In times where most everything is getting smaller, Panasonic has recycled the idea that bigger is better. The design of the new AG-DVC7 is a blast from the past, sporting a large rear-end that allows for easy and stable shoulder shooting. There is nothing "retro " about the camera, however. Shooting the Mini DV format, the DVC7 has the look, if not the performance, of a professional broadcast camera. While it has the outward appearance of a big-dollar model, at the heart is an affordable single-CCD imaging system. This camera is worth checking out if you need to impress your clients on a superficial level to land contracts, but can’t spend a lot of money on high-end gear.
Unless you’ve recently been indicted for securities fraud, the last time you may have seen a camera this big in person was when Dad came home with something called a “VHS camcorder.” The key benefit of the DVC7 is that it easily rests on the shoulder of an average-sized person. Shoulder-braced shots are usually much more stable than handheld.
If you are a little larger than average, however, you may run into a few challenges. For instance, the eyepiece for the viewfinder, which slides out for use, doesn’t slide far enough away from the camera body for those of us with medium-to-large sized heads, making it difficult to press an eye against the cup as most of us are accustomed to when shooting. And, although the camcorder boasts a nice 2.5-inch color LCD viewscreen, it is located too close to the face to be used when shooting with the camera on the shoulder.
Many of the controls on the DVC7 are similar to those found on a professional camera. The right hand assumes a natural grip, with the thumb hovering over the record button and fingers poised on the zoom rocker.
An array of push buttons are within easy reach on the left and are used to access many functions, but many others require you to scroll through menus. While this is common with nearly all consumer cameras, most true pro-level models offer direct control of key functions with knobs, dials and switches on the camera body.
One ergonomic benefit of the DVC7 is the ability to focus manually on the lens barrel. The focus ring has a solid feel and is smooth and quiet. The zoom also has a very nice feel. On full zoom, minimum focal distance is about five feet. The macro kicks in at full wide and provides for excellent extreme enlargements from just a few inches away.
The auto focus operated well, usually finding the subject within less than a second. We found that low-light situations, low-contrast subjects and mostly horizontal elements (such as a featureless horizons) fooled the camera. Manual focus is the default of most pros and the typical users of the DVC7 anyhow.
The zoom is optical to 15x and digital to 750x. The optical zoom quality was excellent, but (not surprisingly) the digital image begins to degrade very quickly after about 40x. The zoom control allowed for smooth and variable movement both in an out, but there was a perceptible start and stop that made it difficult to ease-in and out of our zooms. There was noticeable noise from the zoom motor that we could hear on the recorded tape during quiet sections. Image stabilization is electronic, not optical, and provides a degree of protection from small vibrations or movements.
The on-camera stereo microphone sits just above the lens at the base of the large handle, which is not a great location. While it is capable of capturing the voice of someone standing less than ten feet away, it picks up tape transport and zoom motor noise in complete silence. Of course it is always preferable to use an off-camera mike close to the subject. The DVC7 has a stereo mini jack input along with a headphone jack for monitoring. There are no manual level adjustments for audio gain or headphone volume. A selectable “zoom microphone ” feature claims to alter the on-camera microphone’s directional angle when zooming in or out on a subject. When used, it sounded as though the camera was increasing or decreasing the overall gain as we zoomed in and out.
Overall, the images that this camera produced were decent, but not impressive. Scenes with high contrast resolved with good detail and little noise in the dark areas. The camera recorded colors accurately although the saturation and separation of reds and greens was limited. Skin tones, while not objectionable, tended to remain slightly cool even after adjusting white balancing. The Auto Tracking White Balance is a handy feature that worked well when we moved or panned slowly from different light sources. We found the automatic features to be good, but the camera lacks a host of features a professional might look for (e.g. zebra pattern, manual audio controls, XLR inputs, optical image stabilization and three CCDs to name a few).
You’ve Got the Look
There are real ergonomic advantages to shoulder-shooting with a larger camera and perhaps that is a reason to consider this camera. To be honest, however, we’ve seen Mini DV camcorders the size of a paperback books that match the DVC7 in features, performance and even weight (most of the DVC7’s back portion is completely hollow). There is no doubt that the DVC7 was designed (and priced) with the hobbyist in mind, yet there is an obvious “For commercial use only ” decal just below the tape transport – a warning that we’ve never seen on cameras costing ten times as much. But we have heard anecdotes from our readers that their clients just won’t take them seriously if they walk into a shoot with a camera that looks like a toy. Well, let us reassure you: an AG-DVC7 slung across your shoulder will definitely make you look like a network ENG shooter, even if it is a 1CCD consumer camera in disguise.
Format: Mini DV
Lens: fl=3.1 to 46.4mm, 15:1 optical zoom, f/1.8, 43mm filter
Image Sensor: 1/4-inch CCD
Viewfinder: 0.55-inch color
LCD Viewscreen: 2.5-inch color
Focus: auto, manual
Image Stabilization: electronic
Exposure Control: auto, manual
Program AE modes: 6
White Balance: auto, manual
Digital Effects: 8
Audio: 12-bit or 16-bit stereo
Inputs: FireWire, S-Video, composite video, stereo audio, mike
Outputs: FireWire, S-Video, composite video, stereo audio, headphone
Edit interface: FireWire
Still Resolution: 720×480
Still Memory: tape
Still Flash: none
Dimensions (w x h x d): 8.4 x 8.9 x 17.2 inches (214 x 225 x 436 mm)
Weight (sans tape and battery): 4.4 lbs (1,996g)
- Tested Horizontal Resolution: 475 lines
- Shoulder-mounted stability
- Professional appearance
- Consumer price
- Hollow plastic construction
A shoulder-mounted shooter with a professional look, at a consumer price.
Panasonic Broadcast & TV Systems
One Panasonic Way
Secaucus, NJ 07094