Panasonic AG-DVC30 Mini DV  Camcorder Review

If you enjoy shooting a variety of subjects that require the features of several camcorders, then you’ll want to look closely at the new 1/4-inch 3-CCD Panasonic AG-DVC30. Most camcorders have particular design features made for a particular type of user. The AG-DVC30, however, has something for the wedding, documentary, sports, nature and even industrial videographer.

Even if this camera attempts to be a jack-of-all-trades, it does excel at one thing: image quality. This versatile camcorder clearly compares and even surpasses some of the high-end features of Canon’s GL-2 or Sony’s DSR-PDX10.

Heavyweight in a Handheld

The AG-DVC30 has a solid feel and is moderately heavy for a small camera, but is still very well balanced. You have good access to frequently used controls such as white balance, focus, iris, menu and others. A good example is the well-placed auto-manual slider at lower left rear of the body. Even the time code display has its own button and can be quickly toggled from a user-zeroable tape counter.

Pro Performer

The 16x zoom is one aspect of the excellent optics. The zoom rocker gives you fluid control, from a dramatic 100-second creep to a 1-second snap zoom. The Repeatable Zoom control is just one of 16 different functions assignable to three user-programmable buttons, one behind the zoom rocker and two on the left barrel.

A button just behind the focus ring easily engages manual focus but the ring itself does not provide enough friction to make you confident it will hold focus. This may be due in part to it being multi-functional, working as either a zoom, focus or iris control. This is a drawback if you want immediate manual access to all three of these critical controls.

Auto focus is not the fastest, but is very smooth and does not fool easily by moving subjects or panning. If you need to override the auto focus, you still get a cool auto-assist. Just press and hold a user-assignable button while it quickly zooms in, auto focuses, and then release the button and it to goes back to your previous framing.

While the on-camera stereo microphone is located directly on top of the lens barrel, the magnesium alloy housing encases the tape and transport well within the bowels of the body, which makes the camera nearly silent. Sensitivity is good, and the automatic gain controls are predictably responsive, but for the cleanest audio, you may need to invest in the optional XLR Pro Audio adapter, which has key pro features like 48-volt phantom power and microphone and line level modes. You can adjust levels manually, but they are on menus.

The Picture

Full color low light sensitivity is very good with relatively low noise gain settings up to +18db. Colors are well balanced and saturated, without excessive bleed, and skin tones are accurate. Pro-level adjustment of White Balance, Detail, Chroma level, Master Pedestal, Skin Tone detail and more, gives the user nearly total image quality control. On some cameras it is little more than a toy feature, but the DVC30’s film-like mode adjusts frame rate and gamma in an imitation of its 16mm brethren.

Consumer cameras have had green-hued infrared night modes for some time. There are times when this can be useful, so it is nice to see it as an option on this camera. Illuminated by onboard infrared LEDs, you can shoot black and white in total darkness. This is a key selling point if you do nature, surveillance or law enforcement work.


Functional Features

Other pro features include a color bar generator. When a tape is paused just press the Stop/Bars button and roll. The large eyepiece slides on track to the rear and maintains a very positive feel. The 3.5-inch LCD display is very bright and provides user selectable feedback with a variety of key camera data including a responsive two-color audio level indicator.

Panasonic’s implementation of 16:9 anamorphic widescreen doesn’t add any actual width to the frame, but it does do the proper electronic squeezing of the pixels. The LCD does not compensate for this and the picture is distorted while you shoot.

Of course, as with all proper anamorphic shooting, you should have a clear idea of how you are going to edit and distribute the footage (e.g. DVD) before you start shooting.

Last Take

The only cons are the lack of simultaneous direct access to some key controls like iris and audio levels, some of the buttons are too small or too recessed for large fingers and adding the very desirable optional accessories will get pricey. Still, if you are thinking about upgrading your camcorder, and have the budget, this should be a serious consideration. Out of the box it is an excellent feature-packed professional tool that will give you nearly the same control of A/V settings as pro cameras three times the price.

It is a relatively small camera, with smaller CCDs and a smaller lens, that is densely packed with professional features. Like its bigger siblings (the DVX100 and the DVC80), perhaps the best aspect of this camera is the beautiful imaging and picture customization options.

Overall, we found Panasonic AG-DVC30 to be an excellent value and we highly recommend it.

TECH SPECS

Format: Mini DV

Lens: F1.6, f=4.1-65.6, 16:1 optical zoom, 43mm filter diameter

Image Sensor: 3 x 1/4-inch CCDs, 410,000 pixels

Video Effective Pixels: 380,000

Viewfinder: 0.44-inch color/BW switchable LCD, 180,000 pixels

LCD Monitor: 3.5-inch color, 200,000 pixels

Focus: auto, manual

Anamorphic 16:9: no (has squeeze mode)

Image stabilization: Optical

Exposure: auto, manual

Minimum shutter speed: 1/4

Maximum shutter speed: 1/8,000

Iris: manual

Electronic Gain: +18 (in +3 increments)

ND Filter: yes (automatic)

Zebra Stripes: yes

Night Mode: infrared, slow shutter

White balance: auto, manual, 2 presets

Audio: 12-bit, 16-bit

Manual Audio Levels: 2 channels

Audio Meters: yes

Microphone input: 1/8-inch stereo mini plug, XLR adapter

Headphone output: 1/8-inch stereo mini plug

Inputs: FireWire, S-video, RCA-style composite video, stereo audio

Outputs: FireWire, S-video, RCA-style composite video, stereo audio

Edit interface: FireWire

Other features: 60i and 30p record modes, 3 user presets, scene presets

Dimensions (w x h x d): 4-3/8 x 4-5/8 x 10 inches

Weight: 2.3 lbs (sans tape and battery)

Performance

Horizontal Resolution: 520 lines

Field of View (4:3 and 16:9): 45-degrees

STRENGTHS

  • Quality imaging
  • Flexible customization, controls

WEAKNESSES

  • Audio gain controls on a menu
  • No button access to iris, focus and zoom simultaneously

SUMMARY

Image quality and flexible features make this a compact camera worthy of its the Panasonic PROLINE heritage.

Brian Peterson is a Communications Director with the American Lung Association and has more than 14 years of broadcast video production experience.

$2,595

Panasonic

One Panasonic Way

Secaucus, NJ 07094

(800) 211-PANA

www.panasonic.com/pbds

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