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The NV-DS99 is Panasonic's latest top-end LCD digital camcorder and the first Pan cam to feature an optical image stabiliser



A few years ago image stabilisers were big news. Up and down the country camcorders wobbled precariously atop demo rigs on dealers counters and there was a serious debate as to which system – optical or digital – gave the best results under various conditions. Nowadays image stabilisers have become just another standard camcorder feature but Panasonic has decided to headline the one fitted to the NV-DS99 DV camcorder and we feel duty bound to investigate.


The DS99 is the second new pocket-sized digital camcorder from Panasonic so far this year and there is a very clear family resemblance with the NV-DS33, reviewed in the May edition. The main differences between the two machines concerns the lens, the LCD viewing screen, and the range of digital effects. In short the DS99 has got more of all of them. The DS99 lens has a 12x optical zoom (the DS33 has a 10x zoom) but more significantly this is the first outing for an optical image stabiliser system on a Panasonic camcorder. The LCD screen is bigger, up from 2.5-inches with 180k pixels to 3.8-inches and 220k pixels, and the digital effects now includes picture-in-picture and multi-picture displays, replay zoom, and some additional program AE modes. The DS33 is selling for around £1300, we expect the DS99 to cost only £100 or so more, which sounds like a pretty good deal considering all of the extra bells and whistles.  


Optical image stabilisers were originally developed by Canon, they have also appeared on a few Sony models but to date Panasonic has stuck resolutely to electronic systems. The big advantage of optical stabilisers is that there's no loss of image quality, but that hasn't been an issue with digital camcorders since the relatively small drop in resolution was considered acceptable. Panasonic's switch to an optical system suggests it is giving picture quality a high priority on this machine. The only slight disadvantage of optical stabilisers is that they're not as responsive as electronic types, but that only counts if you're planning to do a lot of recording from moving vehicles or whilst jogging.


The DS99 should have a broad appeal to enthusiasts and novices alike. It has a very tasty selection of convenience features, starting with manual exposure, shutter and white balance, but if you don't fancy a lot of knob twiddling there's full auto and program auto systems. The DS99 has what must be a record number of digital effects and creative facilities. In addition to all of the usual stuff -- sepia, black and white, solarisation etc., -- there's wipe and mix from a still of the last recorded image, a 10x electronic playback zoom plus those multi-picture and PIP modes. Suffice it to say if you've a mind to do so you can turn any home video into a real dog's dinner… What's more with this machine you get two bites of the cherry; effects can be applied whilst shooting, and most of them can added retrospectively during replay    


This machine is small, seriously small. We grumbled about the fiddly controls on the DS33 but nothing much has changed on the DS99. The multi-role thumbwheel on the top of the machine – used to make menu selections and adjust focus and exposure – is still far too touchy.  The zoom is a bit swift too, but we quite like that and you can make some interesting looking sequences when combined with 'strobe' and 'trailing' effects. A couple of other quick moans before we move on. You can't replace the battery without extending the viewfinder, and you can't swap tapes when the machine is clipped to the docking station, which is a pain if you're editing from multiple tapes.   


Despite the larger LCD screen worst case battery performance is little changed from the DS33, you should be able to get between 40 and 50 minutes from the standard battery pack and it only takes an hour or so to recharge. The docking station has a PC serial port, for transferring digital still images to a computer, but the lead and software are not included in the package. Officially they're an option, costing another £150 all but, but we have it on good authority that a lot of dealers will be bundling the kit with the machine. Talking of connectivity, it has a FireWire DV jack, (or iLink as we're supposed to call it now), but it's output only and that's almost certainly the way its going to stay as there's been no news of mods or hacks to enable an input on the DS33.



Since our camcorder resolution tests are always conducted with effects systems and image stabilisers switched off, on paper the DS99 has a very similar set of results to the DS33. However, there is a visible difference between the two machines when the stabilisers are on. There is no change on the DS99 picture, on or off, but the DS33 image twitches slightly and there a small increase in grain.


Our sample was able to resolve 470-lines and that is a good result for a mid-range DV machine. Picture noise levels were a little lower than average, colour accuracy is very good in natural light and it responded well to both tungsten and fluorescent light sources with only minor aberrations in auto mode. The manual exposure controls are of course very welcome indeed but access is hampered by the single very lively thumbwheel control, which they all have to share.


Image stability is rock solid at all replay speeds and the deck mechanics are very stable, it passed our standard shake rattle and roll check with flying colours. The PIP and multi picture modes are all very clever and a bit of fun but we can't really say they did a lot for us. We tried hard to think up a use for them but apart from the novelty value -- which we suspect will wear off quite quickly -- we couldn't think of a single one… The LCD viewing screen is one of the best we've seen in a while; the images is crisp, bright and with clean accurate colours.


You would have to listen long and hard to notice any differences between the 12 and 16-bit soundtracks, clearly it makes sense to use the 12-bit recording system all the time, as there's the option to dub one of the two pairs of soundtracks. The forward facing microphones are directional and not too sensitive, so there's usually no problem with handling noises or motor whine.     



The extra £100 or so for the DS99 -- over and above what you'll pay for the DS33 -- is well worth finding. We still have a few misgivings about some of the controls and the layout but AV performance is excellent, the big LCD screen is a delight and the optical image stabiliser works really well. A smart and sophisticated little machine that sets a new standard in the busy mid market sector recommended.  



PANASONIC NV-DS99, mini DV, £1400



Lens                             f/1.8, 4.2 – 50.4mm

Zoom                            x12 optical, 120x digital

Filter diameter            30.5mm  

Pick-up device            0.25in CCD

Min illum                       1lux (gain-up mode)  

Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        120mins (LP mode)

IR remote control                        yes

Edit terminal                        yes (5-pin)


MAIN FACILITIES               

Auto focus                                yes                                          

Manual focus                 yes      

Manual white balance yes      

Auto white balance             yes      

Auto exposure               yes                              

Manual exposure                       yes

Programmed AE                          yes (5 modes)

Fader                                        yes                  

Backlight compensation            yes                              

Manual zoom                             no        

Power zoom                              yes                                                                              

Insert edit                                  yes/no 

Audio dub                                  yes

Character generator                       no                    

Digital superimposer                 yes

Image stabiliser                         yes (optical)                             

Video light                                 no        

Battery refresh               n/a                                       

Accessory shoe             no        




time/date recording, self-timer,  high-speed shutter (13-speed up to 1/8000th sec), record review, retake, tally lamp, program AE (sports, portrait, low-light, spotlight, surf & snow), digital effects (multi picture, picture in picture, wipe, mix, strobe, gain-up, trailing, mosaic, mirror, negative, sepia, B&W, solarisation), playback zoom, still shot,



Viewfinder                       0.6/in colour LCD, 3.8-in viewing screen

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



Stereo                                       yes (12 & 16-bit)

Wind noise filter                         no                   

Mic socket                                yes                  

Headphone socket              yes (on docking station)

Mic                                           single point stereo



Sockets                                    microphone (minijack), DV out (DV jack), power, AV

control etc (proprietary multi pin)

Dimensions                               58 x 102 x 148mm                      

Weight                          0.7kg (inc tape and battery)



Batteries (lithium ion and 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                            very good

Exposure                                   very good

Auto focus                                  good

Audio performance                   good



Value for money            9

Ease of use                   8

Performance                  9 

Features                       9



R Maybury 1999 1406





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