"Great Almost Pro Camera!"4.0 starson by RayPowell
Pros: + 3 CMOS sensors an excellent job at color accuracy
+ Exposure controls are easy to adjust
+ Zoom works great
+ 30 FPS makes motion look very good
+ Motion stabilization is astounding! The hybrid stabilization is wonderful
+ Wind filter works great
Cons: - Lack of accurate auto color balance
- Poor auto exposure
Summary: I had been waiting a long time to find a camera with high visual fidelity without all of the consumer oriented junk that comes with most home cameras, and this is it. I will go from the most annoying problems/features, and move up from there.
The 3 CMOS sensors (3MOS they call it) does an excellent job at color accuracy. However, the auto white balance will occasionally decide that it is time to shake things up and pick some random and incorrect white balance, but this is easily avoided by using one of the presets, or by taping the auto white balance button which will check the white balance, and then lock it at that setting. You may still want to use the auto white balance if you are moving from room to room, or from inside to outside, but in general I would avoid it. I have never seen a 'consumer' grade camera have color accuracy that looks so true to life! Just look up youtube videos of what this camera can do! Same recording setup, so this will do the same quality as the 900 series versions.
The automatic settings for the exposure are a bit slow, and not drastic enough when moving between light and dark areas. In some cases this is a good thing, as when you are in a relatively controlled environment and you don't want it messing with you (which I like), but many home users will be annoyed by this. The camera does support Zebra Striping, but only at 99%+, when you really want it at about 80%. Somewhere between 85-90% the scene is over exposed, and color begins to wash out, or sometimes bleed together. The exposure controls are easy to adjust, and the screen on the camera is of good enough quality to notice the problem, and there are tools like a histogram and a central box with an exposure rating so that you can know exactly what is going on with your scene (in fact there are so many great tools built into the camera that I am not going to get into all of them, but it is a breath of fresh air for those who know how to use them!).
This is perhaps the last weak point that I have found on the camera. The lens seems cheap (which is to be expected), and because it is a consumer camera it cannot be replaced. The zoom works great, and has a nice variable speed to it. The problem of it's cheapness comes when things are out of focus and the way out of focus objects look. On a nice lens you can do many creative things with off focus camera work, things out of focus here just look bad. Again, this does not effect things in focus, and they look sharp and wonderful!
The standard FPS on this camera is 30FPS, which is quite nice, and makes motion look very good. Most pans look clean and sharp, and when you do move too fast the motion blur is quite natural looking, and minimal instead of being sharp and choppy. I took the camera on a driving test, and did notice that it was difficult to read street signs as you pass them, but things in the center 60% of the screen where perfectly clear and clean. Also, the motion stabilization is astounding! The hybrid stabilization is wonderful, and when you need more there is a menu button to press and hold which basically makes the image stay as still as possible (though the image quality seem to be hurt by this). I have shaky hands and usually use a tripod (which this has the standard hookups for), but I may venture to hold it more because I know that it works so well.
While the big brother 900 series cameras come with surround sound, the little SD800 sports stereo. Personally I didn't want surround sound as I believe it to be a gimmick on a camera (how on earth are you supposed to get 5 channels of separation on a device this small? It is impossible!), and I have been pleased with the overall quality and reproduction of sound on the microphone. The wind filter works great, the camera does not try and compress the sound so you get a vibrant hi fidelity sound with relatively quiet noises still audible in loud environments, and the zoom mic feature works as expected. Personally I do most audio in post, but it is nice to know that there is a solid mic system if I needed it.
Screen and Menus:
I love it! My largest hesitation of buying this camera is its reliance on touch, but I really wanted the 3MOS, and just about everyone is on a touch system these days. My fingers are quite fat and callous, and I hate HATE smart phones and laptop touch-pads because they do not listen to my fingers well. This screen allows you to push into the screen a bit, is very responsive, and doesn't feel like I am going to damage or dirty the screen by using it.
