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The recent glut of 8mm machines has left the VHS-C camp looking a little sparse but Panasonic are doing their bit to liven it up with a new budget palmcorder that will be selling shortly for less than 600, we have an exclusive preview of the NV-S20


New VHS-C camcorders have been pretty thin on the ground lately but now ,at last, Panasonic have brought out a new  budget  palmcorder costing just under 600 that could  help to revive interest in the format.. The NV-S20 is a new design though it leans quite heavily on its predecessors, notably the popular G101/2/3 series which broke new ground with their wide-angle zoom lenses.  The S20 is mainly aimed at family users, though  there's plenty to interest more adventurous video movie-makers, as we shall see, but first a run-through of the main features.

The first thing you notice when you pick it up is the lack of an on/off switch, that's because there isn't one! Instead the machine has an ingenious combined power-on/record-standby switch, next to where you would normally find the record stop/start button. Flip the new switch and the red record button is revealed,  then the machine is ready to go. That's a really neat touch that cuts down on pre-shoot fumbling, and should help to ensure  those once-in-a-lifetime shots  won't be missed.

The two-speed wide-angle zoom lens has an angle of view around one and a half timers wider than a normal camcorder lens, and it's faster too,  going from end to end in less than 4 seconds. Auto focus is faster as well,  the S20 can get a lock in around one second, that compares with 1.5 seconds on the NV-G202.  For effortless video-movie making, with the potential for a little creativity ,there's a five-mode program auto exposure system. Positions one and two on the selector dial are for full auto operation and manual  control. Mode three is the familiar sports setting which gives shutter priority, for reducing the blur on fast-moving subjects. Position four is the portrait mode, this is for aperture priority,  giving a narrow depth of field so that  subjects stand out against out  of focus backgrounds. Finally there's the twilight mode which takes low-light sensitivity down to just 1 lux.



Other noteworthy features include a new 'intelligent' auto-iris; this divides the scene into 25 zones, to give better control over contrast when the scene is strongly lit from the front or the rear. The AGC (automatic gain control) has also been uprated from the 202, to improve low-light  performance.  Lastly,  the S20's, like the G202 before it has an infra red sensor coupled to it's  auto white balance system, to improve colour balance on outdoor scenes, under a wider range of  lighting conditions.


Control layout  onthe S20 has been well thought out, all of the most frequently-used buttons are large and accessible and the inner-focus lens is controlled from a servo ring around the lens barrel, which die-hards like us will be pleased to see.  It has a new set of viewfinder displays,  important messages, like RECORD and PAUSE now appear momentarily  in the centre of the screen, in large letters, further lessening the chance of a mistake.


Two other convenience features deserve a mention; they're  the external mic socket  and  the new  style mains charger.This brings a normal 1Ah battery up to full power in just 50 minutes. Quite how this will affect the long-term performance of the battery remains to be seen, but  to their credit Panasonic recognise the need for battery care and all of their chargers now feature a refresh mode, to eliminate the worst effects of nicad memory and cell imbalance.


Editing features are few and far between, though  it does have a 5-pin RMC socket, so it can be used as a source deck with one of Panasonic's own editing controllers,  such as the VW-EC1, or one of the growing number of  third-party controllers.  Sadly there's no audio dub or insert edit , though to be fair they're a comparative rarity at this end of the market.



Panasonic have concentrated their efforts on  making the S20 easy to use, and improving picture performance in normally difficult situations, which will be welcome news for newcomers to video movie-making. The lens, camera and recording sections are little changed from the last G-series machines,  that tranaslates to a quoted horizontal resolution of  between 230 to 240 lines, and a signal to noise ratio of 40dB,  both figures are in line with previous G-series machines. In a nutshell it's as good as,. if not better than most  camcorders in the sub-600 price bracket..


This is a mono machine, with a bog-standard linear soundtrack,  so there's little to say about audio quality except that it's fine for most everyday situations,  the external mic facility  is there to help when the going gets tough for the on-board mike.



Once again Panasonic have accurately judged  market needs and the S20 is just what we've been waiting for, a reasonably priced VHS-C palmcorder with enough automation to appeal to point-and-shoot users,  with sufficient scope for creativity for those who want to explore other avenues. Reccommended.




Make/model              PANASONIC NV-S20

Recording format              VHS-C

Guide price            600                         


Lens            f1. 4, 5-40mm             

Zoom                                            8x

Filter diameter                              49mm

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum (lux)                        1 (gain-up mode)


Tape speed (mm/sec)                        23.39(SP), 11.70(LP)

Max rec. time                        90mins (LP mode)

Remote control                             5-pin edit terminal

Main facilities                        auto/manual focus, auto-exposure & white

                        balance, fader, program auto  exposure                                          wide-angle zoom, time/date recording,


Viewfinder                        0.6in monochrome          

Viewfinder info                        deck mode and status, low battery, tape

count, shutter speed, fader, focus, tape end, time/date, title       


System                        mono               

Microphone                        unidirectional electret


Sockets              AV output (phono), external mic,               

Size (mm)           129 x 121 x 247

Weight               1.1kg (inc. battery and tape)


Batteries (nicad and lithium), straps, AC charger/power supply, cassette adaptor, AV cable


Resolution           >230 lines            

Colour fidelity       good  

Picture stability    good

Colour bleed         negligible 

White balance      good

Exposure             good 

Autofocus            good  

Audio performance         average 

Insert editing                                  N/A

Playback thru adaptor                     good


Value for money         9

Ease of use                 9

Performance               9

Features                      8


(c) R Maybury 1993  2602


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