Product Review - Mini DV Camcorder
Video Camera Review Update of the Panasonic NVGS280 Digital Camcorder
Update Aug 2007 - one year on. Living with our digital camcorder.
So 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.
One 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
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.
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...
Update Sept 09 - three years on and... Oh Dear!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.