Samsung SC-X210L Camcorder Review
**Video Performance ***(3.0)*
The Samsung SC-X210L’s primary lens uses a 1/6" CCD with 680K gross pixels. The secondary, external lens, which is powered by and sends a signal to the main body via a cable, has a 1/4 CMOS sensor with 320K gross pixels. Don’t let the larger CCD size fool you. The pixel count is much smaller, and the lens and imager system as a whole as of a much lower quality than the primary lens.
At 3000 lux, the primary lens produced a pretty poor image, considering what else is available in its price range. The picture is blurry and finer detail, like the text of the labels, is hard to make out. In order to increase the apparent sharpness, it looks like Samsung boosted the in-camera sharpening. As a result, black lines and borders appear too contrasty. There is a significant amount of compression artifacts, which create the stair-stepping along curved and diagonal lines. These same artifacts are often found in the MPEG2 compression of DVD and HDD camcorders. While there are many excellent MPEG4 codecs, the one found on the SC-X210 is not among them.
Finally, the manual white balance was not particularly good, and skewed the entire picture towards the green-grey. For comparison’s sake, we also looked at the image in automatic white balance. You can see that the image here appeared a little too red-orange, and a manually-adjusted white balance is preferable, despite its deficiencies.
Last year’s SC-X105L did not offer a manual white balance at all, and the image appeared far redder than even the X210 in auto mode. And despite our complaints regarding this year’s model, things have obviously not improved. The X105 produced a much fuzzier image and a remarkable amount of noise. The compression artifacts appear to be about the same as this year’s model.
The JVC Everio GZ-MG30 was last year’s entry level HDD (hard disk drive) camcorder, and is comparable in many ways to the X210. Both record to internal memory and SD/MMC cards, run within similar price ranges, and have 1/6" CCDs. The MG30 had a much better color performance and had looked sharper. MPEG compression artifacting was only marginally less noticeable though. Also, the MG30’s whites were nearing blow-out at 3000 lux.
We also looked at two comparatively priced Sonys, a DVD camcorder, which is comparable by ease of use, and a MiniDV, which would match the durability and shock-resistance of the X210. Both offer a 1/6" CCD. The Sony DCR-DVD92, last year’s entry level DVD camcorder, had only marginally better color performance, though it was more even it its color balance, while the X210 was a little heavy on the greens. The compression artifacts were slightly smaller, which made for a less pixilated look along curved and diagonal lines. The DVD92 did, however, have fine fuzz along borders and lines that the X210 did not.
The Sony DCR-HC42, a MiniDV camcorder from last year, had a better color performance, and a sharper looking image overall. The image did suffer from blue noise scattered throughout the image, something Sony seems to have corrected this year.
Finally, the Canon Elura 100 is a comparatively priced MiniDV camcorder from this year. It offers a larger imager, a much sharper image, much better color performance, and virtually none of the artifacting that was found in the X210 and DVD camcorders.
The Samsung SC-X210L also comes with the external lens, of course, one of the most popular features with the series. The image here shows the chart under the same 3000 lux conditions. The lens obviously suffers from some barrel distortion. This may be inevitable when shooting subjects up close. Besides that, no real problems here. Oh, except that *the image is entirely unsuable*, completely blown out and entirely lacking in fine detail. There is no zoom control, nor is there focus adjustment, exposure adjustment, white balance adjustment, or any sort of adjustment at all to correct for this. What else can we say about this image? It’s bad. Use with caution. The same can be said for the primary lens. At lower light levels, the images are not quite this blown out, but there was always some barrel distortion, and the image was always noisy. For more performance results on this lens, read the Low Light section below.
The Samsung SC-X210L was tested for the resolution of its video by shooting a standard ISO 12233 resolution chart, then taking stills from that footage and running them through Imatest imaging software. The primary lens of the main body produced 446.6 lines of horizontal resolution (with an average clipping of 2.23%) and 281.8 lines of vertical resolution (with an average clipping of 1.35%) for an approximate resolution of 125851.88. The external lens produced a 252.7 lines of horizontal resolution and 264.1 lines of vertical resolution, for an approximate resolution of 66738.07.
