Benchmark:Panasonic PV-DV950 Mini DV Camcorder
A Three-Chip Challenger

by Don Collins





PV-DV950 Mini DV Camcorder

($2,700)

Panasonic

One Panasonic Way

Secaucus, NJ 07094

(800) 211-7262

www.panasonic.com



As the digital video revolution continues, the price of high-quality Mini DV camcorders continues to drop, making them readily available for mainstream consumers. In the last year or so, leading camcorder manufacturers have begun to introduce moderately priced 3-CCD camcorders. Now, Panasonics consumer division enters the fray with their own sub-$3,000 3-CCD camcorder: the PV-DV950.

The PV-DV950 is a well-designed, high-quality, compact 3-chip camcorder aimed at the intermediate to advanced videographer. Its easy enough to operate for casual shooters yet it has the manual controls and high image quality that intermediate and advanced videographers have come to expect from a camcorder at this price.


At Your Fingertips

The palm-sized PV-DV950 fits snugly in the hand. Panasonic engineers did an excellent job placing all of the features and manual controls on the camcorders small body, enabling ease of use without sacrificing comfort. Unlike other Mini DVs that conserve space by placing most controls in the menu system, the PV-DV950 places the most important controls, like focus, exposure and white balance at your fingertips, on the camcorders body. This is handy for quick access to controls while shooting.

To focus manually, we pressed the focus button and then we turned the large, rubber, sure-grip focus ring on the lens. It felt good to the touch and was easy to focus accurately. Once we set the focus it didnt waver or drift.

To select a shutter speed or an exposure setting, we switched between fully automatic and manual modes. The automatic setting responded well to the various lighting conditions, and the manual mode was easy to adjust. For shutter speed, we could choose a number of settings from 1/60 to 1/8000 of a second, depending on the conditions. The switch is right on the camcorder. Using the same switch, we could also adjust the exposure by opening or closing the iris from f/2 to f/16. A nice advanced feature included on the PV-DV950 is the zebra stripe option. This is a convenient visual cue that indicates the "hot spots" of your shot. You can then manually close the iris or raise the shutter speed until the stripes disappear.

The PV-DV950s two-level menu system is simple and easy to use. The most commonly used controls like image stabilization on/off, digital effects and manual audio controls are located on the first level, while the less-used controls like tally light on/off and clock are on the second level. We found the menu to be logically organized and easy to access.


The Basics

The PV-DV950 features a small 2.5-inch flip-out LCD viewscreen and a color viewfinder. It has a 12:1 optical zoom and a 120:1 digital zoom. The variable zoom motor made it easy for us to smoothly adjust the speed of our zoom. We simply pressed hard for a fast zoom (full optical zoom in about a second, full digital zoom in about three seconds) and lightly for a slower zoom. In the menu, we could select which zoom mode to use: up to 12:1 (optical), 30:1 or 120:1 (digital). At 30:1 the image looked very good, with little image degradation. When we switch to the full digital zoom, we were pleasantly surprised with the image quality, especially with the EIS turned on. Even at 120:1, I was able to hold the camcorder in the palm of my hand and capture a decent image; enough to clearly read a cars license plate at about 50 yards.

The built-in stereo microphone is located on top of the camcorder, near the lens. The auto pickup was good and we heard no motor noise on playback. The PV-DV950 allows for manual audio level control. While the auto mode performed well in our tests, advanced shooters will appreciate the ability to manually adjust the audio levels for those situations that call for precise settings. It was a bit of a hassle to have to go to the menu system each time we wanted to manually adjust the audio levels, but we were sure glad we could adjust them: from -20 dB to +6 dB.

The units playback controls are conveniently placed on top of the camcorder. Panasonic included a cool little feature for playback: a jog/shuttle dial for accurately locating frames. This is handy for reviewing footage and in-camera editing.


The Ins and Outs

The only flaws we found with the PV-DV950 were related to the jacks. The FireWire and microphone ports are located on the body of the camcorder but the S-video, RCA and headphone jacks are all located on a small docking station that attaches to the bottom of the camcorder and acts as a base. To monitor your audio levels while youre recording, you need to attach the camcorder to the docking station before you can plug in your headphones. On the surface, this is only a minor inconvenience. However, we found that the headphone jack was located near the handgrip, making it very uncomfortable to hold the PV-DV950 with the headphones attached. Whats worse is the potential for someone with large hands to inadvertently loosen the plug or accidentally snap it off in the jack.


Final Analysis

The PV-DV950 is easy to use, comfortable to hold (when you arent using headphones) and delivers an excellent image. Its features are easy to locate and its menu system is straight forward and intuitive.

The PV-DV950 is another affordable 3-chip camcorder in this growing category. It has the features and controls that advanced users require but its still simple enough for to accommodate the beginner. -DC

 

TECH SPECS

Panasonic PV-DV950

Mini DV Camcorder

Format Mini DV

Lens 12:1 optical zoom, 120:1 digital zoom, f/1.6, f=4.0-48mm, 43mm filter diameter

Image Sensor three 1/4-inch CCDs, approx 270,000 pixels each

Viewfinder 2.5-inch color LCD viewscreen, color viewfinder

Focus manual, auto

Maximum Shutter Speed 1/8000

Exposure manual, 5AE modes.

White Balance manual, auto

Digital Effects 12 modes

Audio PCM 16, 12 bit stereo

Inputs mini microphone, FireWire

Outputs S-video, composite video, mini headphone

Edit Interface IR, Ctrl-M, DV

Dimensions 3 (width) x 3 1/2 (height) x 5 (depth) inches approx.

Weight (sans tape and battery) 1 pound, 12 ounces

Video Performance (approx.)

  • Horizontal resolution (camera) 400 lines
  • Horizontal resolution (playback) 400 lines

    Performance Times

  • Pause to Record 1.5 seconds
  • Power-up to Record 6 seconds
  • Fast-forward/Rewind (60 min. tape) 1 minute, 19 seconds

    TEST RESULTS

    strengths

  • Three CCDs
  • Manual audio control
  • Zebra stripes
  • Ease of use

    weaknesses

  • Poorly located headphone jack
  • No composite or S-video inputs

    summary

  • The PV-DV950 has all of the manual controls that advanced users demand, but doesnt sacrifice ease of use.
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