Panasonic DV Palmcorder offers Power, Features
by Jim Bray
It may be overkill for the "ordinary consumer," but Panasonic's Palmcorder
PV-DV952 "multicam" is a terrific digital camcorder capable of capturing extremely
high quality images - both still and moving.
And isn't that a moving story?
This $2300 product records on the Mini DV tape format and also includes a 16
Megabyte Smart Media card for capturing stills and voice. Between the two media,
you can record stuff for just about any medium you'd want, from broadcast television
to pictures and sound for the Web. It also comes with a terrific LEICA DICOMAR
Lens with a 10x optical zoom to which Panasonic has added digital zoom capability
of up to 120X.
That's one heck of a zoom and I have to admit I found the really higher zoom
rates excessive, especially since I didn't have a tripod with me when I tried
them, leading to a picture so jittery it was virtually unwatchable.
That's not Panasonic's fault, of course; you should always have a tripod for
such times, despite the built in electronic image stabilization system that,
under normal circumstances, does a pretty good job of steadying your hand. It
isn't perfect (what is?) but it's good.
Peeking through the camcorder at the images you're recording is done comfortable
via a color LCD viewfinder - and if you want more freedom of moment and flexibility
(at the cost of battery life), there's a folding 3.5 inch LCD screen on the
unit's side. Both offer good picture quality - though I noticed that some of
the footage I recorded while on a boat trip had a couple of small smudges on
the lens that I hadn't noticed through either viewfinder.
Can't blame Panasonic for that, either, unfortunately.
With all the stuff Panasonic has stuffed into this "multicam" (an apt description,
indeed), you'll want to take a leisurely stroll through the owner's manual.
It's all pretty well laid out and explained for the most part. I found it particularly
handy to take it with me on vacation, so I could consult it when I ran into
The first trouble I ran into was trying to use the multicam as a digital still
camera; try as I might I couldn't get it to take a shot when I pressed the "record"
button. Fortunately, the manual pointed out that you don't use the "record"
button when taking still pics; there's a separate button for that.
Well, duh! As if there aren't enough buttons, switches, rings and things on
this camera to begin with! I'm sure Panasonic had a very good reason for not
making the "record" button do multiple functions, but it sure would have been
more ergonomic if they had!
Anyway, that was really the only problem I had
The 1.6 megapixel camera feature a 3 CCD pickup system, which puts it into
"professional" territory and having seen the marvelous pictures that come out
of it I wouldn't hesitate to use it for electronic news gathering (ENG) or other
applications like that.
It can also be set to shoot in a 16x9 widescreen mode - which makes it forward
compatible (always nice when you're buying a fairly expensive item). Since I
have a widescreen HDTV-ready projection TV in my main home theater, I was dying
to try this feature and shot virtually all of my video footage in this "cinema"
mode. The manual says it'll automatically zoom out to fill the TV screen when
you play it back, and it does this as advertised.
Unfortunately, the image is NOT anamorphic widescreen, so when the TV zooms
the letterboxed picture to fit the corners of the TV screen you lose resolution.
This is unfortunate, and (besides the single use record buttons) is probably
the only real complaint I have about the camera. It seems a bit shortsighted
to include a "letterboxed" cinema mode when they could undoubtedly have squeezed
the picture electronically or offered a separate, optional 16x9 compatible lens.
Perhaps that's what they have up their sleeve for next year's model
Anyway, despite my non-anamorphic angst, I really liked using the 16x9 mode
and highly recommend it for those with (or shooting for) widescreen TV's. Despite
the lower apparent resolution, the color is still terrific and the playback
doesn't suffer from the horizontal distortion of the "widezoom" type of setting
that's required when playing 4x3 pictures back on a 16x9 TV.
And that's just the start of the reasons to like this Panasonic. Here's a list
of features and explanations culled from a Panasonic press release (with my
comments in parentheses):
- The Optical Image Stabilizer system uses two movable lenses and two fixed
lenses. Two gyro sensors operate at 480 times per second to detect even slight
shaking and two linear motors instantly shift the lens to compensate. The
result is clear, sharp images, free of picture degradation even when shooting
from a moving vehicle or using the zoom lens. (see above: it works very well,
but it's no substitute for a tripod)
- MPEG-4 Internet Movie: Lets users easily transfer MPEG-4 video clips with
audio to a PC to create clip libraries and presentations, or to attach them
to an e-mail. Video clips are stored on the included SD memory card. (Nice,
thoughtful and convenient, but I'd rather record onto the mini DV tape - which
offers a lot more recording time - and then use PC software to create my MPEGs.
Unfortunately, Panasonic doesn't include such software, though it's easy enough
to obtain separately. Including the feature as they have is undoubtedly an
extra convenience feature for those who want the extra flexibility)
- SD Voice Recorder: Allows users to record important voice messages directly
onto the included SD memory card for easy playback. The built-in high performance
microphone provides superb digital sound. (fine, and the sound is good - and
surprisingly free of wind noise - but this is probably the feature I'd use
- Progressive PhotoShot Mode: Enables users to record still pictures with
higher resolution, finer details and provides smoother image contours than
the normal PhotoShot function. This feature captures the image data and temporarily
stores it into two separate field memories. The two images of the exact same
moment are then combined with no time lag, eliminating the need for simulations.
This results in 1.5 times the resolution of standard-recorded stills for a
beautifully clear and brilliant picture. (overall, the camera's still photo
quality - which is available in a variety of resolutions - is very good)
- Built-in pop-up flash (always a nice treat)
- MagicPix image enhancing feature for shooting full colour video and stills
in extremely low light situations. (works okay, but I had some low light footage
that left something to be desired. That, of course, could have been operator
- Multi-image Playback allows the user to view nine consecutive still images
on the LCD screen in Playback mode. It's great for analyzing athletic performance
such as golf swings. (nice, but I really didn't care)
- P-I-P (picture-in-picture) feature: Using the LCD monitor, P-I-P lets users
insert a small still shot over the video being recorded. The miniaturized
digital still image appears in the right corner of the video during playback.
This feature offers a quick, handy alternative for inserting still shots into
moving video. (a nice piece of flexibility, but I daresay it isn't something
the average person will use much
Panasonic also includes ArcSoft photo editing software suite, a bundled set
of programs that let you enhance, retouch and apply special effects to captured
still images. You don't get video editing software, unfortunately; I would have
loved to see Panasonic throw in something like Dazzle MainActor, which lets
you capture and edit digital video.
One wonderful feature of this "multicam" is its Firewire interface capability.
This i.LINK IEEE 1394 digital interface lets you control the camcorder from
your PC, using your mouse. This is wonderful. With it, and the appropriate software
(I used MainActor), you can capture your footage and save it to your hard drive
for later editing and output to other video devices such as a VHS VCR (with
a loss of quality) or a CD or DVD burner.
A warning: video footage takes up a LOT of hard drive space, so make sure your
PC has plenty of elbow room. I capture some 45 minutes of footage from the mini
DV tape and stored it in .avi format and it took just a tad under 10 Gigabytes.
Fortunately, as I write this hard drives are cheap
Panasonic also built in a PhotoVu Link with an RS-232C serial connection, a
USB port, built-in SD Drive plus an SD Memory Card slot - so if you can get
images into the camera, there's a way to get them out again as well (which certainly
comes in handy!).
I wish I'd had more time to play with this powerful and flexible camcorder/still
camera. While it was a wonderful tool to take on vacation, I would have loved
to do some more professional recording than boat trips and visits to families
and museums - for instance some real camera setups for broadcast journalism
or more creative things.
I'm sure this Panasonic would have acquitted itself admirably.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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