VIDEO CAMERA 1997

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DINKY DIGITAL DELIGHT

 

STANDFIRST

For the past eighteen months JVC and Sony have been hogging the digital camcorder spotlight, meanwhile Panasonic have been developing what could turn out to be the smartest, neatest pocket digicam to date...

 

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Panasonic launched their first digital camcorder, the chunky semi-pro NV-DJ1, almost exactly two years ago. After that it went a bit quiet, at least as far as Panasonic’s involvement in mass-market DVC was concerned. That left the way clear for JVC and Sony to grab all the headlines, with a succession of cute pocket-sized machines. However, behind the scenes Panasonic were busily developing a new range of compact DVC machines. We’ve been trying out a pre-production NTSC sample of the first of them, the NC-DS5; the PAL version is due here soon for just under £1700.

 

And very pretty it is too. Panasonic have gone for a more or less conventional LCD cam layout, with a largish fold out 3.8-inch screen on the side, and a top-mounted, slide-out, tip-up eyepiece viewfinder -- also colour LCD --  but what makes it so special is the size. It’s around two thirds the size of most VHS-C and 8mm machines, and finished in trendy brushed aluminium. It fits snugly into the palm of the hand, looking and feeling like a precision instrument.

 

The feature list contains relatively few surprises. It has a good set of manual exposure facilities (iris, shutter, focus & white balance), plus the ususal assortment of digital tricks (sepia, neg/pos, solarisation, black and white, cinema etc.). There are  some high-end effects (wipe and mix), plus the obligatory stabiliser and digital zoom (24X or 100X). In common with most other DVC camcorders it has both 12-bit and 16-bit stereo soundtracks, the latter being dubbable. There’s an excellent still-recording facility too, with accompanying mechanical shutter sound effect.

 

For such a sophisticated machine it has relatively few controls, most of them are grouped together on the top and on a panel revealed when the top viewfinder slides out. Most functions are controlled from the extensive menu-driven on-screen display system. Panasonic have taken a leaf out of Sony’s book and used a single thumbwheel control to change and make selections, by clicking the wheel. The LCD screen opens out and can be pivoted to face forward, with the image automatically inverted, so the subject can see themselves. A 20mm diameter loudspeaker is built into the side of the case, immediately behind the screen. 

 

Blink and you’ll miss it, but on the back of the machine, just below the top viewfinder eyepiece is another clear sign that Panasonic are taking digital video very seriously. It’s an IEE1394 interface, a small rectangular four-pin socket, known to its friend as FireWire. This is rapidly becoming the de-facto digital interface for digital video, PCs and desktop video equipment. It has to be said that actual applications and hardware are still a bit  scarce, but mark our words, it will be big...

     

PC connectivity is a major feature of the DS5, though by a slightly circuitous route. The machine comes with a small docking station. In addition to a full set of analogue AV sockets (composite, S-Video and stereo line-audio), and standard Panasonic 5/11 pin edit control socket, it has an RS-232 interface, for connection to the serial port on a PC. (486 or higher with Windows 95, 16Mb RAM and 10MB spare hard disc space). The kit includes two pieces of software, Panasonic’s own DV Studio capture suite, and PictureWorks PhotoEnhancer still image manipulation program. They’re mainly concerned with transferring still video images to the PC, where they can be archived and used with a range of ready prepared templates for greetings cards, calendars postcards and leaflets. However, it opens the way for PC controlled editing and doubtless suitable software will appear in the fullness of time.

 

Unfortunately we can’t say too much about performance at this stage as our sample was an NTSC model, though if that’s anything to go by, the PAL version should be a real stonker. Running our test machine through an NTSC monitor it was able to resolve over 530 lines. The soundtracks had a good wide response and very little background noise. The machine handles beautifully, though the stabiliser is more of a necessity than a luxury as being so small it is quite difficult to hold steady.  We’ll reserve final judgement until we see a PAL machine, but on the evidence so far Panasonic could have a winner on their hands; JVC and Sony had better watch out!

