Mini DV Camcorder Review: Panasonic PV-DC252  Palmcorder

$1,000

Panasonic Consumer Electronics

One Panasonic Way

Secaucus, NJ 07094

(800) 211-PANA

www.panasonic.com

Panasonic’s new PV-DC252 Mini DV camcorder is easily one of the smallest cams we’ve seen in any format. Don’t let its small stature fool you – it has a full compliment of manual controls and creature comforts to satisfy most any videographer. It’s friendly for beginners, but powerful enough to satisfy intermediate as well as some advanced videographers. And, a welcome breath of fresh air comes with the tape transport, which not only feels very solid, but also actually loads from the top. This allows you to change tapes quickly and easily while the camcorder is mounted on a tripod.

Mini-Me

When Panasonic calls this unit a "Palmcorder", believe them. This little gem fits nicely in the average adult’s hand, and is surprisingly comfortable to hold onto. The controls you’ll use most often are accessed easily with the right thumb and index finger, but there is a secondary group of controls available when the viewscreen is flipped open, namely the tape transport controls, backlight compensation control, and the "Magicpix" control that creates a strobing (but not terribly useful) low-light shooting effect.

To access the manual controls, there is a small switch between the menu controls and the mode switch. Click it to the "manual" position and you get control over white balance. Use the menu wheel to find your selection. If it’s manual white balance you’re setting, hold down the wheel until the indicator stops flashing. We had some problems setting manual white balance close to sunset, but indoors, the setting worked rather quickly and accurately. Push the wheel again to set shutter speed and again to make iris adjustments. You can also adjust the gain for expanded low-light shooting. To focus, push the auto/manual/focus switch down to access the focus setting. If you want to change the exposure or shutter speed again, push the wheel again, but wherever you are in the settings, you can always quickly get to the focus control by pressing the auto/manual/focus switch again.

Interestingly, the unit has two remote controls. There is a comprehensive wireless remote along with a small wired remote that only controls zoom, start/stop and photo shot, which attaches in the same place where you would attach the A/V output cable or the headphones. This allows you to unobtrusively control the camera without touching it, which can cause the camera to shake and vibrate on a tripod. You won’t, however, be able to monitor your audio at the same time you use this handy little control.

Meet the Optics

The PV-DC252 features a 10x optical zoom. The zoom control operates smoothly, and at variable speeds.

The manual focus allows for very fine adjustments, but the dial can present a problem. For example, to create a focus pull, you have to spin the dial with your index finger at least three times.

The unit’s auto focus tended to have trouble when operating in low light, but it worked fine in most situations, especially bright outside light. This is not uncommon behavior for auto focus on any camcorder. The auto focus also coped well with zooms and pans.

Electronic image stabilization is provided and worked fairly well, but sometimes caused the areas of the picture to oscillate when adjusting the focus at full telephoto.

On the Bench

We didn’t notice any noise from zoom, focus or drum motors while using the unit’s internal stereo mike, but the unit does have a mike jack for acquisition of better-sounding audio. The on-camera mike was quite sensitive, but not so much that it recorded most button-press noises.

We composed a shot, complete with a small grape barrel, a wheelbarrow, a fence and a shrub. The color and contrast were excellent, and once we focused on a tree trunk in the background, the image was every bit as good as we’ve seen from any micro-mini single-chip Mini DV camcorder.

During our timing tests on the test bench, we got a pleasant surprise: the Power-up to Record numbers are very fast, coming in at well under two seconds. This is due to a feature on the camera called "Quick Start" which leaves the tape in the tape mechanism, but disengages the record head when the camera is powered down. The "Quick Start" mode can remain on for 30 minutes before the camera fully shuts down. When doing our resolution tests, we found that the tripod receptacle was recessed too far for our optical bench screw. This is more of a criticism of our test bench really, since the camera fit just fine on every tripod we tried, but this is the first camera we have experienced this problem with. Unless you have an unusual tripod, it shouldn’t be a concern.

Good Things Come in Small Packages

We were quite impressed with the PV-DC252. It’s a lot of camera in a truly tiny package, and $1,000 is a fair price for everything it does. The only thing that disappointed us about it is that it lacks analog video and audio inputs. That means that this is not the camcorder for you if you were looking to capture some footage from VHS tapes onto your computer, for example. However, if video acquisition is the only thing you need in a camcorder, you can’t go wrong with the Panasonic PV-DC252.

TECH SPECS

Format: Mini DV

Lens: fl=3.15 to 31.5 mm, f/1.8, 10:1 optical zoom, 30.5mm filter

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

Viewfinder: color

LCD Viewscreen: 2.5-inch color

Focus: auto, manual

Image Stabilization: electronic

Maximum shutter speed: 1/8,000 sec. (auto/manual)

Exposure Control: auto, manual

Program AE modes: 5

White Balance: auto, manual

Digital Effects: 13

Audio: 12-bit or 16-bit stereo

Inputs: FireWire, mic

Outputs: FireWire, S-Video, composite video, stereo audio, headphones,

USB (for stills)

Edit interface: FireWire

Other Features: SD card slot and USB port for digital stills (8MB SD card included)

Dimensions: 2 11/16 (w) x 3 1/2 (h) x

4 1/2 (d) inches

Weight (sans tape and battery): 1.04 lbs.

Performance Times

Pause to Record: 0.87 seconds

Power-up to Record: 1.72 seconds

Fast forward/Rewind (60 min): 2 minutes 19 seconds

Tested Horizontal Resolution: 415 lines

STRENGTHS

  • Solid-feeling mechanism
  • Easy control of exposure and shutter speed

    WEAKNESSES

  • No analog video input

    SUMMARY

  • A tiny but feature-rich, Mini DV camcorder.
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