VIDEO CAMERA 1997

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TRIPLE TREAT

 

STANDFIRST

Back in the October issue we firmly asserted that the Panasonic NV-DS5 was the best DVC camcorder there was. That was before we’d had a chance to try out the new NV-DX100...

 

COPY

Over the past few years Panasonic have churned out a succession of safe, predictable, sometime even a little dull, VHS-C camcorders. Then along comes a run of real stonkers! The DVC format has clearly fired the designers and engineers imagination and their latest machine -- the NV-DX100 -- is quite simply the finest DV mini cam we’ve ever seen!

 

The NV-DX100 is a development of the excellent little NV-DS5. They have quite a lot in common; they’re both small, neat  and share the same lightweight chassis and deck mechanism. Each has a fold-out LCD monitor, a top-mounted colour viewfinder and the all-important FireWire DV output for connection to other digital equipment. But that’s about as far as it goes.  The DX100 has an entirely different character to its ‘domestic’ stablemate. It is the world’s smallest and lightest camcorder with a triple CCD image sensor, and the first one to sell for less than £2000. Endorsing its professional qualifications there’s a full set of manual exposure facilities, plus a ‘zebra pattern’ over-exposure warning

 

Although the DX100 is roughly the same shape and size as the DS5, it has a much bigger lens assembly, with a manual focusing ring and macho-looking rubber hood. The controls have been moved around to assist  manual operation. The multi-function thumbwheel is now on the side, with switches and push buttons for auto/manual mode, menu select and white balance. There’s an autofocus enable/disable button on the front and the microphone has been shifted from under the lens to the top panel, just in front of a handy accessory shoe.  The monitor screen on the DX100 is quite small, just 2.5 inches, compared with the big 4-inch screen on the DS5.

 

The 3-CCD image sensor is a real breakthrough on a machine this compact, (and ‘cheap’). Previously it has only featured on small handful of bulky semi-pro models and eye-wateringly expensive broadcast and studio cameras. Unlike a normal single-chip colour camera, it has three 1/4-inch 320k pixel CCDs, one for each primary colour. This means increased colour accuracy plus three times the light collecting area, giving greatly improved signal to noise ratio and sensitivity. The newly designed lens and image sensor assembly also incorporates a faster and more accurate autofocus system and uprated resolution, using a technique known as double-density pixel distribution. This involves off-setting the axis of the green CCD which increases the effective number of pixels by a factor of 1.5.

 

Panasonic have not skimped on the exposure controls. The DX100 has a full-range manual iris. It operates over a range of 15 steps (F16 to F1.7 -- full open) plus 0db to 18dB gain-up, in 7 steps, with the exposure value shown on the viewfinder and monitor screens. The 14-step manual shutter goes from 1/50th sec to 1/8,000th sec, and the white balance control has manual lock (using the opaque white lens cover for reference),  presets for natural and artificial light, plus a highly efficient auto mode. This takes has an external sensor for more accurately measuring colour temperature. The switchable zebra pattern gives an easy to see over-exposure warning, by superimposing a crosshatch on over-bright areas on the image.

 

The manual  controls are supplemented by full auto operation and a set of three program AE settings. Sports mode increases shutter speed to reduce blur on playback, of fast-moving subjects. Portrait mode selects a narrow depth of field, to makes the subject stand out against a soft-focus background and Low-light mode increases the video gain, to improve image brightness in poor light.

 

Lots of digital effects and facilities might seem a little out of place on such a well-appointed machine but even hard-nosed pro-users won’t mind this modest little selection. There’s an electronic image stabiliser, and the 12x optical zoom can be electronically extended to 24X or 120X. It has wipe and mix transitions, from a still of the last recorded scene. Strobe updates the image, for a jerky pop-video type effect, gain-up is a slow-shutter mode for low-light conditions or a streaky after image effect, and monotone records in black and white.

 

In common with all other DVC machine it has a photo-shoot facility, though this time there’s the option to manually select frame recording mode. This increases vertical resolution by 50%, for clearer, sharper stills. It also produces an interesting strobe type effect on moving video recordings.

 

The DX100 has selectable 12 and 16-bit audio recording modes. The  16-bit stereo mode gives the highest quality, additionally there are two 12-bit stereo soundtracks, one of which can be dubbed. This is all fairly standard stuff, but the DX100 goes one better with an optional manual recording level control. It operates in five steps from -10db to +6dB; an over modulation warning appears in the viewfinder if the level is set too high.

 

Sockets are few and far between. There’s an external microphone jack on the front and a DV jack (FireWire IEEE 1394) interface on the back panel, and a shuttered multi-pin socket on the base. This connects to a male plug on a compact interface module. It has composite, S-Video and line-level stereo audio outputs, a Panasonic 5/11 pin edit terminal and a digital output jack. It connects to an RS232 serial lead, to squirt digital still images into a PC. A cable and DV Studio software is available for an extra £150.

