SD800 Camcorder Testing


In This Section:

1. Comparison of the SD800 and SD700 Camcorders

  1. 2.Movies with the SD800

  2. 3.Low light tests with the SD800

The Panasonic 900 Series of 2011 versus the 700 series of 2010

The Panasonic 900 camcorder series was introduced in March 2011 and updates the 700 series.  The 900 series has the same lens, 3MOS sensor system and recording modes as the 700 series but includes an improved OIS system, new Crystal Engine PRO processor, 20x versus 18x Intelligent Zoom, and an optional lens for 3D. 

The SD800 is the low cost version of the 900 series.  It lacks some of the features of the other 900 models as it has an LCD of 3in size rather than 3.5in, stereo microphones instead of 5.1 surround sound, and lacks the EVF and focus ring.  From my experience with the SD700 I had found that I did not use the EVF or the focus ring, as I preferred using the LCD and its touch screen, and I found the 3in LCD quite an adequate size.  The lack of 5.1 surround sound was also not a disadvantage as iMovie can only utilise stereo sound.  The SD800 also has the most important features of the 900 series which are the 1080/60p video, manual controls, Hybrid OIS and new Crystal Engine PRO.  Apart from its lower cost, the SD800 also has the benefits of being somewhat smaller and lighter in weight than the other 900 series models, and the battery lasts slightly longer.

It is claimed by Panasonic that the new “Hybrid OIS” improves the stabilisation by a factor of 2 versus the earlier “Power OIS” of the 700 series, and that the new Crystal Engine PRO noise reduction technology reduces noise in dim light by approximately 45% compared to the 700 series.  Panasonic also claims that the Intelligent Resolution technology incorporated in the Crystal Engine PRO improves image clarity to give an Intelligent Zoom range from 12x up to 20x, compared with 12x up to 18x for the 700 series.

Comparison of SD800 and SD700 Noise and Resolution in Still Image Mode

I tested my new SD800 versus the SD700 in still image mode to investigate the claimed improvement in image processing.  I set up a tripod indoors, with only indirect low daylight from a window, at about 4m from a resolution test chart board that I had used for testing still digicams.  I set the zoom on the cams so that the chart just filled the LCD screen in 4:3 aspect ratio, giving a focal length of 184mm.

I first used iA mode and AWB to determine the normal exposure setting required.  I found that the SD700 chose a slightly slower shutter speed than the SD800 (1/25s instead of 1/30s) at f/2.0 (iris open, gain zero).  I then set both camcorders to Manual Mode at default settings and varied the settings by altering the shutter speed and gain, and noting the resulting luminance values.  I took two shots at each setting.

SD800 shots

iA settings: : 1/30s, f/2.0 (open), 9dB, luminance (centre) was 62%.  At these settings the white background of the chart looked somewhat grey when viewed on my iMac screen, indicating moderate underexposure.

Manual Settings

1/30s, 0dB, luminance was 42%

1/15s, 0dB, luminance was 62%

I then changed the Sharpness setting to -3 and took further shots at these settings:

1/30s, 9dB, luminance was 64%

1/30s, 0dB, luminance was 43%

1/15s, 0dB, luminance was 62%

SD700 shots

1/25s, 3dB, 59% (iA settings)

1/25s, 0dB, 51%

1/12s, 0dB, 71%

1/50s, 6dB, 41% (set to match the luminance for the equivalent SD800 shot)


I compared crops of different areas of the low-level (41-42% luminance) shots on-screen at 200%, after using "Auto Smart Fix" in PSE to adjust the levels so that the images were easier to compare visually.  The images are shown below (click on an image to see a larger view).

Image showing the full chart (SD800; luminance 42%, uncorrected for levels)

Comparison of crops of the coloured Es chart

Comparison of crops of the narrowing lines chart

Comparison of crops of the plane’s fuselage

Comparison of crops of the plane’s wheel

These comparisons showed that the SD800 still shots had a lower noise level than the SD700 shots, and the resolution for the SD800 was obviously higher.  From the black Es chart it could be seen that the SD800 achieved a still image resolution of about 1400 LPH.  However, for the SD800 the improvements seemed to come at the cost of oversharpening.

This oversharpening could be avoided by setting the sharpening in "Picture Adjust" to -3, but this can only be done in Manual mode, not in iA mode.  However, subsequent sharpening with PSE of images taken at the -3 setting did not achieve the quite same resolution as the in-cam processing at default (sharpening set at zero), although it was almost the same.

This problem of oversharpening seems to only become visible at low luminance levels and does not seem much in evidence in normal outdoor daylight shots.  For low light still shots with the SD800 it may be preferable to use manual exposure with the sharpening set to -3.

Continue to Movies with the SD800

Continue to Low Light Tests

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