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Panasonicís NV-S90 award-winning S-VHS-C palmcorder is a tough act to follow, so how does itís successor, the NV-S88 shape up?



The Panasonic NV-S90 was recently voted Advanced Camcorder of the year, and rightly so, itís an outstanding machine that keeps the S-VHS-C flying in the face of some very stiff competition from the Hi8/8mm camp; but now itís about to be replaced by the NV-S88.  So how does their latest flagship machine measure up against itís illustrious predecessor?


The best just got better! In fact thereís only been a few changes. From the outside the two machines look virtually identical, and whatís more the price stays the same, at £1200. The lens is clearly different though, itís larger with a wider aperture, an uprated zoom -- up from 10x magnification to 14x -- and a slightly wider field of view, compared with the S90. There has also been an increase in the range of the digital zoom, from 20x to 28x. Internally there have been one or two revisions to the video processing circuitry. Some of the minor controls on the left side of the machine have been redesigned as well, and the digital effects thumbwheel has been replaced by a pair of selector buttons, though thatís something of a retrograde step as it actually makes it harder to use.


Thereís a new addition to the accessory pack, it now contains an infra-red remote controller, and thatís a first for Panasonic. Remote controllers are supplied as standard with virtually all 8mm camcorders; theyíre essential as they have to double up as replay decks. Itís not a problem for owners of VHS-C camcorders, they can replay tapes on their homedeck VCRs, using a cassette adaptor, however, its appearance on this machine appears to recognise the fact that Super VHS video recorders -- needed to replay tapes made on this machines -- are much thinner on the ground.


The rest of the features list remains pretty much the same though. The key points are a full-range manual iris with calibrated viewfinder display (f16 to +18dB), manual shutter, manual white balance, Ďno-lossí electronic image stabiliser, 3-mode program AE system (sports, portrait, low-light), and a range of digital special effects. These include the excellent wipe and mix facility, for smooth scene transitions, from a still of the last shot. Thereís also a 5-second still Ďsnapshotí recording mode, digital strobe, and digital gain-up. This last one is basically a slow-speed shutter, it increases low light sensitivity but we suspect most users will use it to create an eye-catching streaking effect, when used in conjunction with the power zoom.   


Editing facilities are as before, with an RMC/Panasonic 5-pin edit control terminal on the back, and VITC recording. In addition to tagging each frame of a recording with a unique time-code the VITC generator can also record supplementary data that regenerates the sync pulses on old or noisy recordings. It probably wonít have a lot to do when replaying recordings made on this machine but it strengthens its role as an edit source deck, for compiling material shot on other camcorders. The S88 has stereo hi-fi sound and the standard VHS mono linear soundtrack with audio dubbing.


Apart from a few minor cosmetic alterations to the controls, handling, layout and overall design are unchanged. The machine is quite chunky, and at around 1kg all-up, itís no featherweight, but balance and control accessibility are good and it can be used hand-held for long periods without too much arm-ache


Power comes from a small 4.8 volt pack that clips to the back of the machine; it uses a nicad battery but because of the lower operating voltage itís virtually memory-free. Two power-saving options in the shape of anti-ground shooting and auto shut-off help extend recording time to around  25 to 30 minutes under normal stop/start conditions.



Apparently thereís been a few tweaks to the picture processing circuitry but the resolution on our sample was about the same as the last S90 we saw, at just over 400-lines. Noise levels remain very low indeed, and colour fidelity is outstanding, when the manual white balance system is allowed to do its stuff. Auto white balance is still okay, though itís worth keeping an eye on it, especially when shooting in artificial light. However, there is a small but definite improvement in picture quality and this is almost certainly due to the new lens which gives a brighter, sharper picture over a wider range of lighting conditions.


The manual iris is excellent, smooth and progressive, precisely the kind of facility that has earned the S90 such high esteem amongst serious video movie-makers. Thatís not meant to imply the auto systems donít earn their keep, they do, but when it comes to difficult situations, or creative effects thereís no substitute for manual control.


