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Panasonic's 1994 slim palmcorder range is now complete with the arrival of the NV-R30, we've been trying one out for size...



The NV-R30 fills the last remaining gap in Panasonic's slim palmcorder range, for a mid-priced stereo machine. At just under 750 it's well placed to compete with the steady influx of 8mm sub-compacts that have eroded the VHS-C format's share of the market over the past few years.


From the outside it doesn't look much different from the NV-R10, which we reviewed in April, in fact you would have to look very hard indeed to spot the changes which are very subtle indeed. There's a tiny 'Hi-Fi stereo' logo on the microphone grille, and the manual focus button has been shifted from the side to the front, it's place has been taken by a fade button, and that's about it!


Apart from the stereo soundtrack and fader the feature list is virtually identical to the R10. It includes:

* 3-mode program AE

* 10x variable-speed zoom

* 5-pin RMC edit terminal

* anti ground-shooting system

* single switch start control

* backlight compensation


The anti-ground shooting system (AGS) is about the only feature that needs an explanation. The idea is the machine saves power and prolongs battery running times by switching off the viewfinder and autofocus motors when they're not being used. But how does it know? Simple, it has a sensor that tells it whenever the machine is pointing downwards, and if it's recording when that happens, it automatically goes to record-pause after a second or two.


The program AE system is fairly basic, just three modes, for portrait shots (narrow depth of field, to make the subject stand out against a soft-focus background); sports action, with a higher shutter speed, to reduce blur on fast-moving subjects, and low-light, or gain-up, which increases low-light sensitivity from around 8 lux to 1 lux. In addition there's a backlight compensation, and fader. Manual focus is controlled by a large knob on the front of the machine, and there's a manual white balance option, using a white panel in the lens cap for reference. Someone goofed! The manual white balance and manual focus buttons are sited either side of the white balance IR sensor window; the consequence is that it will be blocked every time the manual focus or WB buttons are used, with the possibility that colour balance will be affected.


Design and layout are as before, with a the same sideways zoom control, combined power/record/standby switch and tiny 4.8 volt nicad pack. In spite of being three quarters the size of a 6-volt pack recording times are no shorter, our sample ran for up to 30 minutes with normal use. Panasonic claim these new batteries do not suffer from memory effects, we hope they're right because there's no refresh circuit on the charger, and the accessory industry have shown no signs of rushing to fill the gap.


Panasonic have kept to their pledge to fit an edit terminal to all new camcorders launched in 1994;  the 5-pin socket on the R30 allows the machine to be used with a wide range of controllers, from Panasonic's simple EC1,  up to advanced PC-based systems that have the kind of facilities found on professional systems. This gives the R30 an unusually broad appeal, from point-and shoot family users to enthusiasts and beyond.


It's small, reasonably light and the slim shape makes it very easy to use. There's hardly any camera controls to worry about, and the transport buttons are out of the way, under a hinged flap on the top panel. The keys are on the small side but they're reasonably well spaced, and fairly easy to find when squinting through the viewfinder. Balance is good and it feels comfortable to hold. The only minor concern is the untethered rubber bung used to block off the microphone socket, when not in use. It's bound to get lost, and when that happens dirt and dust can get in; just below the socket is the lens assembly with lots of vulnerable looking motors and gears...



Panasonic have used the same optics, quarter-inch CCD sensor and deck mechanism as previous R-series machines, so there shouldn't be any significant differences in performance. Aside from just a hint more noise in heavily saturated reds the R30 produced the same crisp looking picture as its stablemates. Our sample obliged by resolving 240-lines, the same as the R10 and R50, colours looked reasonably lifelike under most forms of natural and artificial light.


The stereo soundtrack is a disappointment, the hi-fi recording system does its stuff well enough, and there's a marked improvement in treble response -- compared with the standard mono linear soundtrack -- but you have to strain your ears to detect any kind of stereo image, particularly if the sound source is more than a metre or two in front of the mike. There's no sense of depth, or direction, which is hardly surprising given the position and layout of the microphones. But for the fact you can plug in a proper stereo mike it would be hardly worth having, though it's worth remember that the feature only adds 50 to the price.



The R30 is not what you would call an exciting machine, apart from the AGS system it's a gadget-free zone. Not that we're complaining, it works well enough, but the slim shape has begun to lose its novelty value as smaller and lighter 8mm machines come along. That leaves the price, and that is something to shout about! Aside from one 'rogue' 8mm machine, the R30 is now the cheapest stereo camcorder on the market, by a considerable margin. It's unfortunate that the on-board microphone produces such a weedy stereo image but the external mic socket means the hi-fi sound is not completely wasted. That, combined with the editing socket makes this a force to be reckoned with; the R30 has set a new target for other manufacturers to set their sights upon and may just mark the turning point we've been waiting for with price and features back on the agenda once again.



The only other stereo machine at this price level is the Samsung E405, a useful little palmcorder, and currently selling for less than 650,  but it has no editing facilities, and picture quality isn't as good as the R30. The next cheapest stereo machine, after the R30, is the Sony FX500 at 800, but that has all but disappeared. The new JVC AX60 -- see review in this issue -- costs 700 and has it's own built-in editing system, but the R30 still has an edge when it comes to picture and sound quality. The only other palmcorder in this price category worth considering would be the Sony TR303, another old timer, but picture quality and editing facilities are comparable with the R30.



Make/model                               PANASONIC NV-R30

Recording format                          VHS-C

Guide price                              750



Lens                             f/1.8, 4.6-46mm

Zoom                           x10

Filter diameter            37mm  

Pick-up device            0.25in CCD

Min. illum. (lux)     1 (low light mode)



Long Play (LP)                 yes                  

Max. rec. time                 90mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                   no

Edit terminal                            yes 5-pin RMC


MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto Focus                               yes                  

Manual focus               yes

Auto exposure             yes                              

Programmed AE                    yes (3-mode) 

Fader                                       yes                  

Manual white balance            yes      

Auto white balance                       yes                                          

Manual zoom                           no       

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                no       

Character generator                     no                   

Digital Superimposer            no       

Image stabiliser                      no                   

Video light                               no       

Battery refresh                         no                                       

Accessory shoe                 no       




time/date recording, record review, retake, anti-ground shooting, index record



Viewfinder                       0.5in monochrome

Viewfinder info.               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, AE mode, indec record, dew, anti-ground shooting, error code



Stereo                             yes      

Audio dub                        no                           

Wind noise filter         no               

Mic socket                        yes              

Headphone socket         no

Microphone                    single point stereo



Sockets                           video and stereo audio out (phono), edit terminal (mini                 

                                        DIN), DC in

Size (mm)                       112 x 117 x 216

Weight                            0.9 kg (inc. tape and battery)



Batteries, (nicad and alkaline), strap, AC charger/power supply,

AV lead                        yes      

video light?                 no                   

remote control?            no       

cassette adaptor?            yes                  

RF Converter?             no       

SCART adaptor?            yes                  



Resolution                      240-lines

Colour fidelity                good

Picture stability             very good

Colour bleed                  none

White balance                good

Exposure                       average

Autofocus                      average

Audio performance       average

Insert edit                      manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor   very good



Value for money          8

Ease of use                  9

Performance                8

Features                       8



R Maybury 1994 2104





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