Panasonic PV-GS70 Mini DV Camcorder
The Panasonic PV-GS70 is the smallest and least expensive 3-CCD camera on the market. It would be a mistake to simply throw this camera into the 3-CCD category and analyze it from that perspective. Instead, the question we asked was: for $1,000, is this camera any good, regardless of the technology inside?
We found that the camera produced pleasantly saturated colors with properly lit scenes. We did a direct comparison with two new single-CCD cameras and were able to tease out a small but noticeable advantage (when carefully examining frame grabs); especially in how the GS70 represented reds in automatic mode. The difference was not dramatic, but we feel that this definitely shows that this camera can stand up to, and often beat, the latest quality consumer cameras in this price range. Our resolution tests revealed modest numbers, but this didn't seem to affect the subjective quality of the image, which was quite sharp, but didn't display too much contrast. The field of view is very wide and, as you'd expect, shows some distortion around the edges.
To simplify a bit, small camcorders suffer from poor low-light performance, simply because they collect less light than cameras (or telescopes) with larger lenses (and larger mirrors). The GS70 has a very small lens and 1/6-inch CCDs, which are also relatively small.
Objectively, we can say that the generous 1/3-inch CCDs and big lens on the largish Sony DCR-VX2100 ($3,000) give it outstanding low-light capabilities. Likewise, objectively, we can say that the small CCDs and small lens on the small GS70 ($1,000) don't give it great low-light capabilities. For example, under the standard fluorescents in our office with the camera in auto mode, there was not enough light to use the electronic image stabilization in some situations. (We certainly appreciate that the camera warns us of this condition, however.) The camera also felt that it needed the flash for stills (and indicated so on the LCD) in many normal conditions around the office.
That being said, the manual controls on the GS70 do give you excellent control over how you manipulate the available light. In addition to a full-manual iris, the camera also has an electronic gain control. Once the iris is fully open, you can increase the sensitivity of the CCD from 0dB to +18dB, (in +1dB increments, although the numeric display only shows +3dB changes), which is quite a lot. Even in a very dark room, at +18dB, you are going to get a very bright image from this camera. You may find the image to be too grainy, but the point is that you have the control and you can decide what is too grainy for yourself.
As mentioned earlier, the auto features on the camera produced a nice image by default. The electronic image stabilization did not negatively impact the image, but it also was not the best that we've seen at stopping shakes. The manual exposure controls are great and manual white balance worked just fine. Manual focus was possible, but the focus ring was not great.
The GS70 has both mike and phone jacks, so getting quality audio is possible with this camera, but ultimately up to the user. Panasonic includes a gimmicky little microphone/remote zoom contraption that connects to the camera via a 3-foot cable. You can use it to record voice notes to the SD card (but not while shooting video) or voiceover narrations (when you use 12-bit/32kHz audio). It also has a Record button and a zoom rocker switch that could allow you to keep your hands off the camera when it is mounted on the tripod. And you can leave the camera on the tripod: the GS70 has a top-loading tape mechanism. The zoom wasn't any smoother than using the wireless remote control or the on-camera rocker. We like gimmicks and features, but we would not buy this camera or any other based on such extras.
Like most other video cameras we've reviewed, you should not buy the GS70 because of its still image feature. At only 1.2 million pixels, even the cheapest digital still cameras outshoot the GS70. It's not that the stills of the GS70 are poor, they just aren't impressive anymore.
There are very few camcorders that compare to the Panasonic PV-GS70 in terms of features in this size and price range. Yes, it needs enough light to shoot a beautiful image, but the exposure controls will allow you to at least get a picture even in very dark situations. Don't expect the three CCDs (or any other technology) to magically make your video "broadcast quality" (whatever that means). If you are looking for a good little shooter, the GS70 is a very portable, compact camera that shoots a nice image, has a full set of manual controls and the necessary microphone and headphone jacks all serious videographers need.
Format: Mini DV
Lens: f/1.8, fl=2.45mm to 24.5mm, 10x optical zoom, 37mm filter diameter
Image sensor: 3 x 1/6-inch CCD
Gross pixels (per CCD): 460k
LCD viewscreen: 2.5-inch color
Focus: auto, manual
Anamorphic 16:9: no
Image Stabilization: electronic
Exposure: auto, manual, presets (5)
Minimum Shutter Speed: 1/60
Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/8,000
Iris: auto, manual
Electronic Gain: +18dB
White Balance: auto, manual, presets (2)
Audio: 12-bit (default), 16-bit
Microphone Input: 1/8-inch mini
Headphone Output: 1/8-inch stereo mini
Inputs: FireWire, S-video, composite
Outputs: FireWire, S-video, composite
Edit Interface: FireWire
Other features: still shot (1,280 x 960), 8MB SD card, flash, wired remote zoom control
Dimensions (w x h x d): 3 x 2.75 x 5.25 inches
Weight (sans tape and battery): 1.06 lbs.
- Sharp images, saturated colors
- Full set of manual exposure controls
- Microphone and headphone jacks
- Needs plenty of light
- Average image stabilization
The PV-GS70 is a very portable, compact camera that shoots a nice image, has a full set of manual controls and has the necessary audio jacks.
D. Eric Franks is Videomaker's Technical Editor.
Panasonic Consumer Electronics Company
One Panasonic Way
Secaucus, NJ 07094