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Panasonic NV-DS5

Recording format               mini DVC

Guide price                                £1700

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.4, 4.7-47mm

Zoom                            10x optical, 25x & 100x electronic

Filter diameter            30.5mm  

Pick-up device            0.25in CCD

Min illum                       7-lux    

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        90mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes

 

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                                  yes      

Audio dub                                  yes

Character generator                       no                    

Digital superimposer                 no        

Image stabiliser                         yes                                          

Video light                                 no        

Battery refresh               n/a                                       

Accessory shoe             no        

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

time/date recording, high-speed shutter (up to 1/8000th sec), manual iris, digital effects (wipe, mix, strobe, gain-up, neg/pos, sepia, B&W, tracer, solarisation, still record), PC connectivity, Interface and software supplied), record review, retake, tally lamp

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.6 in & 3.8 inch colour LCD

Viewfinder info               deck mode and status, low battery, tape count, shutter speed, fader, focus mode, tape end, time/date, title, zoom position

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       yes

Wind noise filter                         yes                  

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              no        

Mic                                           single point stereo

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    DV out (DV jack/FireWire), microphone (minijack),

AV, DC etc (proprietary multi-pin)

Dimensions                               78 x 95 x 132mm                      

Weight                          0.75kg (inc tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries (nicad and lithium), straps, AC charger/power supply, docking station/PC interface, PC/MAC software

AV lead             yes      

video light                      no                    

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor n/a                   

RF Converter             no        

SCART adaptor              yes                  

 

 

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R Maybury 1997 2407

 

TEST UPDATE

The first PAL samples of the Panasonic NV-DS5 have begun to trickle through to the UK and we’ve had the opportunity to put one of the first ones though its paces, to see if it lives up to the promise of the NTSC machines we’ve already previewed. Externally there have been no changes and in our opinion it remains one of, if not the neatest-looking pocket camcorder on the market. 

 

Nothing has been lost in the translation to PAL, quite the opposite in fact. The extra picture lines and superior colour processing circuitry results in an even crisper-looking image; it’s one of the best pictures we’ve seen, on any compact digital camcorder. With all of the effects and auto systems switched off the resolution on our sample topped out at just over 470-lines, noise levels were very low and there was no evidence of colour bleed, even in areas of high saturation. There’s a slight drop in resolution and a very small increase in picture noise when the electronic image stabiliser is switched on. Incidentally, this works very well indeed, a little too well in fact and the picture can appear quite ‘sticky’ on a very slow horizontal pan.

 

Colour are bright and vibrant,  accuracy in the auto white balance mode is spot-on in natural and tungsten light; reds are a touch muted under tube light but it’s easily corrected using the manual lock or presets. The auto exposure copes well with sudden changes in lighting level and bright areas in the image, however, it could do with some form of backlight compensation Fine manual exposure adjustments are quite tricky using the main LCD viewfinder screen. The top-mounted viewfinder is a little better in that respect however neither screen is completely trustworthy.

 

The manual shutter and iris are most welcome but they’re not as readily accessible as we would have liked, never less than three or four button presses away, on the main on-screen menu. Whilst we’re on the subject, and without wishing to appear picky, this excellent little machine deserves a more sophisticated exposure system. Of course full manual control is appreciated, but the three program AE options (sports portrait & low-light), are a bit limited. The most flexible solution would be aperture and shutter priority, which gives the required amount of manual control, leaving the camera to fine-tune settings for optimum results. Just a thought...

 

During playback the image is very steady, jitter is imperceptible and the deck is mechanically very stable, with no disturbance, even if it is vigorously shaken whilst recording or playing back.

 

As before audio performance is excellent. The forward-facing stereo microphones have just the right blend of sensitivity and directionality. The 16 bit soundtrack is exceptionally clean with a flat response and there’s only the very slightest increase in background noise levels when recording in the 12-bit mode.  

 

We see no reason to change our opinions of the NV-DS5. In a nutshell, it is quite simply the best compact DVC machine to date!

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1997 0409

 

 

  

 


 

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