I feel a little bit guilty. The guys at Camcorderinfo.com, namely David Kender and John Neely, went to extreme measures to benchmark the four HD camcorders fighting for dominance in the very new consumer HD market. They wrote, like, over 10,000 words, and spent hours or possibly even days recording footage of the dude shown at right. And here I come along and blurt out the results in the freaking headline. The Canon HV20 ($1,000 to $1,100) beat out the Sony HDR-HC7 ($1,060 to $1,170), the Panasonic HDC-SD1 ($1,070 to $1,160), and the newcomer, JVC's Everio GZ-HD7 ($1,520 to $1,700). It didn't win hands-down, exactly, but in most cases it handily nudged out the competition.
Do you want to know how?
I'm not going to try to translate every little nuance of the showdown. All you really need to know going in, if you don't already, is that the Sony and the Canon record to tape, and use HDV MPEG-2 compression. The Panasonic relies strictly on AVCHD, an MPEG-4 based option, and stores video only on SD cards. The Everio records to at 60GB hard drive with both AVCHD and "a new flavor of MPEG-2".
[The Canon HV20] shares an advantage over the Panasonic HDC-SD1 and JVC GZ-HD7 because it uses tried and true HDV MPEG-2 compression, and our tests show that HDV remains the best consumer HD format. Both the Canon and Sony HDR-HC7—the other HDV camcorder in this shootout—scored higher than the others in our video performance tests. In the lab, the Canon and Sony raced to a virtual dead heat, both displaying sharper images with less noise than the Panasonic and JVC.
The crispness of the HV20's image was most notable in close-up shots of our model, where we could literally count every hair on our model's face. [Remember him?] The Sony was visibly less crisp (though still quite sharp), followed by the Panasonic. The JVC GZ-HD7 trailed the pack, with the lowest tested video resolution, and the softest images of the field. The Canon also turned in a stellar low light score, thanks to a 24p mode that more than doubles the light gathering ability of its imager. In low light, it beat out the others in the same order as above. The 24p capability in and of itself is a great extra feature on the HV20, yet another reason to consider it.
In the manual control arena, Sony edged forward with a wide range of options, but fell short of a win because it did not have a "focus assist option" unlike its more expensive predecessors. "Panasonic's SD1 has an assist that is good, but not good enough to compensate for the weakness of the joystick as a focus tool. Only Canon and JVC get the focus interface/focus assist equation right, and the HD7 gets extra points for its terrific focus ring and highly effective peaking function."
The bottom line went something like this:
The Sony HDR-HC7 was most feature-packed but absence of a focus assist feature was a liability. Cam Control multifunction dial was not as easy to use as its predecessors Cam Control rings.
The Panasonic HDC-SD1 is too specialized, though it is good for close quarters shooting, situations that demand silent operation, or a rock-solid optical image stabilizer. There's no headphone jack and no accessory shoe. It also records AVCHD video which does not yet pose a threat to HDV.
The JVC GZ-HD7 had great handling with nice prosumer traits like a focus ring and dedicated buttons for image control. lack of a headphone jack or any means of monitoring and adjusting audio levels. The biggest disappointment with the HD7, however, was video performance: again, it doesn't stand up to the quality of HDV video.
The Canon HV20 had cheap-feeling construction and an awful zoom lever, but delivered best bang for the buck.
From the sound of it, the boys are still looking for that perfect camcorder:
We'd love to see a camcorder that really brings it all together: the handling of the HD7, the functionality of the HC7, the OIS and compactness of the SD1, and the performance of the HV20. Until that happens, smart buyers would be advised to consider the strengths and weaknesses of all of these camcorders, and choose the one that is the best overall match for their shooting style and goals.
If you want to consider all of that, as recommended, you had better check out the full story. I will say that the layout over at Camcorderinfo.com is a bit Byzantine for my taste (okay, so really smack in the middle of downtown Constantinople Byzantine), but you will never find better info about camcorders. And you get to see more of cool sunglasses guy. Respect.
The Great HD Shoot-Out - Canon HV20, Sony HDR-HC7, Panasonic HDC-SD1, JVC GZ-HD7 [Camcorderinfo.com]