Panasonic: The 3-Chip Champions

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Every non-broadcast prosumer camera from Canon, Sony, and JVC has gone from 3-chip to single-chip CMOS. Not that it’s a bad thing. Simplifying sensor design reduces manufacturing complexity and lowers the cost of ownership for imaging enthusiasts. But by reserving 3-sensor builds for premium cameras, there are increasingly fewer options for the budget-conscious videographer or indie filmmaker. Panasonic stands alone as the champion of the low-cost 3-chip. Here’s their latest and greatest --

So what’s the big deal with 3-chip cameras anyway? Are they that much better? To put it simply: YES. By recording primary color readings of red, green, and blue to separate chips, the 3-sensor design produces the highest quality and most precise colors possible. Single-chip cameras often interpolate missing RGB information -- lowering color accuracy and degrading the overall resolution. For this reason, you won’t find one professional camcorder in the field that’s not a 3-chip.

I bought my first AVCHD cam back in 2006. The format was still new, but offered some nice advantages over the dominant HDV format. I chose the Panasonic HDC-SD1 because it was the lightest thing on the market (about 1 pound) with manual exposure controls and a mic input. Using 3x ¼” CCDs (the largest on a consumer camcorder at the time) the cam recorded 1440x1080 interlaced video on SD/SDHC memory cards. At $1500, this little guy was a low cost companion to my Sony FX1. Fast-forward 3 years and Panasonic is still committed to building lightweight, prosumer 3-chip camcorders. They’ve come a long way since the SD1 -- features have beefed up while the cost of ownership has significantly gone down.

The all-new HDC-TM700K and HDC-HS700K record 1920x1080 HD video progressively -- no goofy interlacing here. There’s even a 60 frames per second mode which makes capturing action and practical slow motion silky smooth. Like the SD1, the cameras sport a stereo mic input. Audio can be monitored through a headphone port.

Today’s prosumer Panasonics employ 3 CMOS sensors. These are similar in design to those from the pro-grade HMC-40. Therefore, you can expect better low light sensitivity and improvements in the signal-to-noise ratio. Both cameras offer a similar 24Mbps bit-rate. In my tests, the TM700K produced a nearly identical file to that of the HMC-40.

The killer feature? A 35mm equivalent wide angle Leica Dicomar lens. This is actually wider than what you get with the higher-priced pro HD cams (including the HMC-40). The wider field of view allows you to fit more of your subject in the frame -- even in tight spaces. This is great for everything from stage performances to narrative landscapes.

The only difference between the TM700K and HS700K is internal memory. The former utilizes 32GB of internal flash storage (the most durable recording medium) while the latter employs a 240GB Hard Drive for longer recording times. Both models are expandable with SD, SDHC, or new SDXC memory cards.

My only gripe with the units (and this is true of every camera in this class) was battery life. The included brick was drained on the TM700K after a little more than an hour; the HS700K didn’t even last 60 minutes. If you’re shooting an event like a wedding or stage performance, be sure and pick up a Panasonic VW-VBG260 Battery. This bad boy will give you over 3.5 hours of recording time with either camera.

The bottom line: If you’re an event shooter, documentarian, or narrative filmmaker, a 3-chip camcorder can really make your footage stand out in a crowd. Larger sensor ENG cameras are great, but not affordable for everyone. Panasonic is the only game in town offering 3x ¼” sensors at such a ridiculously good price. In fact, the prices are so low you’ll have to visit the B&H site to see them. Check out the solid-state TM700K here and the HDD HS700K here.

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I have two Panasonic 3-chip Standard Definition cameras, the better one being a GS-500. Excellent colour and sharpness, but a little weak in low light sensitivity. I like most things about these cameras, especially their relatively strong manual controls.

This new AVCHD model is close to being the HD upgrade I have been looking for, except that it is missing one key feature -- a viewfinder. Indoors it would be fine, but unless Panasonic has made huge strides in their LCD design it will be useless in direct sunlight.

So Sony may still be the winner in this part of the market, despite using a single chip sensor. I look forward to comparative reviews.

Al_from_Ottawa wrote:

I have two Panasonic 3-chip Standard Definition cameras, the better one being a GS-500. Excellent colour and sharpness, but a little weak in low light sensitivity. I like most things about these cameras, especially their relatively strong manual controls.

