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On paper the Panasonic NV-EX3 should be the best mini DV cam to date, but there's a bit of a problem, it's just too darned small for its own good…



Well, it has finally happened, a camcorder that's so small it is almost impossible to use! JVC managed came perilously close a few months ago with the awkwardly shaped GR-DVX4, but the ergonomics of the Panasonic NV-EX3 are so bad that the company has had to go to quite extraordinary lengths to try and rescue the machine. However, before that a quick look at the specs. It is incredibly small, put a couple of 8mm cassette library cases back to back, add a couple of millimetres all round and you will have a good idea of just how small it is. It's light too, a mere 470g all up.


Panasonic has stuck to the tried and tested when it comes to the main features, there's a 10x zoom lens with the option to extend to 100x digitally. Manual exposure, shutter and white balance settings are augmented by a 5-mode program AE (sports, portrait, low-light, spotlight, surf & snow), plus a very good assortment of digital picture effects – thirteen in all – including various picture-in-picture options and the usual mix, wipe, mirror, strobe, mosaic, solarisation, trail and so on. Most of the effects can also be used during replay and there's a supplementary playback zoom feature with up to 10x magnification.


Standard DV features include a snapshot mode, though this machine has progressive scan, a mechanical iris/shutter and 2 field memories, so you get a better class of still picture to download and print out on your PC (cable and software are optional extras). It has two stereo soundtracks (12 and 16-bit), the former can be dubbed in camera, though there's no external microphone socket on the machine itself. You have to bolt it onto the docking station to plug in a microphone and that also has a 5-pin edit terminal, so the machine can be hooked up to a wide range of edit controllers. The DV out jack is on the front of the machine, alongside a tiny loudspeaker for playback sound. In addition to the colour LCD viewfinder on the top there's a fold-out 2.5-inch LCD colour viewing screen on the side. Power is supplied by a tiny lithium-ion battery pack with up to 1 hour recording time, though 40 minutes is more likely with normal stop-start operation; you can shave off another 10-15 minutes when using the LCD screen.


Control layout is patchy, the knobs and buttons are tiny and it's a pain to use when wearing gloves. The menu button is behind the viewing screen, which is a nuisance if you are using the viewfinder, to make matters worse the menu PIP and manual white balance buttons are minuscule and almost flush with the panel. The zoom slider looks as though it has been tacked on to the front of the machine, presumably because there was nowhere else to put it.


And so we come to the handling. The first thing you discover is that it's an incredibly awkward shape to hold securely and get your thumb and forefinger on to the stop/start button and zoom controls.  In order to hold it vertically your elbow is forced into your stomach; it quickly becomes uncomfortable and it is difficult to grip the machine; the wrist strap is essential to avoid potential disaster. Rather than do the sensible thing and go back to the drawing board it looks as though Panasonic has tried to solve the problem with the assistance of Mr Heath Robinson. They've designed an ugly-looking screw-on wrist strap/handle that completely ruins the machine's appearance and adds several centimetres to its overall dimensions into the bargain. It has to be an afterthought, how else can you explain the fact that it obstructs the cassette carrier when it's in the shooting position, and the handle has to be turned before it can be set down, otherwise it topples over. It's not as though the handle solves the handling problems. Holding the machine upright is still quite difficult, the centre of balance is too low and it has a tendency to lean over to the left moreover the buttons are still difficult to get at, especially for those with longish fingers. The handle doesn't appear in any of the pictures we've seen of the machine; you can bet your boots dealers won't fit it, when they display the machine on their shelves, but remember, without it the NV-EX3 is incredibly difficult to hold!



In spite of all that the EX3 works very well indeed, picture quality is good and our review sample was able to resolve a little over 470 lines without any difficulty. Colours are crisp and natural looking, with the digital stabiliser and zoom switched out noise levels are negligible and the image is rock steady, it doesn't miss a beat, even when given a good hard shaking. The auto exposure systems cope with just about any normal lighting situation and there's the safety net of a very efficient set of program AE modes and full manual exposure, if you want to take charge.


We were a little concerned when we first saw the top mounted stereo microphone. This can be a recipe for trouble, but the only real casualty is shallow frontal soundfield and slightly muddy stereo imaging, there's no real problem with motor whine or handling noises; both soundtracks have a wide and open response.



Oh dear oh dear… What should have been the best DV minicam to date is marred by poor handling and made even worse by the horrible looking carry handle. We have no problems with performance, features or specification, in fact it ranks as one of the best in its class but for £1600 or thereabouts we had expected something a bit more refined.


The Rivals

JVC GR-DVL9600 £1600, Sharp VL-PD1, Sony DCR-TRV10 £1500



Panasonic NV-EX3, mini DVC, £1600



Lens                             f/1.8, 3.6 – 36mm

Zoom                            10X optical, 100X digital

Filter diameter            27mm  

Pick-up device            0.25in CCD

Min illum                       1 lux (gain up mode)  

Long play (LP)                        yes                  

Max rec time                        1200mins (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                                  no        

Audio dub                                  yes

Character generator                       no                    

Digital superimposer                 no        

Image stabiliser                         yes (digital)                              

Video light                                 no        

Battery refresh               n/a                                       

Accessory shoe             no        




time/date recording,  high-speed shutter (14-speed up to 1/8000th sec), record review, retake, tally lamp, program AE (sports, portrait, low-light, spotlight, surf & snow), digital effects (picture in picture, wipe, mix, strobe, gain-up, trail, mosaic, mirror, negative, sepia, monochrome, solarisation), playback zoom & effects, progressive scan snapshot, cinema



Viewfinder                       0.6 in colour LCD, 2.5-in colour LCD viewing screen

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



Stereo                                       yes (12 & 16 bit)           

Wind noise filter                         no                   

Mic socket                                no (see text)                 

Headphone socket              no        

Mic                                           single point stereo



Sockets                                    AV out (minjack), DV out (DV jack)

Dimensions                               49 x 108 x 86 mm (see text)                      

Weight                          470g (inc. tape and battery)



Batteries (Li-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            7

Ease of use                   3

Performance                  8 

Features                       8



R Maybury 1999 1608





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