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Product Review - Mini DV Camcorder

Belinda and Mike - follow our tourist travels in the UK

Video Camera Review Update of the Panasonic NVGS280 Digital Camcorder

Update Aug 2007 - one year on.  Living with our digital camcorder.

Panasonic NVGS280 camcorderSo how do we find the Panasonic NVGS280 digital camcorder now after living with it for the past year?  In fact we didn't use it during the winter months (Nov-Mar) except to capture some digital stills from our 1999 and 2000 holidays' DV tape to create our Peak District and Yorkshire image galleries.

We've discovered a few more camcorder quirks.  One such is the digital stills - no, not the image noise this time but the image size which is slightly wider than the 4:3 aspect ratio.  Not really a problem, but it does mean we have to crop our web images to our 240x180px size rather than just set the pixel dimensions.  The aforementioned picture noise remains, however this doesn't seem to manifest itself when printing or with our web images.  The digital stills also seem to exhibit an over saturated green/yellow (confirmed by looking at the histogram).  While on the subject of the digital stills, the over-exposure on 'auto' continues to be an issue.  We've taken to switching to manual and knocking it down by a stop, however this extra fiddling means we risk missing shots.  Worse, we then forget to switch back to auto-exposure, the manual setting is retained next time we use the camera (either on video or stills) resulting in an incorrectly exposed image!  Arrggh, why o why can't the digital stills be better on this hybrid video / stills Panasonic camera?

The best bit has to be the camcorder's battery charge life which has held up after a year.  Even over the non-use winter months the batteries still retained plenty of the previous charge.  The clock had lost several minutes though.  In fact the user guide warns it's not very accurate, although subsequent testing revealed this 'inaccuracy' to be only 10 seconds a week, we think we can live with that!  Another good thing is the sound glitch we experienced between shots on LP speed seems to have vanished.

Dampening the camcorder's cassette opening mechanism with a handy fingerOne annoyance is that the video camera's cassette housing opens quite forcefully, so much so we've taken to damping it down with our finger (see picture) for fear something'll dislodge and fly off!  Another issue we've noticed is some irritating lens reflections under certain lighting conditions.  This appears be caused by the ND lens filter we use, but then again the camcorder has a screw thread for just this purpose so Panasonic presumably expect its use.  One more gripe - the LCD screen smears easily and is then difficult to clean.  This became apparent when using the video camera in drizzle on holiday in Shropshire in the wet 2007 (unlike the hot and dry 2006!) summer.  We dabbed the screen dry, but it left smears that needed some firm rubbing with a lens cloth to remove.  The camcorder's LCD is made of soft material, it would be better if it were harder like our Sat Nav screen.

Panasonic continued the NVGS280 digital camcorder model well into 2007, a sign that it's been successful.  It's since been superseded by the NVGS320 camcorder with broadly similar features, according to the user guide we downloaded from the Panasonic website.  The new video camera loses the shoulder strap and mic in jack, but gains a lens cap (wow!) and ability to capture higher (1 mpx) resolution stills from the DV tape.  The auto/manual switch has been moved from behind the LCD screen to the top right.  We wouldn't consider this model now - the lack of a mic socket would prevent the use of an accessory shoe external mic, a serious omission in view of the poor inbuilt mic.  Also we'd miss the shoulder strap which forms a useful secondary security method, as we discovered when the hand strap broke on a previous camcorder in the early 90s, the camera being saved from a watery grave by having the shoulder strap on!

Hmm, more gripes than likes.  Perhaps we've outgrown consumer products and should consider semi-pro models...

 

Update Sept 08 - two years on - and a serious problem with our camcorder.
Well, OK, let's start with the serious problem.  While happily videoing at a wildlife park during our New Forest short break in October 2007 it became apparent the camcorder wasn't recording correctly.  Playing back the recording revealed substantial picture blocking/freezing and break-up followed by a screen prompt that the heads needed cleaning.  We managed to struggle through, but the resultant section of tape, right at the last few minutes, remained largely unplayable.  On inspecting the DV tape itself (Panasonic branded) we noticed crinkling along the edge of the ribbon.  We've not experienced this with other tape brands, or indeed since with Panasonic tapes so put it down to a faulty tape.  We considered the possibility of condensation, but had no dew warning indicator kick in.  We subsequently bought and ran a cleaning tape, but the faulty tape section still won't play back correctly.  All recordings since have been fine, including extensive use during our 2008 Gower holiday.  Our concern is that it wasn't some cheapo unbranded tape - it was a Panasonic tape in a Panasonic camcorder!  We'll be keeping an eye on this one!