This new AVCHD model is close to being the HD upgrade I have been looking for, except that it is missing one key feature -- a viewfinder. Indoors it would be fine, but unless Panasonic has made huge strides in their LCD design it will be useless in direct sunlight.

So Sony may still be the winner in this part of the market, despite using a single chip sensor. I look forward to comparative reviews.

Al, you'll be happy to know that the new Panasonic 700 models include electronic viewfinders! Like other cameras in this class, these are a bit small. Regardless, simply having a finder is a big help in the bright outdoors. If you're interested in the latest AVCHD offerings from Sony, check back with us next week at Insights. I'll have my review of the XR550 and CX550 models. See you then!

David,

That's not so simple. 1920 pixels by 1080 pixels equals 2,073,600 pixels. Using a Bayer pattern of four pixels per pixel (1 red, 1 blue, and 2 green), that equals 8,294,400 pixels. Canon's HF S series use a 6,005,760 pixel sensor (the sensor is actually 8,016,384 pixels, but that's in 4:3 format), which isn't so far behind the 3MOS array. Plus, with with a 1/2.6" sensor, the Canon has greater DoF capabilities.

 Hi Dovie,

I'm a HUGE fan of the new Canon HF camcorders. I had the chance to shoot with the VIXA HF S200 recently, and was blown away by the quality! Single chip design has really come a long way over the last several years.

That said, 3-chip cams are still the better play when it comes to color accuracy. This isn't a big deal for everybody, but if you're a stickler for true color, you'll want a 3-chip camera.

As for DOF control, 1/4, 1/3, 1/2.6, or even 1/2" chips aren't radically better than one another. These sizes tell us more about pixel size and light sensitivity. Filmmakers wanting better DOF control should really consider a video-enabled DSLR. Anything else is just a compromise.   

David,

I'll agree that the sensor sizes aren't radically different, but there is a difference. Also, video-enabled dSLR's have a major drawback: no useful AF.

"Both cameras offer a similar 24Mbps bit-rate." -- The "700" is limited to 17 Mbit/s in 60i and 24p-over-60i modes, and records with 28 Mbit/s in 60p mode.

"higher-priced pro HD cams" -- IMHO, the HMC40 is not a pro HD camera, it is what a proper prosumer or, in terms of Sony, "advanced consumer" camcorder should look like. I wish Canon made a similar one out of their HF-S family.

The "700", on the other hand, has some serious ergonomic issues like the Camera Function button. See more here: www.youtube.com/watch

But the image quality of the "700" is top-notch.

For anything beyond home movie cameras, rating the sound quality should be included. Is there a manual level override? Is the AGC tolerable? preamps full of hiss?

anonymous wrote:

For anything beyond home movie cameras, rating the sound quality should be included. Is there a manual level override? Is the AGC tolerable? preamps full of hiss?

There is a manual override for the sound levels. The interface is extremely simple and honestly aimed at the consumer market. This isn't to say that it's bad or unusable. As for AGC, I'd say it's par for the course. In situations where sound levels are fairly even and constant, the 700s are all good. In settings that go from quiet to loud at the drop of a hat... Well, AGC always leaves a little something to be desired. 

What's the point in using 3 sensors to capture more accurate color if they turn right around and throw that color information away with 4:2:0 subsampling?

OK with all this said! What is the all around BEST high def camcorder out there in todays market?    Signed still searching 

how bout the editing features like fading when you start and stop recording or night shot mode like in sony camcorders ? i bought one panasonic 2 years ago with i guess 40gb hard drive but this camcorder was soooo poor in features that i returned it to the store ,my 8 year old sony 8mm had 10 times more features and a REAL night shot and by the way - if it still has low light mode feature (slowing frame rate) that thing is completly useless 

I'm interested in a 3 chip, Hard drive, HD camera with firewire that can simultaneously stream from the firewire and record to the hard drive?  Is there such a beast?

