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.



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.

Three Cameras, Three First Impressions

Casio Exilim FH20

Interesting camera. The high-speed movie modes are really fun to play with, and the 20x zoom is a useful addition that helps with framing difficult shots. It?s really hard to do this camera justice when I have the other two cameras (below) to use at the same time.

The FH20 has an 8mm sensor like most compact cameras, which means that no matter how good the optics and other aspects of the camera are, the resulting images are never going to compete with an SLR.

I think it?s a good point-and-shoot with excellent video capabilities. The slow-mo would be great for sports or action fans. The camera runs on 4AA batteries which is good: you can use rechargeable batteries most of the time but can also grab some alkalines in a pinch.

Others have stated correctly that spending the same money on either a still camera or a video camera would get you a better version of each, but then you?d be spending twice the amount to get maybe 1.2 times better imagery.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1

This is just a gorgeous little camera. The larger sensor and interchangeable lenses take it well out of the compact camera camp and on par with other entry-level SLRs.

The menus can be a little confusing at times, and it is a curious to see which controls Panasonic has promoted to dedicated buttons (Film Type for example), but all the basic camera controls fall to hand pretty well. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes very quick to change ISO, metering, and the traditional shutter/aperture/exposure settings.

The results from my basic testing are very nice. The larger sensor helps to reduce the level of noise at higher ISO settings, and provides some great detail. Click for big versions:

If you compare the Epic Beer photo to the one from the 5D below, you can see how the bigger aperture on the 5D provides a much more dramatic depth-of-field effect. The background in the G1 shot is blurred, but nowhere near as much as the 5D one.

Canon EOS 5D Mark ii

Wow. Just: Wow. I could go into detail about this camera, but I?ll let it speak for itself with photos taken by myself (with about 2 months SLR experience), and my brother (with about 2 years SLR experience). Click the photos for huge-sized versions.

My original hypothesis was that even $6500 worth of camera and lens was not going to help an amateur photographer do anything better. I could not have been more incorrect. The shots from the 5D blow the other cameras out of the water by a considerable margin.

As usual, I?m more than happy to take questions on the cameras. Just leave a comment and I?ll answer.