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If you thought record-only camcorders were a thing of the past think again. Depending how you look at it the Panasonic CS1 is either almost completely idiot-proof, or designed for idiots...



Panasonic, in common with the rest of the world's video companies are sorely troubled by the fact that most people still do not own a camcorder. To find out why Panasonic have conducted all kinds of surveys amongst their potential customers. They came up with three key reasons to explain this apparent phenomenon . Number one on their list is that many people say they simply haven't got a use for a camcorder. Reason number two is current models are perceived as too bulky, or not very portable, and thirdly, it is felt that they're difficult to use, and require a lot of  fussing around with batteries and things. We'll go along with that but we would have thought one or two respondents might also have mentioned that camcorders are fairly expensive items, and quite a long way down on many peoples list of priorities but we'll come back to the question of prices later on.


The result of  all this research is the NV-CS1, it is aimed at anyone who has ever shied away from buying or using a camcorder, because they think they're big, or complicated or both; in short it's the video equivalent of a 35mm compact still camera. To that extent Panasonic have succeeded brilliantly, the CS1 is small enough to slip into a coat pocket, briefcase or large handbag, there are only three main controls so it is absurdly easy to use. To achieve that level of simplicity they've had to strip away a few of the features normally associated with full-spec camcorders. The most obvious one is the replay facility. If you want to see what you've recorded on the CS1 you will have wait until you get home and  replay the C-cassette on your home video recorder, using the cassette adaptor supplied with the outfit. Panasonic reason that just about everyone has a VHS VCR these days, so it shouldn't be a problem. No replay facility means there's no need for an electronic viewfinder, which has the useful side-effect of reducing power consumption, so the CS1 will record for up to 70 minutes between charges.


If  all that sounds vaguely familiar it's because it has been done before, starting with the Sony M8 Handycam, launched in 1985 and VHS-C record-only machines from JVC and Amstrad in 1987 and '88. Panasonic have brought the idea up to date with a few ideas of their own, though. The CS1 has a two-mode stop/start button. It will either work like a normal camcorder, i.e. press it once to start recording, press again to stop; or like a cine camera, so that it will record only for as long as the button is pressed. This is an excellent idea and should go a long way towards eliminating those annoying shots of the ground, or the sky. Come on admit it, we've all done it...


Without an electronic viewfinder the optics have had to be kept simple, and the lens is a fixed focus design, even so Panasonic have managed to squeeze in a motorised wide-angle/tele adjustment, equivalent to a 3x zoom, though the setting can only be changed when the machine is in the standby mode. The accessory pack is unusually comprehensive and in addition to things like a lens cleaning cloth there's a clip-on battery pack which holds six AA size pen-cells. This could prove very useful if  you're caught short, with a flat nicad pack, or expect to be away from a mains supply for any length of time. A side grille on the microphone enclosure means it will pick up the user's voice. This is handy for adding a running commentary; it will also pick up breathing noises, sniffing, grunting, gnashing of teeth etc. We found a little piece of sticky tape cured that particular problem. Other useful little features are a self-timer, time/date recording and an LCD panel which shows battery charge, tape status, time and date, plus any warning indicators. 



Pick it up, pop in a tape and battery, switch it on, point it in the right direction, and press the start button. If you can follow those simple instructions you're halfway there. The only other tricks you need to learn is how unload the cassette and replay it on a VCR, and when to charge the battery; they've even fitted a mains plug to the charger, so you can't use that as an excuse. Advanced users can choose between tele or wide setting, and whether or not to record the time and date.


Joking aside it is very small and light and we suspect Panasonic's marketing people weren't joking or being overtly sexist when they quietly suggested it might appeal to women. It looks unthreatening and easy to use, unlike most camcorders which are designed by men, for men, and unashamedly pander to the male enthusiasm for gadgetry. It's toys for the boys if you will but Panasonic at least recognise the fact that around fifty percent of the population of this planet are of the female persuasion.



As there's no replay facility it's difficult to give a meaningful figure for things like resolution, which will ultimately depend on the performance of the deck on which recordings are replayed. However, to give you an idea of what it can do, recordings on our sample resolved a little over 230 lines on a deck with a known capacity to reproduce recordings of more than 250-lines; make of that what you will. It's a little easier to assess things like exposure, colour fidelity and recorded noise. There are no exposure or white balance controls, so everything hinges on the CS1's auto systems. Given the constraints those constraints picture quality isn't half bad, though best results will obtained outdoors in good daylight. Inside the picture becomes quite grainy, and it's not very happy with fluorescent light, which gives the picture a yellowish caste.


The wide-angle lens setting is very welcome and does a good job on landscapes, or squeezing everyone into group shots. Unfortunately the optical viewfinder doesn't tally with what is being recorded underestimating the image area by around 20%, presumably this is deliberate, to compensate for the parallax errors that occur between the viewfinder lens and main lens. 


The built-in microphone isn't very directional, but that's not a problem. The mono audio soundtrack is actually quite crisp, though there's the usual amount of background noise.



The NV-CS1 is an important new product for Panasonic, and we've tried hard to be objective but it hasn't been easy. The fact is that even with recent across the board price rises, following the devaluation of the pound a few months ago, you can still buy a good quality, full-spec camcorder for less than 550. So how come Panasonic are trying to sell this very basic record-only machine for 600? They say the price will be held, even if there are further currency fluctuations, they point to the development work that went into designing a virtually foolproof camcorder, and we even heard it suggested that it costs almost as much to build a camcorder without replay facilities, as it does to make a normal camcorder. Plausible arguments, all of them but we're sorry to have to say that this machine is still far too expensive, even taking into account the Granny factor. We'd be far happier to see it selling for 400 or less, where it would get our wholehearted support.


We agree with Panasonic that there is a very strong case for a completely foolproof camcorder and the CS1 comes close to being that machine, but you would indeed be foolish indeed to spend 600 and get so little for your money...



Make/model                   Panasonic NV-CS1

Recording format           VHS-C

Guide price                     600



Lens                               f2.7, 4mm (wide), f3.1, 11.7mm (tele),

Zoom                              effective 3x

Filter diameter               N/A  

Pick-up device               0.3in CCD

Min. illum. (lux)             7



Tape speed (mm/sec)       23.39 (SP, record only)

Max. rec. time                  45 mins

Remote control                 none

Main facilities                   auto exposure, auto white balance, self timer, tally light, time/date recording, one-button operation



Viewfinder                        optical

Viewfinder inf.                red LED: rec mode; yellow LED: low battery, dew warning, head clog, tape end or  no tape



System                            mono linear

Microphone                    omnidirectional electret



Sockets                          DC in (square 4-pin), video out (minijack)

Size (mm)                       71 x 39 x 142

Weight                            0.7 kg (inc. tape and battery)



Batteries, (nicad, lithium and alkaline), straps, AC charger/power supply, cassette adaptor, dry battery case, lens cleaning cloth



Resolution                     230-lines (see text)

Colour fidelity               average

Picture stability             good

Colour bleed                  none

White balance               average

Exposure                       average

Autofocus                      N/A

Audio performance       average

Insert edit                     N/A

Playback thru adaptor  good



Value for money          4

Ease of use                  9

Performance                7

Features                       5



(c) R Maybury 1993 1705



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