I do multi-camera shoots constantly and have recently gone over to HD.  Currently I am using a Panasonic HMC150 plus two HDC-TM700P's  Both are excellent camcorders in their respective classes.  Surprisingly that tiny TM700 can and does hold its own working in tandem with the much larger (and expensive) HMC-150.  There is no substitute for a 3- pickup setup which is why I have stuck to Panasonic for many years.  In my SD days I used their DVX100B and two DVC30's as well as GS400's and also a GS500.  For today's HD shoots, I highly recommend that TM700, especially for the videographer who cannot afford the bigger and more costly ENG models or who simply doesn't want to tote their size and weight around

Jimbo wrote:

I do multi-camera shoots constantly and have recently gone over to HD.  Currently I am using a Panasonic HMC150 plus two HDC-TM700P's  Both are excellent camcorders in their respective classes.  Surprisingly that tiny TM700 can and does hold its own working in tandem with the much larger (and expensive) HMC-150.  There is no substitute for a 3- pickup setup which is why I have stuck to Panasonic for many years.  In my SD days I used their DVX100B and two DVC30's as well as GS400's and also a GS500.  For today's HD shoots, I highly recommend that TM700, especially for the videographer who cannot afford the bigger and more costly ENG models or who simply doesn't want to tote their size and weight around

WORD. For the money, the 700s are tough to beat.

So which is better -- the Canon Vixia HF-S200, or the new Panasonics in terms of image quality and low light?

david* wrote:

So which is better -- the Canon Vixia HF-S200, or the new Panasonics in terms of image quality and low light?

These cams are so darn good, it's just not possible to call one superior. I found the Canon to be better in terms of sharpness and contrast. The Panasonics offered greater color accuracy. In the end it comes down to personal taste.   

An argument about camera technology can never be decided by citing that technology has been utilizied without actually testing how it is implimented.  A 3-chip design is often superior to a single chip, but not neccessarily.  While historically color accuracy is reduced with single chip bayer pattern designs it seems that processing power and bem to limit the size of the sensor which limits the resolving power of the lens.  More detail and higher contrast can be resolved on a larger sensor.  Larger sensors also allow for larger pixels which increase signal to noise ratios and dynamic range. 

The question of whether 3 chips are better thetter chip design have all but completely compensated for this in cameras like the Red, 5DmII, SI2K.  Prisms aren't a flawless technology either.  They can cause other problems like aborrations, color transmission, and reduced sharpness in an image which varies according to the quality of the prism.  They also sean 1 in the consumer video world comes down to whether or not the manufacturer can afford to design and build, or at the very least purchase high performance optical prisms and decent quality sensors for a camera that costs < $3000.  The gains aquired by a 3 chip would then have to exceed the improvements to other aspects of the camera like the lens, sensor or image processors that other companies would be able to add with the money they saved on not using a 3-chip design.  With cameras like the Red, 5d mark II and SI2k out there at the top of the heap one has to ask if 3 chips are significanly better at this point in history.   As far as this article is concerned it'd be far more helpful for consumers to see test shots from different cameras backing up these claims rather than simply bringing up arguments about 3 chip vs. 1 chip cameras that are older than digital video.

An argument about camera technology can never be decided by citing that technology has been utilizied without actually testing how it is implimented.  A 3-chip design is often superior to a single chip, but not neccessarily.  While historically color accuracy is reduced with single chip bayer pattern designs it seems that processing power and better chip design have all but completely compensated for this in cameras like the Red, 5DmII, SI2K.  Prisms aren't a flawless technology either.  They can cause other problems like aborrations, color transmission, and reduced sharpness in an image which varies according to the quality of the prism.  They also seem to limit the size of the sensor which limits the resolving power of the lens.  More detail and higher contrast can be resolved on a larger sensor.  Larger sensors also allow for larger pixels which increase signal to noise ratios and dynamic range. 

The question of whether 3 chips are better than 1 in the consumer video world comes down to whether or not the manufacturer can afford to design and build, or at the very least purchase high performance optical prisms and decent quality sensors for a camera that costs < $3000.  The gains aquired by a 3 chip would then have to exceed the improvements to other aspects of the camera like the lens, sensor or image processors that other companies would be able to add with the money they saved on not using a 3-chip design.  With cameras like the Red, 5d mark II and SI2k out there at the top of the heap one has to ask if 3 chips are significanly better at this point in history.   As far as this article is concerned it'd be far more helpful for consumers to see test shots from different cameras backing up these claims rather than simply bringing up arguments about 3 chip vs. 1 chip cameras that are older than digital video.

