Sony XR200, Panasonic TM200 and Canon HF11 Test

This is what they call a “lightning review” in the business. I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty specifics on the cameras, because quite frankly I’m not an expert. I’m using these things as they’d be used in the wild: pick it up, turn it on, and film some stuff.

camcorders From left to right: Panasonic TM200 (pre-prod), Canon HF11, Sony XR200

All three cameras have a variant on the fully automatic option. The Canon has a nice button labeled ‘Easy’ that lights up blue when you press it. Sony also has an ‘Easy’ button, that amusingly pops up a message on screen saying ‘Easy Handycam Operation OFF’ when you disable it. The Panasonic has their ‘Intelligent Auto’ mode button labeled ‘iA’. In the test below I made sure those buttons were on in all cases.

All three camcorders are within a couple of hundred (New Zealand) dollars of each other, with the Canon at $1,999, the Sony at $2,099 and the Panasonic probably a touch over that. The Sony races away on the storage front, with a big 120GB hard drive, and has a nifty built-in GPS receiver, but unforunately falls down on the quality stakes.

I set the recording quality to be as close as possible to each other, which in all cases was around the 16Mbps AVCHD mode. What struck me with these cameras was that they are all actually very technical to use, even for me. It’s possibly because I’m not much of a video guy (he’s got a face for radio) but if you want to do anything more than shoot video and watch it back on the TV, there is a serious learning curve around formats, bitrates, and editing software.

Still, the basics seem to work ok. Turn on the camera (the Sony does this automatically when you open the screen, which is nice), aim, and hit the record button. Here are the results (including me tripping on a stray Thomas the Tank Engine on the floor). Make sure you click the ‘HD’ option on the video to get the best result.

Beyond the basics, here’s where I feel the pros and cons lie with each camera:

Canon HF11

Pros Cons
  • Lovely image quality and great sound
  • ‘Auto’ mode seems most competent
  • Lots of options for stills (Shutter and Aperture priotrity), but then I wasn’t testing still shots at all.
  • Best low-light response of the bunch, but still noisy.
  • External mic input.
  • No touch-screen, joystick can be fiddly
  • Small and cramped text on-screen, confusing menus

Panasonic TM200

Pros Cons
  • Lovely image quality, surround sound
  • Most comfortable to hold out of the three, and the body has less ‘fiddly bits’ on it.
  • Touch screen
  • Menus are really clear and easy to use
  • Only 16GB of built in memory
  • No expansion shoe or external mic input

Sony XR200

Pros Cons
  • Huge 120GB storage
  • Really excellent image stabilisation
  • Built-in GPS, and the geo-location software is actually really easy to use.
  • Touch screen
  • Lowest image quality of the three, but still HD!
  • Menu buttons are tiny and sometimes hard to press.

 

Conclusion

I tend to use my still camera to shoot the odd video, rather than carry a dedicated video camera. But, if I was forced to pick one of these three cameras to use as an everyday video camera, I’d probably end up going with the Panasonic. The image quality difference is not that discernable from the Canon, and it is heaps easier to just pick up and use. However, if I was more of a video guy, I might take some more time to read the Canon user manual, learn all the tricky settings, and end up with better video. The Sony has some great features, but it just can’t seem to cut the mustard in terms of quality compared to the other two. Sony’s upcoming new EXMOR sensor (not in the model I reviewed) is meant to be the proverbial shizzle, so that could be worth looking at when it comes out.

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7 Comments

  1. I like the format! Three Camera Studio, only they’re all facing the same way from the same kinda pov. When do you have to give these back? Let me at ’em! I feel a ‘skatboading’ video coming on…

  2. Hi,
    We have recently brought a sony HD camera and the software that come with it is next to useless is there some software out there that is easy to use and will edit HD?
    Many thanks
    Kelly

    1. Hi Kelly

      I actually had good results using Sony’s “Vegas” software. It’s actually based on a non-Sony product, so is a lot better than the supplied software 🙂

      You can check the versions out here. I think you want the “Platinum” version because that does AVCHD editing, and is not too expensive at US$85. I did a bit of searching but couldn’t find a free way to edit AVCHD.

      Of course if you have a Mac, then iMovie 09 is a good way to go.

      Cheers!
      Ben.

  3. I have had the Canon HF11 for over 2 months and love it. Most annoying “feature” is that you need both the USB cable and power cable to download from the camera to computer. Not sure if this is the case with the others. Just another cable to carry.

    32MB is a decent amount of storage unless playing a big trip away, but the media is cheap.

    I felt that the harddrive option caused extra power useage and something else that could fail.

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