, and XL-1 are the slowest to load with tape (the Sony camcorders load tape nearly frame-accurate, speeding the process of reloading a partially used tape without recording over earlier material or losing time-code continuity [I did not check the Canon camcorders for this]).
-- The battery power options are best on the TRV-9 and TRV-900 camcorders (and also the
Sony VX-2000...) with inexpensive VERY long run-time compact and light batteries available, with the VX-1000 having very easy connection of the AC adapter - and the battery does not need to be removed to use it (I did not check battery-size availability or AC adapter connections for the Canon camcorders). The internal position of the batteries of the VX-1000 and EZ30U limits the range of useable battery capacity, but offers the advantage of keeping the batteries warmed during camera operation in cold weather.
-- The PC-1 is almost unbelievably small, and with its good picture and sound, it is perhaps the most useful "travel" camcorder - though the small size and unusually low weight of the AG-EZ30U make it also a good traveling companion (and its picture and sound quality are often better).
-- Beta SP may be a standard format (and the cameras and lenses do have more professional controls - and the picture is "smooth-looking" compared with the often "busy-looking" Mini-DV picture), but the relatively small, light, and cheap Mini-DV camcorders can certainly give them competition in terms of picture (and sound) quality in good light, especially in view of the lossless transfer of data when editing and copying Mini-DV tapes using FireWire connections (and the used Beta SP tape used in this comparison showed many drop-outs; the Mini-DV tape showed none though the same tape was used in all the Mini-DV camcorders, and it was viewed many times).
-- Sample-variation is a certainty of manufacturing reality, alas, though fortunately it is less for camcorders than for some types of still-camera lenses I have checked. The two samples of the XL-1 I tried for this comparison were different from each other (one of the XL-1 lenses was optically defective, and the two lens samples had different control feel). The two samples I used for this comparison of the TRV-900 were slightly different in color balance and rendering of fine, contrasty detail - and some other samples I've seen showed a bit of color fringing in the image, with two samples showing an unusually high tendency to flare [with green flare instead of white, with white light sources]). My two VX-1000s were identical to each other, as were the three samples of my VX2000s, three samples of the EZ30U, and the three samples of the PC-1 I have seen. It is a good idea to do basic tests immediately after purchase to see if the particular sample you have is satisfactory!
-- None of these camcorders is ideal in every way - all have important shortcomings and disadvantages along with outstanding good characteristics; none stands out as the best overall (with the exception of the
Sony VX-2000, if it had been included in this group - and the Panasonic AG-DVX100 would have been second best, at least by my standards and for my purposes [some people consider the  frame mode of the DVX100 more useful than I do...]), or 
as useless. As I said earlier, the frame-grabs do not show much about the appearance of the image with motion, or how it will appear on a TV screen (where color and contrast are different, and motion is added) - your own evaluation of the picture and sound on a good TV (with a good sound system connected) will reveal more for you than what I have provided here. My personal favorites from this original group of camcorders in terms of the best blend of picture quality, sound quality, and portability are the Sony VX-1000 and TRV-900, and the Panasonic AG-EZ30U - but others may have different priorities, and come up with different favorites (and the review of my current favorite, the
Sony VX-2000, was written subsequent to most of the above review article...).

Well, this is what I found...

Since writing the above, a new generation of 3-CCD "handycam"-style camcorders has appeared to challenge the VX2000/PD150, including the Canon GL2, the Panasonic DVX100a/b, the JVC DV300, and the Sony TRV950. From all appearances from other tests and reviews (and from a quick look at the PDX100), the picture quality of these in good light is very close to that of the VX2000/PD150, with the VX2000/PD150 still generally holding the "lead" by a tad compared with the others in good light (with less "oversharpening" and with a bit greater image detail), but with still superior very low light imaging quality. I found the picture contrast of the TRV950 excessive, though, in common with some of the compact Panasonic 3-CCD models. In addition, a couple of generations of Sony 1-CCD models have pushed the level of image quality for these considerably higher, with the best challenging some of the 3-CCD models when used in optimum lighting conditions for these 1-CCD models - but they tend to display excessive artifacting with motion, and the very latest have chips that are too small for good image quality...

And, since writing the above, something really new and amazing has made an appearance - the high-definition (1920x1080) Canon HV20, a VERY large improvement over ANY standard-definition (640/720x480) camera (and it is apparently somewhat better than its generally more expensive competitors). It is reviewed here.


My TRV-30 and daylight-IR-enabled TRV-9 are FS, alas,  at:


Other websites with interesting Mini-DV and HD reviews and comparison
frame-grabs are at:

(See for translations.) (HDV camcorders, with MUCH MATERIAL!)

Video image characteristics examples can be found at:

Camcorder manuals can be found at:

Cheap video tricks and tips can be found at:



All of this is copyrighted material (David Ruether, 1999-2007), and may not be reproduced without permission. Permission is granted to copy this material (including any of the still photos) for personal use only.

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