I really really wanted to get one of these new Panasonic camcorders - was waiting patiently until they became available.  But then I started hearing complaints about the fan noise.  I don't think earlier Panasonic HD camcorders had internal fans.  I have watched a couple of videos demonstrating the problem.  Its awful.  Especially if filming inside in a quiet space. Perfectly gorgeous picture ruined by this noise!  I sure hope the next version of these wonderful camcorders ditches the fan!!

After using 3 chip cameras for many years, I bought a one chip, the Sony HVR-HD1000U from B& H. I know longer have a bias about 3 chip cameras necessarily being superior to 1 chip because this camera proved that wrong. Also, being a business owner, I wanted something with a large form factor, but that's a matter of personal preference.

to all that are really interested in this wanderfull camcorder, I recommend to read posts in this forum:

http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1225613

You can also find a tons of videos made by this cam on:

http://www.vimeo.com/groups/tm700/videos

or

http://www.vimeo.com/groups/native1920x108060pclips

And what do you edit it all with? Seems these cameras are all becoming proprietary in one way or another and have you reaching in your pocket for Octocore computers and a ton of plugins.

Damn things must be free since B&H can't be bothered to put a price anywhere or a link to one.

I love my DVC-7s but it's time to go HD (and 3-chip) and I've been eyeing the 700 series for a while; however, I have two main concerns.

I do a lot of indoor/spotlight recording, and when I know something is about to go to low light (or even temporarily no light) I lock the focus so that the camera doesn't go crazy.  Sometimes I need to to that very quickly.  How smoothly can the 700 switch from auto to manual focus and back again? 

Also, I noticed that it has no RCA output.  (No, this is not surprising due to the size of the camcorder.)  Can I use an external monitor, like a 7" LCD display panel, with the HDMI connection while recording or is it for playback only? 

Hi, Does anyone know if someone will be making underwater housings for the HS700K??  

After shooting events for over twenty years I have come to realize what video hype is and how the manufacturers manipulate the truth. C'mon guys.... how big are those three chips? If your shooting outdoors, there isnt much difference between single or three "small" chip cams. And in low light, FOGETABOUTIT! I would never show up to an event with this little thing. And if you cant afford the big boy, then stay home, and quit ruining the business for the pros.

3 chip is just another marketing angle. end of day it's still just a consumer camcorder for home movies.

With this statement in the article: "....The only difference between the TM700K and HS700K is internal memory. The former utilizes 32GB of internal flash storage (the most durable recording medium) while the latter employs a 240GB Hard Drive for longer recording times....."  Is it correct to say the flash storage will hold up better to rough handling?  Thanks, L.

Is it my imagination or do CMOS chips have a slight problem with smearing.  I don't know, I currently us JVC HD GY-100 series cameras (3 chip) and the pictures are so much more clear.  I am looking for a light weight 3 chip camera to use with a Glidecam HD-4000 so I don't need a vest set up.  So any suggestions without having to use CMOS ? Looking for something around 3-5 pounds.

 Okay, a couple of things that have not been mentioned. How come no one is talking about hearing the fan noise when playing back your footage on the 700's? 

The consumer 3 1/4 chip cameras will never be as good in low light as a pro camera. 

 I am shooting in FL.  Will the tm700k overcome a "Dew" problem?

Mark

Hello,

Not sure what you mean by a "Dew" problem. As with all electronic's, any moisture or wet enviroments should be avoided.

The Kata CRC-13 (RC-13) Compact Rain Cover provides protection against dirt, dust and sudden showers.

www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/200193-REG/Kata_KT_VA_801_13.html#features

The Ewa-Marine VC-1M Rain Cape is manufactured from special PVC and has an integrated, optically neutral flat glass port.

www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/392330-REG/Ewa_Marine_EM_VC_1M.html#features

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Re camcorder sound:
Get a Tascam DR-2D & Tascam windscreen, +
2 Belkin stereo-mini cables ( white:shielded male/female & male/male ),
and use the Tascam as your close mic,
with the cables going from the Tascam to the camcorder, for sync-sound ( for in post ).

Nails 24/96 sound ( OK, so the mics could use improvement to say Rode mics, or something, & a good preamp, but... :)
is STUNNINGLY better than in-camcorder far-mic-ing, and you will wonder why on earth this isn't standard practice, once you try it.

For people who've never guerillaed, try "Shut Up & Shoot" by Antony Q. Artis ( iirc )...

 I want to use the TM 700 in 24p for a documentary.  Are there any editing issues using Final Cut with this camera?