Panasonic NV-GS300B: Camcorder Review

Although I wasn’t knocked out by the “3 chips”, image quality is good for the price, it’s simple to use and excellent to hold on the hill. However, I don’t think I’ve really benefitted from some of the expected key features and lack of AV-in may be a problem for me.

A while ago I made the decision to buy a new MiniDV camcorder, rather than a camcorder with a hard disk drive. With MiniDV in mind, I chose the Panasonic NV-GS300 with the Sony DCR-HC96 being in second place. Since then I’ve used the camera fairly extensively over a two week period in Laax, a little bit during a trip to Avoriaz, and a handful of times in the UK. This review will look at my experiences of using the camera to date. If you want a more detailed review of the cameras technical ability, I’d recommend this review.

Handling
How the camera handled was a key consideration when choosing which one to buy. I wanted something that was easy to grip with one hand, from above, as this is my preferred method of filming while on the move, “follow cam” style. The Panasonic is excellent in this regard. The unit’s size and shape make it easy to hold from above, and there aren’t any camera controls that you accidentally touch when carrying it in this way. Excellent.

Point and Shoot
The camera’s automatic mode makes point-and-shoot really easy. This is probably the same for a lot of cameras, but it’s worth mentioning. Everytime I’ve used the camera I’ve literally just hit record and then pause. On one particularly sunny day I changed to one of the pre-set scenes, “surf & snow”, and the automatic exposure took care of things. Again, this is probably quite common, but it does make it easy if that’s all you want to do with the camera and it keeps things simple on the hill; you don’t need to explain the controls to your friends.

One slight criticism that I do have, and this should probably come under handling, is that the funtion wheel can be accidentally knocked when pulling the camera from you bag/jacket. The wheel has quite good resistance, but it has happened to me once of twice, each time I think I had the camera inside my jacket while on a lift. Unfortunately this can result in accidentally changing from record to play back… leading to the dreaded ‘lost’ footage. It’s easy to get around though – you simply check the mode before starting – but it’s annoying if it catches you out.

Image Quality
I’m happy with the image quality; some of the shots look really good and I personally like shooting in 16:9. I’ve got to say though, I think I was expecting a little more from having 3 CCDs. Maybe that’s an unfair criticism given the price, especially as I do think that the quality is good – it just doesn’t stand out as being the best thing about the camera to me.

Helment-Cam
When I bought the camera I wasn’t bothered by the lack of ‘video-in’. I didn’t think I was interested in attaching a helmet camera. However, that’s changed now; I think using a helmet-cam is something I’d like to try. Models designed to feed into a camcorder will not work with this Panasonic.

Other Features
Optical Image Stabaliser (O.I.S). Optical image stabalisation is supposed to be significantly better than the digital kind. Because I knew I was going to be riding around with the camera, this seemed like a really good feature. Looking back over the videos I’ve posted here recently, the images do appear fairly smooth, certainly no complaints.

However, the manual lists the following cases where the O.I.S function may not work effectively:

  • when the digital zoom is used
  • when a conversion lens is used
  • when the camera is shaken greatly
  • when you record a moving subject while tracking it
The second and fourth points don’t give me much confidence: most snowboarders are moving and I’m using a wide angle conversion lens. I just don’t know if I’m getting any benefit… could it even be making things worse? I should really try a few things out to test this feature by filming the same thing with the O.I.S both on and off, lens on and off etc. If I get around to doing this, I’ll update this review…

Manual gain adjustment. My major criticism of my previous camcorder was that it was rubbish in low light. According to the review I mentioned above, the Panasonic could do better in low light – but manual gain control can help you out. I haven’t used the camera in low light yet, so nothing to report here.

Overall
Would I recommend this camera? If purchased for a good on-line price, less than £400, I’d happily recommend the Panasonic as a solid all-round camera: ergonomically great for snowboarding, nice images, despite the inability to attach a helmet cam. But I wouldn’t kick up a fuss if a friend was considering a different model.

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