 

Panasonic make a thing about the machine’s recording time, boasting in big letters on the box that it can run for up to 6 hours on a single charge. In smaller letters there’s a mention of the fact that this feat requires a special clip-on battery, but there’s nothing about the price, so we’ll put that to rights by pointing out that it costs £200! The supplied lithium ion battery does quite well, though, and you can reckon on an hour or so, under normal conditions.

 

A standard DV time code and sub codes, detailing time, date and index signals are recorded as a matter of course. The timecode can be displayed on screen, and used for frame-accurate editing, using a suitable edit controller, like the new Panasonic WV-EC500.

 

The fold out LCD monitor screen does the usual trick of showing an inverted image when the screen faces the subject, but it is very small and barely large enough for communal viewing. It might come in handy for on-the spot playback, but it’s not accurate enough, nor does it have sufficient resolution for serious colour and exposure adjustments.   

 

PERFORMANCE

We thought the NV-DS5 was good, but wow! The first thing you notice is the increased sharpness and subtlety of colour shading. Objects appear more lifelike, contours are more clearly defined and in good natural light skin tones are quite simply the best we’ve seen on any machine in this bracket. The image is rock-solid and resolution is a little over 480 lines -- with all of the effects, stabiliser and digital zoom switched out. There is so much detail in the picture that we suspect most people would find it impossible to distinguish an off-camera image from the DX100 from a professional studio camera. No ifs or buts, picture quality is excellent!

 

There had to be a fly in the ointment and it’s the microphone. The top of the case is not the best place for it, and there’s an annoying whine on the soundtrack almost all of the time. Forward sensitivity is adequate bit it picks up the user’s breathing and it takes a while to train your fingers not to keep touching the grille when holding the machine two-handed. Aside from that audio quality is very good. Even the supposedly lower quality 12-bit tracks wipe the floor with analogue hi-fi systems, with a wide, clean, flat response and almost inaudible background hiss.  

 

THE VERDICT

Panasonic have done it again! The DX100 takes over where the DS5 left off. We suspect will make a lot of professional and semi-professional users think twice about spending twenty grand or more, on broadcast quality equipment.  

 

THE RIVALS

There are three other pocket DV cams in the £2000 price bracket but the Sharp VL-DC1, Sony-TRV7 and SCR-PC7 are simply not in the same league. To get anything like this level of performance and flexibility you would have to think spending at least another £1000 on the big Panasonic and Sony 3-CCD DV machines, and even then the DX1000 wins hands-down on convenience, ease of use and covetability.  

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                               Panasonic NV-DX100

Recording format               DVC

Guide price                                £2000

 

OPTICS

Lens                             f/1.6, 4.0 - 48mm

Zoom                            12x optical, 24X/120X digital 

Filter diameter            43mm  

Pick-up device            3 x 0.25in CCD

Min illum                       1-lux (gain up mode)  

 

VIDEO DECK

Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        90mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes Panasonic 5/11 pin

 

MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                  

Manual focus                 yes      

Auto exposure               yes                              

Programmed AE                          yes (3-modes)

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                  

Video light                                 no        

Battery refresh               n/a                                       

Accessory shoe             yes      

 

 

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

manual exposure (F16.0 to full open to 0db gain up), time/date recording,  high-speed shutter (14-speed up to 1/8000th sec), record review, retake, tally lamp, photo shoot mode zebra pattern, audio level recording control, digital effects (wipe, mix, strobe, gain-up, B&W), AE lock

 

VIEWFINDER

Viewfinder                       0.6 in colour LCD, 2.5-inch LCD monitor

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

 

AUDIO

Stereo                                       yes (1 x 16-bit stereo/ 2 x 12 bit stereo)

Wind noise filter                         yes                  

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes      

Mic                                           single point stereo

 

GENERAL

Sockets                                    DV output jack (IEEE 1394 FireWire), microphone

(minijack) AV out/DC power in (proprietary multi-pin connector)

Dimensions                               80 x 105 x 192mm                      

Weight                          0.8kg (inc tape and battery)

 

STANDARD ACCESSORIES

Batteries (lithium-ion and lithium), straps, AC charger/power supply, docking station/AV interface

AV lead             yes      

video light                      no                    

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor n/a                   

RF Converter             n/a       

SCART adaptor              no                    

 

PERFORMANCE

Resolution                                 480-lines

Colour fidelity                           excellent

Picture stability                         excellent

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            very good

Exposure                                   excellent

Auto focus                                  good

Audio performance                   good

Insert edit                                  manual inserts clean

Playback thru adaptor              n/a

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money            9

Ease of use                   7

Performance                  9

Features                       10

 

---end---

R Maybury 1997 1310

 

 

 


 

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