Test Bench: Panasonic PV-DV701 Mini DV Camcorder

The Panasonic PV-DV701 is a sleek camcorder with the features hobbyists need to make high-quality video productions. While it has a number of flashy features, like IR 0 Lux recording and still image capture, it also has a number of manual controls that more advanced users will appreciate, including manual shutter speed, a microphone input and a headphone jack.

Ergo-Sonic

You can tell that the folks at Panasonic put a lot of thought into creating a comfortable design, capable of single-handed operation. The toggle between VCR, Camera, M-Card and the Off button didn’t require dainty fingers, as many of today’s ultra-mini camcorders do. The zoom, still shot, internal menu button and jog dial, which is conveniently also the manual focus toggle, can all be operated with the right shooting hand (though the menu button was a bit of a stretch).

The camcorder’s layout places the tape cassette loading bay on the same side as the LCD monitor. To insert a tape, you swing open the view screen and then hit the eject button, we liked this much better than the bottom loading arrangement of a number of other camcorders, which interferes with tripod mounting plates.

When we unpacked the PV-DV701, we found all of the expected cables and chargers as well as a small detachable video light. The included 8MB memory card was brand specific but the card slot was SD-card ready, which would allow shooters to use the more general-purpose cards purchased separately.

Image is Everything

To test this model, we took it to an outdoor autumn wedding for a real-world stress test. The sky was slightly overcast and the PV-DV701 produced very clear, crisp nicely color-balanced images. Later, when the clouds cleared, the camcorder’s sensitive auto-exposure function rapidly adjusted the image, displaying vivid colors and excellent detail in full sunlight and only slightly muted colors in shade.

Next, we took it indoors into a mixed light situation with incandescent light and natural light coming in from windows. While there was no option to set the white balance manually, the two presets (Outdoors, Indoor Halogen) did adequate jobs and were easy to access. The colors were good, with only a slight yellowish tint from the 100-watt incandescent light bulbs.

The manual focus was easily turned on and off by depressing a dial on the upper-right corner of the unit. Once in manual focus, we rotated the same dial to adjust the focus (instead of the non-functional, decorative focal ring on the lens). Auto focus also worked well; we got within an inch of the bride’s bouquet and were impressed with the detail in macro shots.

Sound Quality and More

We used a wireless lavalier microphone to record audio and obtained excellent, rich sound. The on-camera stereo microphone, located on the top-front of the cam was typical of most on-camera mikes; it picked up some of the operator’s hand movements but, surprisingly, very little camera noise.

The zoom toggle was a little touchy, but with a careful finger, we commanded it to zoom in and out steadily and slowly at two speeds. A really nice feature was the large and unmistakable "Record" icon that briefly flashed across the screen when we hit the Record button. Likewise, "Pause" came up in the same manner when we hit it again to stop recording.

Low-Light Lover

As the reception lingered into the evening, we soon found ourselves shooting in almost total darkness. Only small votive candles and dim sidewalk lamps lit the manicured garden. We turned on the 0 Lux infrared IR filter (un-illuminated) with a quick flip of a switch. This handy feature turned a no-image situation into a lighted, albeit grainy, scene. One major drawback of the infrared technology was that it reflected off of guests’ retinas like deer caught in headlights.

We also tried the MagicPix feature that Panasonic describes as being able to take color images in low-light situations. It brightened up a dimly-lit room, but the slow shutter speed and long exposure resulted in an image that blurred with the slightest movement. It was a neat special effect, but was otherwise of limited value.

The camcorder’s included detachable video light was a nice extra. In general, people shied away from the spotlight approach, but as the night (and the champagne) wore on, they warmed up, and we were able to get some excellent well-lit footage within the light’s 5-foot lighting range.

What’s Not to Like?

With a suggested retail price of $1,000, this camcorder is an excellent buy. Its image quality was quite good and feature set was large. For folks who are just beginning, or for people who want to move to the next level, this camcorder will fit the bill.


TECH SPECS

Format: Mini DV

Lens: 10:1 optical zoom, 500:1 digital zoom, f/1.8, fl 3.6-36mm, 43mm filter diameter

Image Sensor: 1/4-inch CCD, 680,000 pixels

Viewfinder: .44-inch, color

LCD Viewscreen: 3.5-inch, color

Focus: auto, manual

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/8,000 sec.

Exposure: auto, five preset modes

White Balance: auto, two preset modes

Digital Effects: 6 modes, 2 transitions

Audio: 12-bit, 16-bit stereo

Inputs: FireWire (IEEE 1394), composite mini to RCA, S-video, mike input

Outputs: FireWire (IEEE 1394), composite mini to RCA, S-video, headphone, USB

Edit Controller: FireWire

Other Features: dual digital EIS, still image capture to memory card, audio dub, Picture in Picture Mode, titles for stills, MagicVU IR filter, MagicPix (very slow shutter)

Dimensions (inches): 3(w) x 3-10/16(h) x 7-13/16(d)

Weight (sans battery and tape): 1.28 lbs.

PERFORMANCE TIMES

  • Pause to Record: 0.74 sec.
  • Power-up to Record: 3.93 sec.
  • Fast forward or Rewind (60 min. tape): 2 min. 8 sec.
  • Tested Horizontal Resolution: 450 lines*

STRENGTHS

  • Multiple low-light recording methods
  • Manual controls
  • Headphone and mike jacks

WEAKNESSES

  • Touchy zoom control
  • No manual white balance

SUMMARY

  • The PV-DV701 has everything a hobbyist would require of a camcorder, while still including many advanced features that will keep shooters that are more sophisticated happy.

$1,000

Panasonic Consumer Electronics

One Panasonic Way

Secaucus, NJ 07094

(800) 211-PANA

www.panasonic.com

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