The menu system took a little bit to figure out, but is already 2nd nature after just one day. Most controls you need while recording are available by just taping the menu, and then right once, and it gives you access to white balance, focus, shutter, and iris. The touch focus is surprisingly effective, no replacement for a true manual focus, but it is not bad. The rest of the menu system is laid out in a logical order, and it is easy to find things. Only complaint is that some of the icons are less than iconic, and I had to look them up in the manual to figure out what they were.
Technical Specs, and other things of interest:
Battery life gets about 1.5 hours as advertised, and there is a large battery (way overpriced at the moment) which can bump it up to about 2.5-3 hours. There is also an equally overpriced external battery charger available.
There are 3 basic shooting modes: IFRAME which is a fully key-framed nearly uncompressed mac standard, but I found to be of poor quality (I believe this is the fault of my memory card, but the compression on the other modes is quite good so it is fine), Standard 1080P at 30FPS with various levels of compression (just stick with HA mode and all will be nice and clean, the lower quality modes degrade quickly), and 1080P 60FPS which my memory cards were surprisingly fast enough for but my computer is not. I will note here that the 1080/60 mode is used and required for 3D recording (30FPS per eye) and you must have a fast enough memory card for this to work properly, but from what I have read the 3D isn't all it is cracked up to be yet. However, 60FPS looks great if you have a device fast enough to play it back! I have a core2duo paired with a 9800GT, and cannot play back 60FPS material smoothly in this format (but it played back beautifully in H264 at 60FPS), but next year when I upgrade the PC all should be well (GT580 here I come!)
There is in fact only one SD card slot. The description says there are 2, and it is simply wrong. Pay a little extra and get fast memory. SD card memory ratings are a little less than reputable, so go to newegg or a similar site and read reviews of actual speeds. For full quality 1080/30 you will want no less than 17MBps. I went with some PNY Professional memory rated at 20, and reviews say it does about 18. I bought 2 32GB cards which is plenty of space for what I do, and it kept up with the 60FPS recording which writes at 24MBps, so I am quite satisfied with it.
The recording format is 1080P 30FPS and runs on a modified AVCHD codec. The software that came with the camera did not recognize this format (and it is supposed to be able to edit footage from this camera lol). My good old Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5 was unable to open the file so I download the trial for CS 5.5 and it worked fine, so I guess it is finally time to upgrade. Windows Media Player (whatever version is built into Win7) plays back perfectly, but QuickTime and VLC did not. Even the God-like powers of AVSp (a great program for video cleanup, pre-production, and file/color-space conversion) was thwarted and could not open my clips. When editing in Premiere 5.5 I had no problems with key-framing issues on things like fades or other cues, which is a huge problem with many low end cameras and strange video codecs, so that was a relief.
The AVCHD format was quick and easy to edit with in Premiere 5.5, but as it is modified from the standard it seems to confuse a lot of software. Rendering on my C2D 2.6GHz, 4GB Ram, 9800GT card, took about 7.5 min of rendering time for every minute of video in 1080/30, I went to lunch while rendering the 1080/60 so I do not know how long that took, but suffice to say a Sandy Bridge i5 paired with 8+GB of ram and a GT460+ video card should be used for editing. I am holding out for ivy bridge for my upgrade and will just have to deal with the slow rendering time for now.
In conclusion, while this is the little brother (or perhaps red headed step child) of the 900 series cameras, it has the same video quality and punch as the high end cameras with a much lower price tag, while sacrificing very little. Personally I am a fan of removable media because if the media dies then you replace the media instead of the camera. I believe the surround sound on the upper cameras is a joke, and stereo is just fine. This has the same exact CCD array, and is just as good if paired with fast enough memory. In short, buy this camera, it is great and a dream to work with. If I had the money I might spring for the version with the internal HDD for higher quality iFRAME recording, but that was out of the price range when considering the need for updating the PC and Adobe suite. It is not a pro quality camera in its feature set, but the video quality is comparable, so I would suggest it for those just getting into upper end equipment but do not want to commit $2500+ on a 'professional' camera yet. The lack of accurate auto color balance, and poor auto exposure would make this camera annoying for those who are clueless on how to adjust manual settings.
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Hope this helps.