The electronic stabiliser doesnít seem to have changed much, thereís still a very slight shift in image texture when itís engaged, though not enough to be concerned about. In the auto mode the stabiliser engages a shutter speed of 1/250th second, though this can be overridden by switching to manual. Sorry to say this electronic stabiliser, good though it is, is still not as efficient as the optical systems used on Sony and Canon machines, though it is better at dealing with smaller, more rapid undulations, the sort youíd get when shooting from a moving car, for instance.


The three audio tracks (one mono, two hi-fi) sound almost identical to the S90, the stereo image is quite narrow but forward sensitivity is good, noise levels are very low, and the microphones are well insulated against motor whine. Some handling noises are picked up on the soundtrack though, and the thumbwheel used to adjust the iris and shutter speed, grated a bit on our sample.



Although the S88 isnít quite as exciting as a wholly new top-end S-VHS-C camcorder would have been, all of the improvements have been worthwhile, especially the lens, and the addition of remote control is very welcome indeed.  The S90 has been given a small but useful facelift, but more importantly it has done nothing to affect itís status as the best S-VHS-C machine on the market, it may even have enhanced it a little, and it is still more than a match for itís similarly-priced Hi8 rivals.  



Panasonic still rule the roost in the £1000 to £1500 price bracket. Only the Sony TR3000 comes close in terms of performance and facilities, though thatís currently selling for £1600. If you donít need the extensive exposure and editing facilities then the Canon UC8 Hi remains a very good buy at just under £800, and the Sony TR750 is well worth shopping around for, but no other machine offers such a formidable range of facilities or picture quality, at the price.




Make/model                               Panasonic NV-S88

Recording format              S-VHS-C/VHS-C

Guide price                              £1200



Lens                             f/1.4, 3.9-54.6mm

Zoom                           x14 optical, 28x digital

Filter diameter            43mm  

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum                     1-lux (low light mode) 



Long play (LP)                        no                   

Max rec time                        90 mins

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes 5/11-pin RMC


MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                               yes                                          

Manual focus               yes      

Auto exposure             yes

Manual iris                               yes                              

Programmed AE                    yes (4-mode) 

Fader                                       yes                  

Manual white balance            yes      

Auto white balance                       yes                                          

Manual zoom                           no       

Power zoom                            yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                no       

Audio dub                                yes

Character generator                     no                   

Digital superimposer               no       

Image stabiliser                                  yes (electronic)                                               

Video light                               no       

Battery refresh                         no                                       

Accessory shoe                 no       



time/date recording, high-speed shutter (7-speed up to 1/4000th sec), record review, retake, tally lamp, digital image stabiliser, VITC/data code recording, gain up. digital effects (mix, wipe, strobe, snapshot), power-save/anti-ground shooting



Viewfinder                       0.5in monochrome

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, shutter speed, iris, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, title, zoom, head-clog, condensation, error code, anti-ground shooting, digital effects, low light, stabiliser, cinema mode



Stereo                                      yes      

Wind noise filter                                         no                   

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           single-point stereo



Sockets                                    AV out (phono), S-Video out (mini DIN), microphone,

headphones (minijack), edit terminal (mini DIN), DC power in (multi-pin)

Dimensions                              117 x 116 x 225 mm                      

Weight                         1.1kg (inc tape and battery)



Batteries (nicad, lithium & AA cell), straps, AC charger/power supply,

AV lead                        yes      

video light                   no                   

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor            yes                  

RF Converter             no       

Scart adaptor               yes                  



Resolution                               400-lines

Colour fidelity                           very good

Picture stability                         very good

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            very good

Exposure                                   excellent

Auto focus                                  good

Audio performance                   good

Insert edit                                  n/a

Playback thru adaptor              good



Value for money 9

Ease of use                  8                                      

Performance               9

Features                      9



R Maybury 1995 0410





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