Onto other matters then.  We've since stopped using the digital stills part of this video camera.  The hybrid nature of this camcorder was one of our main buying decisions, so the poor stills performance has indeed been a disappointment.  Still, it gave us an excuse to purchase an excellent little modern digital compact camera!

The camcorder batteries, both the Panasonic original and the 'unbranded' second battery are still going strong and holding their charge well, even when left unused for months and lasting well during use.  We've stopped using the ND filter which has cured the annoying lens reflections.

Panasonic camcorder all mic'd upSound issues
One of our other concerns was the uninspiring sound quality which we suggested at the end of our initial review would probably be resolved by the use of an external microphone.  We've now bought an Audio-Technica ATR25 mic which mounts on the camcorder's accessory shoe and plugs into the mic socket and it came with an extension lead to use it remotely from the camera.  This mic has transformed the sound, which is now a far more dynamic and involving experience together with a very distinct stereo soundstage.  So much so in fact that it was immediately apparent when we coupled up the left and right channels the wrong way round when using the extension lead.  Doh!  A slide on wind muffler (wind gag) was supplied which is far more effective at cutting wind howl than the camcorder's wind cut switch.  However, there is a downside to using this accessory mic.  The video camera with mic on top makes it all the more cumbersome, it won't fit into our just-big-enough-for-the-camera carry bag and mounting the mic each time we want to use it is just not practical when out and about.  There's also the question of remembering to switch the mic on (it's battery powered).  So... despite the inbuilt camcorder mic's mediocre quality, for sheer convenience we tend not to use it out and about, reserving it for indoor or planned shoots only.

Our two year old camcorder is already dated!  Now with High Definition (HD) models recording to hard disc, DVD disc and memory card, DV tape based models seem positively prehistoric.  If we were buying today the nearest equivalent would probably be the just released (at the time of writing) Panasonic HDC-SD100, which records AVCHD files onto SDHC memory - 8GB stores 1hr of video at the highest quality setting.  This would eliminate the mechanics of tape drive, thus improving reliability, plus reducing weight and media size.  The downside is the relative cost of the high capacity SDHC cards.  But this is bound to tumble in time and the cards can always be reused once footage has been transferred to computer for editing.  Hmmm, tempting, pity about the credit crunch...Return to top

 

Update Sept 09 - three years on and... Oh Dear!
Remember our saga with the picture blocking/freezing caused by tape crinkling damage in our last update?  Well, it's happened again, this time while rewinding a tape at home.  So that largely rules out condensation or a faulty DV tape (yes, it was a Panasonic branded tape again!).  Yet everything's been fine since, so we're unsure what's going on here.

Now, if you read our original review you'll remember we bought a second (non-Panasonic branded) rechargeable battery.  This was despite Panasonic's user guide advice that, for reliable results, to always buy Panasonic.  The second battery was some three times cheaper, so when one them gave grief can you guess which one it was?  Yes, it was the... wait for it... Panasonic one!  The problem was (and still is) that the green charge light never goes out, indicating the battery is never reaching a fully charged state.  Both batteries have had the same amount of use under the same conditions.  So what are we to conclude here from our tape and battery experience?  That non-branded is just as good, and often better!

We've not had any other issues with our DV camcorder, now three years old.  Then again, it only tends to come out for major trips, maybe six or seven time a year, so usage is low.  From this year (2009) we decided to become really cool and shoot our movies in widescreen, this despite the theoretical recorded data reduction.  This move should ensure our movies, when burnt to DVD, are future proof, at least until we decide to (afford to?!?) upgrade to an HD model.  Watch this space...

