HomeSoftwareArchiveTop TipsGlossaryOther Stuff




They might not be the sort of thing youíd want to take with you on holiday but full-size S-VHS/VHS camcorders are still the choice of serious video movie-makers. Panasonic keep the flag flying with the new NV-MS5



No-one could ever accuse Panasonic of acting in haste, at least as far as new S-VHS camcorders are concerned. The NV-MS5 weíre looking at here is a replacement for the NV-MS4, that we first reviewed back in December 1992. Still, with three and a half years between models theyíve surely had time to come up with something radical? Wrong, the general specification, shape, size and performance of the MS5 is little changed from the MS4, in fact it has fewer features, and at £1800 it is some £400 dearer than the launch price of its predecessor, so whatís going on?


The market has undergone some major changes in the last four years. The MS4 was launched just prior to the first big international exchange crisis of the nineties, when the price of camcorders went through the roof. During that period the 8mm format overtook VHS-C, Super VHS which promised so much, flopped as a domestic format and the cost of Hi8 equipment eventually fell. Nevertheless full-size VHS and S-VHS camcorders have remained popular with serious and semi-professional video movie-makers and in particular wedding videographers, who have probably been responsible for keeping the format afloat. These machines have two key advantages, namely total compatibility with VHS and S-VHS homedecks and uninterrupted recording times of up to four hours, though longer 8mm and Hi8 tapes have eroded that particular advantage. Nevertheless the demand exists otherwise Panasonic wouldnít bother, but the price reflects the relatively small volume of machines sold in the UK.


You have to look quite hard to spot the changes between this machine and the MS4. The lens now sports a manual zoom lever and there are fewer controls on the left side of the camera body -- a blanking plate with a bold Super VHS logo covers up the panel where the buttons for the digital effects used to be. There have been some minor alterations to the cosmetics, otherwise they look almost identical. Internally there have been some improvements to the white balance system and theyíve tinkered with the video processing circuitry but to be perfectly honest this appears to be little more than a stripped-down MS4.


Nevertheless what remains is still perfectly valid for itís target market. Up front thereís a 12x zoom lens, theyíve dispensed with the 100x digital zoom which was quite eye-catching but ultimately only served to mangle the picture. The 3-mode zoom/wide-angle microphone remains, and very good it is too. On the side, close to where the userís ear will be -- when the machine is supported on the shoulder -- thereís a small monitor loudspeaker; we canít help feeling a headphone socket would have been quite useful too. The manual exposure system is undoubtedly one of the highlights. The full range iris has 17 steps, from fully open (with two additional stages of gain) to F19. Unfortunately the iris buttons double up as manual shutter controls (8-steps, from 1/50th to 1/8,000th sec), so the two cannot be adjusted simultaneously, moreover theyíre inconveniently located just below the viewfinder module. Other exposure options include switchable low-light mode, manual white balance lock, single mode AE (portrait) and a fader.


The editing facilities are as useful as ever. Thereís the standard Panasonic 5-pin editing terminal, for connection to a suitable edit controller; it automatically records VITC (vertical interval time-code) data on every tape for accurate editing, and thereís audio-dub and insert edit modes. Other handy items are a self-timer and interval timer, that makes recordings lasting 1 second at 1 minute intervals. A socket on the right side of the machine is for an optional character generator.


The MS5 is powered by a chunky 2Ah sealed lead-acid battery pack, that gives between 45 and 60 minutes recording time under normal conditions. This needs to be treated differently to a nicad battery, and should be immediately re-charged after use.


Handling is generally quite good, and itís lighter than it looks, though with an all-up weight of over 3kgs itís no featherweight. Itís worth remembering that the natural home of this machine, and others of its ilk, is sitting on top of a tripod. The controls, with the exception of the iris/shutter buttons, are mostly well-placed and the displays on the big black and white viewfinder include plenty of relevant information.



Picture quality is excellent, and definition is as close to the 400-line benchmark as you can get. Even though weíve been treated to the wonders of digital recording Super VHS still looks good, with bright, clean colours and very little noise. Digital recordings, for all their fine detail, have a harshness -- and the occasional movement artefact -- S-VHS looks softer, more natural and thatís retained even on second generation copies or edits to VHS. Standard VHS recordings benefit from the high performance heads and recording circuitry and resolution tops out at just under 250 lines.


The stereo hi-fi recording system generates a small amount of background noise, but itís not intrusive. The response is very flat, and the microphone works well, giving a choice of a increased frontal sensitivity with reduced channel separation, or a broader stereo soundfield.



Given that there is still a market for full-sized machines the MS5 should not disappoint those looking for a large, high-performance machine with all of the benefits the format has to offer. However, that sector is quite small and we canít help feeling that the allure is S-VHS is going to diminish even further with the arrival of lower-priced DVC equipment later this year. The disappearance of the digital effects system is not a major concern, but it has to be said that given the similarity between this machine, and the MS4 it might be worth keeping the older model on your shortlist as thereís bound to be some useful discounts.



The MS4 is the only other S-VHS camcorder on the market this side of £5,000, so itís pretty much in a field of itís own. Hi8 alternatives with similarly versatile exposure systems include the Sony TR3, TR3000 and Canon UC-X2 Hi which have list prices between £1500 and £1600. After that youíre into serious-money territory with the Canon EX2 Hi and Sony CCD-VX1 at more than £2500, plus the two Sony DVC machines, the cheapest of which sells for £2800.



Make/model                               Panasonic NV-MS5B

Recording format               S-VHS/VHS

Guide price                                £1800



Lens                             f/1.6, 5.6-67mm

Zoom                            12x optical

Filter diameter            49mm  

Pick-up device            0.3in CCD

Min illum                       1 lux (gain-up mode)



Long play (LP)                        no                   

Max rec time                        240mins

IR remote control                        no

Edit terminal                        yes (5-pin)


MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                                          

Manual focus                 yes      

Auto exposure               yes                              

Programmed AE                          yes (1 mode)  

Fader                                        yes                  

Manual white balance yes      

Auto white balance             yes                                          

Manual zoom                             yes      

Power zoom                              yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                  yes      

Audio dub                                  yes

Character generator                       no (optional)                      

Digital superimposer                 no        

Image stabiliser                         no                                           

Video light                                 no        

Battery refresh               no                                        

Accessory shoe             yes      




manual iris, time/date recording, self/interval-timer, high-speed shutter (7-speeds up to 1/8000th sec), record review, tally lamp, VITC recording, index record, built-in monitor speaker



Viewfinder                       0.7in monochrome

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, shutter speed, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, index, head clog, dew



Stereo                                       yes

Wind noise filter                         no                   

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              no        

Mic                                           unidirectional/zoom



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

(mini DIN), character generator (mini DIN), microphone & remote pause (minijack)

Dimensions                               130 x 245 x 476mm                      

Weight                          3 kg (inc tape and battery)



Batteries (nicad), straps, AC charger/power supply

AV lead             yes      

video light                      no                    

remote control            no        

cassette adaptor n/a                   

RF Converter             no        

Scart adaptor                 yes                  



Resolution                                 400-lines (250-lines composite)

Colour fidelity                           very good

Picture stability                         very good

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            good

Exposure                                   very good

Auto focus                                  average

Audio performance                   good

Insert edit                                  good    

Playback thru adaptor              n/a



Value for money          8

Ease of use                   8

Performance                9

Features                      8



R Maybury 1996 0904





[Home][Software][Archive][Top Tips][Glossary][Other Stuff]

Copyright (c) 2005 Rick Maybury Ltd.