Mini DV Camcorder Review: Panasonic AG-DVC80

Targeted at advanced shooters who want a light, compact, DV acquisition tool, Panasonic’s 3-chip AG-DVC80 has an impressive feature list. This black beauty offers the same manual controls, XLR audio inputs and menu options found on professional video cameras.

If it Ain’t Broke…

The Panasonic DVC80 borrows from full-sized professional camcorders in the placement of oft-used switches and buttons. The DVC80 has three-position switches for White Balance, Gain and Neutral Density filters (OFF, 1/8th and 1/64th) clustered with exposure and focus controls in an extremely user-friendly layout that makes finding your camera settings easy, even by touch. Two User Setup buttons allow quick switching between pre-selected modes like Backlight, Color Bars or Fade to Black. The design of the DVC80, while akin to professional cameras, is innovative and revolutionary in the mid-sized consumer Mini DV category. Many of the newer cameras strain so hard at setting themselves apart with a new approach that they sometimes render themselves awkward. The DVC80 is not gimmicky, but efficient.

Frame It

The fixed lens is from Leica, the heavyweight of the still cam world. It is optically stabilized and carries a 10x optical zoom – and no digital zoom (thank you very much). Most importantly, the image is as nice as we’ve seen in a 1/3-inch 3CCD camera. The field of view is an extremely wide 53-degrees, with practically no distortion on the edges. The camera has a lens shade that is distinct in that it has openings facing the camera. Is it a functional design quirk or style decision? The jury’s out, but you’ll be able to recognize this camera if you ever see it mixed in with a crowd of PD150s and XL1s.

Zoom Zoom

One of our favorite features on the DVC80 is the zoom control. In addition to the standard variable speed motorized zoom on the palm side of the camera, the DVC80 also has a zoom control on the top handle, which can be set to three different speed modes. But the best feature is the full-manual zoom with graduated numbered marks for precise manual control.

Balanced Audio

Panasonic comes through with the goods on the DVC80 as far as audio is concerned. The two XLR mike inputs have individual level control dials (no menu switching necessary). The inputs feature phantom power and mike input sensitivity settings of -50dBu and -60dBu for proper gain structure to help match the most unmatched of mikes. The XLR jacks are low on the camera body, out of the way, and not up on the handle, where they could very easily fall in front of the lens.

The audio that we recorded to the DVC80 from our Beyerdynamic MCE 7 wired lav was excellent. There is no auto gain control (AGC) for audio as most camcorder owners have come to know it, but if the level gets up to the red line, a built-in limiter shuts down the input gain and keeps the signal from distorting to tape. What does not seem to be present is the Expander portion of the classic AGC which increases gain if sound levels drop below a certain level – searching for sound and increasing electronic noise in the bargain. The audio features on the DVC80 are very usable. The quality of the on-board stereo mikes was good overall, but they pick up a fair amount of noise from the servo zoom motor and from the hands of the operator when using the top handle. There’s nothing at all unusual about that, however, and most users of this camcorder will employ an external microphone to record their essential audio.


More Advanced

The DVC80 has more time code options than most people will know how to use, including rewriting time code and the ability to setting the User Bits for whatever you need.

We like the Scene File dial, which allows you to set up six custom modes that you can instantly access. Other variables you can tweak include the Detail (sharpness), Chroma (level and phase), black pedestal, auto iris target and skin tone detail. You’ll probably only need a couple of these in practice, but it is this kind of fine tuning that virtually guarantees that you’ll be able to get an image that you like from this camera.

Color Full

The DVC80 is equipped with a generous 3.5-inch 200,000 pixel LCD monitor and a 0.44 inch 180,000 pixel color view-finder. The color viewfinder, while some what harder to focus than a black and white one, is very comfortable to use and tilts easily to 90 degrees. Display information options for monitoring are impressive with an SMPTE color bar pattern available for reference.

Of course this camera begs to be compared to the DVX100, which was the 24p buzz of the camera world not long ago (and was reviewed in these pages in April 2003).

Yes, it looks similar and has many of the same features. Wait: it has very nearly all of the same important everyday useful features. If you don’t need 24p (and you probably don’t – see the August 2003 issue), but you want quality and fine-image tweakability, this is the camera for you.

The DVC80 is a great little camera with a lot of punch and more depth than we have room to mention here. With an equally impressive sticker price of $3,295, the DVC80 is a serious tool that will find its way into the hands of many prosumers and will improve production values along the way.

TECH SPECS

Format: Mini DV

Lens: fl=4.5mm to 45mm, F/1.6, 10x optical zoom, 72mm filter diameter

Image Sensor: 3 x 1/3-inch CCD

Gross pixels: 380,000

Viewfinder: color (0.44-inch)

LCD Viewscreen: 3.5-inch color (200k pixels)

Focus: auto, manual

Zoom: servo, manual

Image Stabilization: optical

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/2,000

Iris Control: yes

Exposure: auto, manual

White Balance: auto, presets, manual

Audio: 16-bit 48kHz

Microphone Input: XLR (+48v phantom), RCA

Headphone Output: 1/8-inch stereo mini

Video Inputs: FireWire, S-video, composite

Video Outputs: FireWire, S-video, composite

Edit Interface: FireWire, LANC

Dimension (W x H x D): 5 1/2 x 6 5/16 x 14 3/8 (139x160x364mm)

Weight: 3.65lbs (1.66kg) (sans tape and battery)

Performance

Tested Horizontal Resolution: 520+ lines

Field of View: 53-degrees

Strengths

  • Pro control features
  • Image/Lens
  • Balanced audio inputs
  • Manual audio controls

Weaknesses

  • Motor/hand noise on cam microphone

SUMMARY

A lightweight camera with heavyweight features.

Panasonic Broadcast & TV Systems

One Panasonic Way

Secaucus, NJ 07094

(800) 528-8601

www.panasonic.com/pbds

$2,995

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