VIDEO CAMERA 1997

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CARD SHARP

 

Digital still cameras are coming thick and fast at the moment and Panasonic are determined to make their mark, with a pair of new models launched within the past few weeks. The NV-DCF1 is the dearer and more sophisticated of the two, with similar appearance and features to several other mid-market cameras from Canon, Sanyo and Sony, to name just a few.

 

Basic facilities are pretty much in line with the current norm, which is a VGA compatible display resolution of 640 x 480 pixels and a recording capacity of between 11 and 47 JPEG compressed images on a 2Mb flash memory, depending on the recording mode. The image to be recorded is shown on a 1.8-inch colour LCD viewfinder screen on the back of the camera; pictures can be downloaded as bitmap files to a IBM or compatible PC or Apple MAC computer using a serial lead and Twain software supplied.

 

Where the DCF1 differs from a lot of digital cameras is the removable memory cartridge. The postage-stamp sized module simplifies transfer to a laptop PC, it fits into an adaptor, that slots into the computer’s PCMCIA (PC card) port. The memory module supplied with the camera has a capacity of 2Mb. Panasonic say that 4, 10 and 15Mb modules can also be used, though at current prices (a 4Mb module will set you back well over £100), it’s a rather expensive upgrade or means of storing pictures. One other difference emerged during the course of the test, this is the first digital camera we’ve used, that makes a noise! A low-level high-pitched whistle came from the viewfinder on two samples we tried, this is almost certainly produced by the screen’s fluorescent backlight.

 

The camera is reasonably comfortable to hold and the shutter button falls readily to hand, though some care has to be taken to avoid the finger shielding the flash. The rest of the controls are accessible, though the side-mounted macro lever can be awkward to move when wearing gloves. The LCD screen tilts upwards through around 30 degrees, for the best viewing angle. Unfortunately the screen is not very bright and can be quite difficult to see, even in normal daylight, let alone direct sunlight. The screen is updated quite slowly, so it has to be held very still to get a sharp image on the screen.

 

Exposure is automatic though there are manual overrides with brightness compensation and the white balance can be locked by pointing the lens at sheet of white paper. It has manual and automatic flash with a red-eye reduction facility, there’s a self timer, but no zoom, electronic or otherwise. Replay facilities include single, multiple screen and a negative image. Battery life is quite good, the supplied rechargeable AA cells will allow a day’s shooting and ten minutes playback, a set of good quality alkalines will last a little longer.

 

PictureWorks Photo Enhancer Software is supplied with the camera. This has some fairly basic but easy to use image manipulation tools and effects, gallery and slide show options plus a set of ready-prepared templates for creating calendars, greetings cards and notices.

 

Image quality is okay, though the camera’s automatic exposure systems are fairly touchy and care needs to be taken to ensure even illumination. The flash seems to come on a bit soon so it tends to err on the side of over-exposure. Nevertheless, with care, the quality can be good enough for incorporating images into internet web pages, illustrating documents, and hard copies on a good colour printer are not too bad at all.

 

If it wasn’t for the poor viewfinder screen and exposure system we could quite like the DCF1. The removable card facility is a good idea and the general design is quite good, but in the end we’re talking about spending £500, and there are other, better specified,  models on the market for that sort of money.  

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model                  Panasonic NV-DCF1 ‘Card Shot’

Guide Price                   £500

Features                       2Mb flash memory card with 11/23 or 47 image capacity (JPEG compression, fine, normal or economy modes), built-in flash, switchable macro function, macro focal range 0.03-0.7 m, 1.8-inch LCD monitor screen, 1/4 to 1/2,000th sec automatic shutter, auto exposure, self timer, time/date recording, PC interface kit and software supplied, re-chargeable batteries   

Sockets                        NTSC video and digital in/out (minijack) DC socket

Dimensions                   93 x 94 x 51.3mm

Weight              320 g, with batteries

Distributor                     Panasonic UK, telephone (0990) 357357

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   7

average performance, horrible viewfinder

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1997 2608

 


 

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