Camcorders are always advancing, and with new revisions come new features. Panasonic just recently released a new revision of its 3CCD digital camcorders. Today I am going to be reviewing the PV-GS300. While it seems logical that this camcorder would take the place of the PV-GS250, the features show that it is more likely the predecessor to the PV-GS150.
- 10x Optical Zoom
- 700x Digital Zoom
- 3.1 Megapixel Still Picture Recording
- 2.7″ Wide LCD
- PictBridge Compatible
The Panasonic PV-GS300 is one of Panasonic’s midrange camcorders. It costs less than last years PV-GS250 and it has some new features that the PV-GS250 didn’t have. In addition to the new features they also removed a few that were found on the PV-GS250.
The primary reason that most people will buy this camcorder is the 3CCD chips and its low price. In addition to the 3CCDs you get a lot more. Panasonic added a wide-screen, 2.7-inch LCD. While this LCD is really nice to look at for taking pictures and movies it is not very good for manual focus. It just does not provide the detail that you need to get a good focus.
This camcorder also has optical image stabilization. Optical image stabilization is much better than the alternative, digital image stabilization. Optical image stabilization is suppose to cut out some of the shakes, but as we will see later even it does not cut out all the shakes.
The 3.1 MegaPixel camera that is built in does a decent job of taking pictures. It is a bit awkward to hold, and a lot heavier than a digital camera. If your sole purpose is to take still pictures than you will want to look at regular digital cameras.
Another notable feature is the Wind noise reduction function. This reduces the wind noise that the microphone picks up. On a windy day this is suppose to really improve the sound on your video.
The PV-GS300 comes with several pieces of software that are helpful with capturing and editing video. MotionDV Studio 5.6LE permits capture and editing of DV. MotionDV studio can capture video over DV (FireWire/i.Link) or USB 2.0 high speed and edit it in either normal or widescreen aspect ratios. Another application, intended for beginners, called Quick Movie Magic makes it easy to edit using on-screen guidance. The software is compatible with Windows XP SP2.
Although the camera seems to come with a lot of features, it is also missing a lot of things that a professional would miss. Some of the things that this camera does not have are: a Manual Focus Ring, Microphone Sensitivity level, headphone jack, A/V-in, analog-to-digital pass through, and Pro-Cinema Functions.
In addition to all the new features in the Panasonic PV-GS300. The design has also been given a minor makeover. The most notable change is a smaller body.
The front of the PV-GS300 is dominated by the 10x Leica Dicomar lens with 37mm filter threads. Like last year’s GS150, the lens has an integrated lens cap. There is a microphone below the lens. This is a zoom microphone, this means that as you zoom with the lens the microphone will also zoom in. This means you will not get a lot of other noises when you are zoomed in. To the left of the lens is the flash. The flash is only used with taking still pictures. It would be nice if you could use the light for low light video. Instead of an actual light, the camera has a feature called MagicPix. With this turned on the screen will display white, and if you turn it around it will act as a light. According to the user manual, the light reaches about 3.9 feet or less. This would not be good for outdoor shots unless you are really close to the subject.
The top of the PV-GS300 is very similar to the PV-GS180. The right side of the top is dominated by the tape loading area. At the front of the right side is the switch that opens the tape area. When you move the switch forward the opening process begins. First the tape door pops open to the right. Then the tape holder moves upwards and also opens to the right. All of this is automatic after you press the switch. To close the tape area you need to press the tape back into the holder. It will then lower back down. After it is all the way down you can push the tape door closed. On the left side and toward the back of the top you will find an accessory shoe. This is used for things like an extra microphone. A little further back is the electronic viewfinder (EVF) eyepiece. The eyepiece can be pulled out so that the battery does not get in the way. Unfortunately the eyepiece does not come out very far, so if you have a big face you may have a hard time using the eye piece. To the right of the accessory shoe is the zoom slider / volume control. In back of the zoom slider is the photoshot push button. Beyond that is the rear of the camera.
On the back, starting where we left off with the top of the camera, you will find the Power switch followed by the menu button. The menu button is used to activate the menus, and then you use the joystick to navigate the menus. Below the menu button is the mode dial button with a joystick in the middle. The mode dial button selects between video record, video playback, still record, still playback and PC mode. The PC mode can be used to transfer stills from the SD card to a computer over USB. To the left of the dial is the record/pause button for recording video. The back also has a speaker; this is so you can listen to the playback of your videos. The battery is to the left of the video recording button and below the eyepiece.
The Right Side is really bare except for a small rubber cover which is close to the front. Under this cover is the A/V multi-jack and the wired remote/microphone jack. The A/V multi-jack uses a special connector to combine the left and right audio, composite video, and S-Video inputs and outputs.
The left side on the other hand is not bare. Panasonic has provided the PV-GS300 with a new 2.7-inch, widescreen LCD. The LCD takes up most of the left side of this compact camcorder. When opened the LCD can be rotated around, which allows subjects to watch themselves on the LCD screen, this is especially nice for keeping small children interested and facing forward. When opened the LCD reveals several buttons and plugs. In the space you’ll find the auto/manual focus switch, the reset button, the power LCD button, and ports for USB 2.0 high speed and DV (FireWire, i.Link, or IEEE1394, by other names).
