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Yes folks, it's the smallest, lightest camcorder in the universe time once again as Panasonic unveils its latest Lilliputian compact cutie, the tiny NV-DS77



If digital camcorders get any smaller manufacturers had better start supplying them with tweezers and a magnifying glass! This new one from Panasonic is the current record holder. The NV-DS77 weighs in at just 800 grams all up, and it is thin and light enough to slip into a coat pocket, without leaving an unsightly bulge. From the looks of it Panasonic have taken a NV-DS5 and literally shrunk it, (it is actually 26% smaller). The layout and general specification for both machines is almost identical though there are enough differences in the detail to give the new model a quite new personality.


High on the list of new and uprated features is the facility to apply digital effects in both record and replay modes, and there's a redesigned control system, but more about that in a moment. The 3.8-inch fold-out LCD monitor screen is significantly brighter than the one on the DS5, and it consumes less power. That combined with improved power management has resulted in longer operating times. Most of the size and weight savings are due to a new deck mechanism and circuit boards plus a smaller battery pack. This clips on the back, (instead of living inside the machine, as on the DS5). Panasonic have taken a leaf out of Sony's book, boasting up to 9 hours running time on this machine using a single battery. Closer inspection reveals that this involves an optional high-capacity battery pack, but you get the idea, it means the low battery-warning symbol will be seen less often.  


The top mounted slide-out colour viewfinder stays the same and when in the open position it reveals the menu button and a multi-function thumb wheel that's used for manual focus and exposure, menu selection and volume setting. The transport keys that were on the top of the DS5 have been shifted around to the left side, along with the manual focus button. The change around has made control accessibility a little easier but the thumb wheel has become a lot livelier, making it more difficult to highlight and change menu selections.


Most of the connections to the outside world are handled by a docking module that attaches to the base of the machine, via a multi-way connector. This is quite a bit smaller than the one supplied with the DS5 (roughly the size of a pack of 20 cigarettes), and a bit of a pain, because you can't swap tapes when it's attached. For some inexplicable reason the microphone socket has been moved from the body of the machine to the module and that makes life more difficult if you want to record with an external microphone. As usual there's a FireWire or IEEE 1394 DV socket on the front of the machine (now also called iLink, just to confuse matters), and needles to say it's one-way only, so you cannot use it for recording. It's a bit too early to say if there's going to be a 'fix' but keep your eyes on the net. (try http://global-dvc/global-dvc)


Exposure options include manual iris, shutter and while balance plus three-mode auto exposure. They are: sports (faster shutter speed for improved slomo on replay), portrait (narrow depth of field for soft-focus backgrounds and low light and gain-up mode, for low light conditions. The special effects selection is fairly routine with wipe and mix from a still of the last shot, strobe, tracer (trailing effect), neg/pos, sepia, black and white and solarisation. For a change all of them can be used during replay, which might come in handy if you forgot, or fancy cheering up your edits.


Handling is excellent; there's an electronic stabiliser to reduce shake. This can become a problem on extreme zooms (10 x optical, 20x or 100 x electronic) and being so light doesn't help, so it's worth leaving it on all the time. The most frequently used controls are all easy to get at and the reorganised menu and manual override make it lot easier to switch to manual focus.



Checking back with the DS5 review there appears to be little change to the on-screen performance. Resolution is much the same at around 470-lines and there hasn't been any noticeable difference to noise levels, colour accuracy or the reliability of the auto exposure systems. They were all very good to begin with, so no complaints there. Once again image stability is excellent and the deck is virtually bulletproof. Despite out best efforts the picture remained rock solid, even when the machine was shaken violently. Still frame and slomo replay are very steady too; manual inserts tend to leave a slight twitch -- lasting for one frame -- at the edit out point.


There's a choice of two 12-bit or one 16-bit stereo soundtracks, you have to listen very hard to spot any difference, both are very clean, with a wide, flat response and minimal background hiss. Both types of soundtrack can be dubbed, the 16-bit soundtrack will be erased whilst only one of the 12-bit soundtracks are replaced, leaving the other one intact. Forward sensitivity on the built-in microphones is fair to middling but the stereo image is quite narrow. Sound insulation is satisfactory but some motor whine and handling noises are picked up when ambient noise levels are low.



All of the best features from the DS5 have been retained, and one or two new ones added. The brighter LCD screen is definitely better, especially when shooting outdoors. The new control layout works reasonably well though the sensitive thumb wheel is a bit trickier to use and the adaptor module gets in the way when you want to change tapes. It feels more solidly built -- the viewfinder on the DS5 was a bit wobbly and the LCD screen latch is more secure on the DS77. Not all changes have been for the better though, the microphone socket's migration to the docking module is a case in point and the new on/standby/mode switch is quite fiddly. Forget the quibbles, this is an outstanding little machine, that can only advance the cause of digital movie making. The NV-DS77 looks and feels like an old friend, who's lost weight, and looks a whole lot better for it.







Lens                                         f1.4, 4.7 - 47mm

Zoom                                        10 x optical, 100 x electronic

Filter diameter               30.5 & 34mm

Pick-up device               0.3-inch CCD

Min illumination              1 lux (gain up mode)  

Long play (LP)               yes

Max rec time                             90 mins (DVM60 tape)

Edit terminal                              yes, Panasonic 5/11 pin on adaptor 



Autofocus                                  yes

Manual focus                             yes

Auto white balance                         yes

Manual white balance             yes

Auto exposure               yes

Manual exposure                       yes

Program AE                              yes (3-modes)

Fader                                        yes

Backlight compensation       yes

Manual zoom                             no                    

Power zoom                              yes

Insert edit                                  no        

Audio dub                                  yes

Character generator                       no

Image stabiliser             yes

Video light                                 no

Battery refresh               n/a

Accessory shoe             no



time/date recording, high speed shutter (14-speed up to 1/8,000th sec), record review, tally lamp, record and playback special effects (wipe, mix, strobe, gain-up, tracer, neg/pos, sepia, b/w, solarisation), still photo shot mode, cinema mode, timecode record




Viewfinder                       0,7 inch and 3.8 inch colour LCD

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



Stereo                                       yes

Wind noise filter             yes

Mic socket                                yes (see text)

Headphone socket              yes (see text)

Mic                                           single point stereo electret



Sockets                                    DV out (DV jack), multi-way connector to adaptor module  (AV out -- phono, S-Video out -- mini DIN, 5/11 pin edit -- mini DIN, mic, phones & still pic -- minijack)

Dimensions                               58 x 97 x 142 mm

Weight                          800 g (inc tape and battery)



Batteries (lithium & lithium ion), straps, AC charger/power supply


AV lead             yes

Remote control            yes

Cassette adaptor n/a

RF convertor                  no

Scart adaptor                 yes



Resolution                                 470 lines

Colour bleed                              none

White balance               very good

Exposure                                  very good

Autofocus                                  good

Audio performance                  good


RIVALS: Sharp VL-PD1, 1500, Sony DCR-PC10, 1700, Canon DM-MV1



R. Maybury 1998 1307





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