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No, it's not Action Man's camcorder, this tiny DV machine from Panasonic is the real thing, and well specified to boot, the only thing missing is a keychain…



The big problem with really small camcorders is, well, the size... Take the Panasonic NV-DS33 for example. According to the blurb it's the world's smallest 'conventional style' DV camcorder -- whatever that means -- but you can take it as read that it is tiny, so small in fact that it almost disappears from view if you've got large. Clearly a really small camcorder has limited room for controls and connections, which can make them awkward to use -- it's certainly a consideration on this brilliant little micro-cam -- but we'll come back to that in a moment.


Small certainly doesn’t mean basic, at least not in the case of the NV-DS33, it has almost all of the features you would expect to find on a compact mid-market DV camcorder. That includes a full set of manual exposure controls, program AE, digital special effects, 16-bit and dubbable 12-bit soundtracks, an image stabiliser, fold-out 2.5-inch viewing screen plus PC and DV connectivity. The later is an i-Link (aka FireWire) output; there's no word on enabling a FireWire input on this model but on past experience that seems unlikely. The lens has a 10x optical zoom that can be digitally extended to 100x, the still/snapshot recording facility has a progressive scan mode for improved resolution, and all but one of the nine digital effects (gain-up is the odd one out), can be applied retrospectively during playback. Incidentally, unlike a lot of DV camcorders the PC connection kit and software is and optional extra costing around £150, (we understand the PC kit may be bundled with the machine by some dealers later in the year).   


Most of the controls are a sensible size and easy to access, the exceptions are the tape eject switch and compartment closure, it has a fiendishly difficult to use multi-function knob and the main on/function switch is really fiddly and guaranteed to make you curse. Just for good measure you can't swap tapes when the machine is docked to its AV connector module. You can't replace the battery or get at the main recording controls without pulling out the viewfinder and there's no external microphone or headphone sockets on the body of the machine, presumably because there's nowhere to put them…


In full auto mode it's a doddle to use, the trouble comes when you engage the manual overrides. Setting the iris or shutter and making menu selections is difficult because of the sensitivity of the rotary push-switch. Just touching it makes things happen and trying to set a specific exposure value takes far too long as you're continually overshooting. The function switch on the back is too small and very hard to set with gloves on and getting tapes in and out of the machine is a pig until you get used to it. The touchy rotary push switch conspires to make some operations more difficult than they need to be. That includes selecting effects and program AE options which are on the menu display, rather than from the buttons on the body of the machine; it makes you think twice about fiddling around when you're in the middle of a shoot.


Apart from that it's wonderful! It fits snugly in the hand (and pocket), the main shooting controls (record/standby, zoom and snapshot) are in exactly the right place and the viewfinder and viewing screen produce bright, sharp images. The supplied lithium-ion battery pack is supposed to last for around 75 minutes though the best we got was just under 55 minutes, which is still good. Ignore the bumf about a 9-hour shooting capability that involves buying a high capacity pack, which from the looks of it is almost as big as the DS33! Editing functions are a little limited, it has a 5/11-pin edit terminal on the docking station and one of the 12-bit stereo soundtracks can be dubbed, but only through the built-in microphone or a microphone connected to the docking station.



We can't say there were any surprises when it came to record and playback quality. The picture is crisp with lots of detail; our early production sample was able to resolve a little over 470-lines which we count as entirely satisfactory. Noise levels were very low indeed and the image was very stable. The deck mechanism is rock solid and didn't miss a beat, even when shook violently. In good daylight colours are bright and natural, it cope quite well with with fluorescent light, though it's worth setting up the white balance manually as it has a tendency to mute reds and overemphasise greens in the full auto mode. Variable speed search, still and frame by frame playback are also very steady, full marks too for the special effects and we definitely welcome the facility to add them during playback. Full manual exposure control is a luxury on any camcorder, if only it had been a little easier to use on this machine…


The stereo microphone generates a fairly narrow stereo image, it's okay if the subjects are no more than three or four metres away but any further and separation becomes a bit muddy. Sensitivity is good and the mic is well insulated against handling and motor noises. The response on both the 12 and 16-bit soundtracks are generally flat and wide -- there's virtually no discernible difference through the built-in mike -- it's just a shame that using an external microphone is such a palaver (the camcorder has to be attached to the docking station).  The built-in speaker is on the left side of the machine -- facing away from the screen and your ears -- and needless to say it is very small, so even at full volume it can be quite difficult to hear if there's any background noise.



We're rapidly getting to the point when camcorders are becoming almost too small. The designers of the NV-D33 have had to make several less than desirable compromises to pack so much into such a small space. It's technically brilliant but when it makes the product difficult to use we have to question the wisdom of the pursuit of miniaturisation. The D33 is just about on the side of okay, we can live with the fiddly controls because it works so well and it is so cute, but no smaller, please (unless it comes with voice control…)!  




Panasonic NV-DS33, mini DVC, £1300



Lens                             f/1.8, 3.6 - 36mm

Zoom                            10x optical, 100x digital 

Filter diameter            30.5 mm  

Pick-up device            0.25in CCD

Min illum                       1 lux    



Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        1200mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes (5/11-pin)


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                                  no        

Audio dub                                  yes

Character generator                       no                    

Digital superimposer                 no        

Image stabiliser                         yes                                          

Video light                                 no        

Battery refresh               n/a                                       

Accessory shoe             no        




time/date recording, high-speed shutter (13-speed up to 1/8000th sec), record review, retake, tally lamp, snapshot record (progressive scan & continuous shoot modes), digital effects (playback & record -- wipe, mix, strobe, trailing, neg/pos, sepia, black & white, sepia, solarisation; record-only, gain-up), program AE (sports, portrait, low-light), manual iris (F-16 to F2.0 12-steps, 0dB to +18db in 7 steps), cinema (letterbox) 



Viewfinder                       0.6 in colour LCD, 2.5-in colour LCD monitor

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



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

Wind noise filter                         yes

Mic socket                                no                    

Headphone socket              no        

Mic                                           single-point stereo



Sockets                                    i-Link/FireWire (DV jack), AV/Power (proprietary


Dimensions                               58 x 94 x 123mm                      

Weight                          0.7kg (inc tape and battery)



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

AV lead             yes      

video light                      no                    

remote control            yes      

cassette adaptor n/a                   

RF Converter             no        

Scart adaptor                 yes                  



Resolution                                 470-lines

Colour bleed                              none

White balance                            good

Exposure                                   very good

Auto focus                                  good

Audio performance                   good



Value for money            8

Ease of use                   8

Performance                  9 

Features                       9



JVC GR-DVM5 £1300, Sharp VL-PD1 £1500, Sony DCR-PC10 £1700,



R Maybury 1999 1203





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