The bottom of the camera only has a couple of items. These are the SD card slot and the tripod mount. The SD card slot is for when you want to take still pictures. Without an SD card you will not be able to take still pictures. The PV-GS300 can take SD cards as large as 2GB. Unfortunately, the placement of the SD card slot is such that you cannot access it if you have the camera on a tripod.
Most people will gauge performance solely on the picture and sound. However, performance also has a lot to do with how quickly the camera responds to commands and how easy it is to use the different features.
Since is it probably the most important, let’s start with picture quality. There are lots of different situations where you will want to use your video camera, outdoors, indoors, and when it is dark. I took some video in all three of these situations to see just how well the camera performs. The main advantages of three-CCD camcorders are richer color and better low-light performance, and the three 800,000-pixel CCDs in the PV-GS300 do a great job. As you can see the bright outdoors shots are vibrant and beautiful. Even the indoor shots are very nice, and you can clearly see great detail. On the other hand when it gets dark you are only able to pick out the biggest objects and not any detail. This is not very surprising. Our own eyes have a hard time picking out a lot of detail in the dark.
There are other features that are also in the PV-GS300 that are intended to help improve the quality of your video. OIS (optical image stabilization) being one of the most notable is something you normally find on high end cameras. This feature will reduce the number of shakes that you see in the video. Shakes can be caused by a number of things: walking, riding in a car, or even being bumped by someone. To test this feature I walked a short distance with O.I.S on and then the same distance with it off. As you can see from the video it did not reduce the shakes as much as I would have liked. Some of the smaller shakes were removed, but you can clearly see the camera move every time I take a step.
Another feature that is intended to help improve the quality of your video is MagicPix. This feature seemed a bit odd to me and because of its lack of usability, it seems like an after-thought that someone at Panasonic threw in at the last minute. This feature illuminates the LCD with a white picture. When you turn the LCD so it faces forward, it is supposed to light up what you are pointing at. Since the light is a soft light, it dissipates quickly. That means you need to be really close to the subject, and if you are outside then it is almost useless. I hope in the next version they include an actual spot light.
Another feature that you don’t think about, but can really help you is Auto Ground-Directional Standby (AGS). This function prevents unnecessary recording when you forget to pause recording and walk with the Camcorder tilted upside down. While on the previously mentioned vacation I accidentally left the camera on and put the camera to my side. Unfortunately, it did not turn off on its own, so when I went to capture the next shot I actually put the camera on pause instead of record and I missed the shot. So in that situation this feature did not work well for me. I suspect that I was moving so the camera could not tell that I was not recording.
Audio is another big issue with video cameras. Fortunately the PV-GS300 has some nice features that help improve the audio. The zoom microphone is very nice because, with any camera, as you get far away from something you lose the ability to hear it. The zoom mic will focus in on a subject as you zoom the lens, and it really helps pick up the volume. This camera also has a wind noise reduction feature. When you think about it, how many times have you not been able to hear a person talk because the wind was so strong? This would be great if it really worked. Like I did when I tested the O.I.S, I recorded a bit of wind with the wind cut on and off. To my disappointment even with the wind cut on you can still clearly hear the wind. It seems like the only thing this feature did was remove higher ranges of sound. While this did not remove much of the wind noise, it did help take the edge off the sound of the wind. To improve the audio even more you can use the built-in microphone jack. This way the subject can have a microphone and you never have to worry about how far away they are; within range of the microphone, or even if you are not looking at them, you can still hear them.
Battery life is good; I was able to record for at least an hour with each complete charge. I don’t turn the camera on and off a lot, then the battery lasts much longer. This is probably because it uses a lot of power when starting up and shutting down. If I was not going to use the camera for a couple minutes I would turn it off because the wasted energy of keeping it on was more than the energy required to turn it off and on. The camera also has an auto off feature that turns the camera off when not in use. When Power Save mode is off, the camera will go into standby after 5 minutes. When Power Save is on then the camera will actually turn off after 5 minutes.
Warranty and Support
The warranty on this camera is a bit complicated. The Camera overall has a one year warranty, except for the CCDs which are only covered for six months. There is also only 90 days of labor included with this plan. Which means if you need service you may get the parts covered, but you are going to have to pay for labor. I am really disappointed with companies that have such lame warranties. Things like CCDs which are non-moving parts should be covered by a lifetime warranty. The company should also be providing more than 90 days of labor. If their product goes bad, even three years after purchase, then they should cover everything, including shipping. Anyways be aware of what you are not getting from Panasonic as far as a warranty is concerned.
This is a really good camera for people that want to just point and shoot. If you don’t want to mess around with lots of features and options then you will be happy. In general this camera really takes great pictures without a lot of fuss. I am highly disappointed with the lack of a real light for the camera, the poor performance of the wind elimination and optical image stabilization, and the really bad warranty. Again, if you are just getting a camera that has great video quality then this will be just fine. Keep in mind that you are not paying thousands of dollars for a professional camera.
|JusTech'n editors' rating|