 

Update Oct 2010 - four years on - and we cure the wind noise!
Fed up with wind roar on the sound track and anticipating this to be a problem on our (then) forthcoming West Cornwall holiday (where we'd be walking some exposed coastal areas) we looked to fit a wind muffler to the camcorder's built-in mic.  The flush design doesn't easily lend itself to wind gag fitment, and after researching some (pricey) commercial solutions we decided our best option was to modify an old (but good quality Rycote) fluffy muffler we had on a disused prehistoric Hi8 camcorder.  We cut the gag material to size and attached with Velcro self-adhesive strips.  Brilliant!  This worked well at taming wind noise significantly and a far better solution than the largely ineffective electronic wind cut setting in the menu, but arrggh - if only we'd done this years earlier!  There was a minor downside however; the gag seemed to introduce some annoying low-level background noise (probably internal camera operational noise directed into the mic) to appear.  But as our somewhat improvised muffler is only used in windy outside conditions this isn't really an issue provided we remember to remove it when not required.

We haven't had any further tape crinkle problems, although the Panasonic branded battery is all but finished, whereas the generic equivalent is still going strong!  The LCD fold-out screen seems to have become less bright, fooling us into thinking the exposure is low when in fact it's fine.  But a quick tweak of the LCD brightness pre-set in the camcorder's menu solved this.

This Panasonic digital video camera is now looking decidedly dated when compared to modern HD kit using HDD or flash card storage and coding files in AVCHD, so we'll probably be looking to replace it before long with what will become our sixth camcorder!  Widescreen footage taken with this now four-year old mini DV camcorder looks rather inferior when up against modern HD material on a large modern HD TV!

 

Update Oct 2011 - five years on and still going strong.
Just a quick update this time as there's been no new developments with our Panasonic mini DV camcorder since last time.

On our Isle of Wight holiday we got the 'heads need cleaning' message; last time this happened (see 2008 update above) we removed the tape to check, following which we suffered the playback glitches and tape crinkle problem.  This time we ignored it, the message went away and we continued filming normally.  On playback at the point the head cleaning message popped up there was a short glitch where the picture froze/split into horizontal bars down the screen for a few seconds.  Now it was a wet day this time, on the previous occasion it could have been humidity so we've concluded condensation/moisture to be the root cause.  Pity this Panasonic digital video camera doesn't seem to possess a dew warning though.

There's no other issues to report.  We still intend to go HD and replace this camcorder with an AVCHD SD card capture camera, er, sometime once other purchase priorities are sorted.  We've gened up and will post here when we do...

 

Update Oct 2012 - now we are six.
After another year of use this mini DV camcorder is still chugging away.  We only used it a few times, including on our very wet holiday in Wiltshire where it performed faultlessly in some extreme rainy conditions and with no further sign of those picture glitches we previously put down to the damp.  But both video camera batteries no longer hold their charge for long so we've taken to charging them overnight prior to planned next day use.

The LCD flip-out screen seems to have further deteriorated and again fooled us into thinking an exposure increase from the auto setting was needed, when in fact it was fine.  So in conclusion our Panasonic video camera is still lumbering on but our future intentions remain as last review - to go AVCHD format when funds allow.

 

Update Mar 2014 - almost eight.
Um, well this by-now somewhat elderly Panasonic DV camcorder is still chugging away for us, although we only tend to use it for our annual holiday (last time in Kent).  As per last update we've had no re-occurrence of previous problems and even the batteries seem to be holding up, not bad at all after almost eight years of use!  We've been editing footage to DVD over the years, however our earliest mini DV tapes still play in the camera perfectly, even ones from 1998 shot on our original mini DV camcorder.

But times change, technology whizzes on and the footage shot by this aged Panasonic mini DV camera simply cannot cut it anymore when up against modern widescreen HD 1080p.  Our replacement strategy now, in view of our current minimal use, is to get a bridge camera or dSLR with HD video.  Now that would neatly satisfy both our digital stills and video requirements in one unit!  And yes, we have considered just shooting using a smartphone's HD video capability, but, good as they are, even the best are yet to provide the sort of quality or versatility a 'proper' camera can command.

Well, we're now pulling the plug on any further Panasonic NVGS280 mini DV camcorder review updates, so thanks to all you guys out there for your interest!

See the main video camera review.

 

You can find the Panasonic UK website at: www.panasonic.co.uk

micbinks 2007-2014. Please ask permission if you wish to reproduce any of our content.

Please see our edited Somerset video clips taken with the camcorder.