Clipping occurs when Imatest cannot read a portion of the image, in this case because some information bottomed out (red, green, and blue channel all read as zero). This happens sometimes with camcorders of lesser quality.
The chart below shows how the X210 fared against the competition.
Low Light Performance*(1.8)*
We tested the SC-X210’s performance in low light by shooting at 60 lux and 15 lux, a challenge for nearly any camcorder. The relatively small 1/6" chip is not expected to produce great results. The external lens was also tested.
At 60 lux, the primary lens gave a rather poor performance. Much of the color information had been lost and noise has increased greatly. Throughout the chart, blue noise appears, which was a common problem in last year’s Sonys. On the plus side, the camcorder did not seem to have any problem focusing.
Last year’s Samsung SC-X105 had better color reporting at this light level, but noise and sharpness were an problem. As in bright light, the image was extremely fuzzy. Noise levels were no higher than in the X210, and the blue noise was also an issue.
The JVC GZ-MG30 employs a powerful auto gain control (AGC) that can be turned on and off. With the AGC off, the image is much darker than the X210. With the AGC on (which is our recommendation) there is a great deal of noise and poor color definition. The only positive factor over the Samsung is the overall brightness.
The Sony DCR-DVD92 has better color performance, despite no noticeable improvement in brightness over the Samsung. Perhaps the camcorder’s auto saturation levels manage to boost it through the darkness of the image. Noise is heavy, but it’s a black noise, which is better than the blue noise of the X210. The Sony DCR-HC42 has very saturated colors, too saturated to be accurate, but a boon if you’re just trying to figure out what those colors are supposed to be in the dark. There were significant amounts of blue noise in the image.
The Canon Elura 100 retained a good deal of crispness to finer details of edges, but noise increased noticeably from 3000 lux. Color performance was a bit strong than the X210.
The SC-X210’s external lens managed a much brighter image, thanks to its larger CMOS sensor. But the reduced pixel count took a heavy toll on image quality overall. Looking at the image here, you’ll see that hardly any detailed information can be made out. Also, the lack of a zoom meant that we had to push the lens up very close to the chart, which created extreme barrel distortion. However, there is a legitimate trade-off to consider here. At lower light levels, with objects that are far away (past 10 feet), you may want to have better color performance than detail. In that instance, you may actually consider using the external lens and its larger sensor.
At 15 lux, the X210’s primary lens is awash with noise, and lacks any notable color information. This is essentially an unusable image.
Last year’s SC-X105 was brighter, but the lack of a manual white balance skewed the entire picture red-orange, staving off any of the color accuracy that might have been there to find. The JVC MG30 was just as dark as the X210, but managed to keep the noise at a finer grain (hardly much of a consolation).
The Sony DVD92 was a brighter, clearly a result of auto gain, but there was virtually no color information. The Sony HC42 is speckled with blue noise like an Easter egg, and no better than any of the other camcorders in this category. The Canon Elura 100 was the sole competitor to put up a fight. While it fell behind at 60 lux, when lowered to 15 lux, the image looks hardly any different. Noise is up, but the colors are easily recognizable and well-defined.
At 15 lux, the X210’s external lens is much brighter than the primary lens, but again, lacks a good deal of detail. There is a strong red-orange tint due to the inability to manual white balance the external lens, but colors are still recognizable. The performance is nowhere near the Canon Elura 100’s, but the large CMOS sensor does offer some benefits that the X210’s primary image does not.
Wide Angle* (9.0)*
We tested the SC-X210 for the width of its field of view in its only aspect ratio, 4:3. The field measured 45 degrees. This is an average width for 4:3, but give that it lacks a widescreen option, it could have been a little larger.