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Hardware Review of:
Panasonic DV-51 Palmcorder
My Digital Video Camera


Larry Grosskopf is a Clinical Psychologist at the San Antonio State Hospital, with a keen interest in photography, videography and increasing his computer knowledge. He is married to Marta, and they are raising two rapidly-growing children, Zoë is 10, and Jackson is currently 8. If you have questions, e-mail Larry.

From the September 2003 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

Panasonic makes a line of video cameras that almost, but not quite fit neatly into the palm of your hand. They market them as “Palmcorder” camcorders. They are fairly small and light but they will do a heavy load of work for you. The Panasonic PV-DV51 weighs about 1.5 pounds and measures 3.5 inches in width, 4.5 inches in height and 7.5 inches in length. The format of using Digital Video (DV) as the medium makes it superior in quality and results in digital video with a higher resolution, which subsequently provides greater detail and better color sampling in your video recording. A camcorder using the Digital Video format also preserves more color information than analog camcorders, thus resulting in more precise color and improved image quality.

All of the camcorders I am aware of come with a built-in microphone and this camera provides optional 12-bit or 16-bit audio. The 16-bit (44.1 kHZ or 48 kHZ) audio provides one set of stereo tracks and achieves excellent CD-like sound quality, while the 12-bit (32 kHZ) mode creates two sets of stereo tracks, thus allowing later audio dubbing on the second track, without losing the original sound. Dubbing-in additional audio can only be accomplished when the original video footage is recorded in 12-bit mode. However, if the recording is in 16-bit audio mode, secondary dubbing will annihilate the original soundtrack.

Panasonic invented the Digital Electronic Image Stabilization (D-EIS or EIS) in an attempt to compensate for inadvertent hand or body movement that jars the camcorder. This remarkable feature reduces jitter and, with Dual D-EIS, you can even use EIS in play mode to help reduce jitter in previously recorded video. You must realize that it has limited capacity, for example, don’t expect it to take the bounce out of your video that you shot while walking across a swinging bridge.

You can employ this camcorder as a digital still camera with the built-in PhotoShot Digital Still Camera. It allows you to take a 7-second digital still picture (with audio) while you are continuing to record the action in front of you. The negative is the low-quality digital still photo (640 x 480) resolution and the fact that your only choice is to record onto the mini-DV cassette tape. I would not recommend reliance on this aspect of the camera for quality digital still photos. You will most likely be disappointed.

The zoom control is handy and quite easy to use. The optical zoom goes up to 18X (18 times the magnification). There is the additional “digital” zoom that can push the image out to 300X magnification, with D1 going 18X to 36X and D2 from 36X to 300X magnification. If you use this, expect a great reduction in the quality of your image because “digital” magnification relies on interpolation and resultant reduction in image quality. The optical zoom range (1X to 18X) reflects the true optics of the lens. Even here, the DV51 surpasses many similarly-priced competitors, who only offer an optical lens to 10X.

You can shoot your video using the 2.5 inch LCD monitor or the Black & White viewfinder. The LCD screen rotates to face the front of the camcorder. In this position, the screen can be folded back against the camcorder for viewing your footage without having it extended precariously out to the side. The LCD screen is on the small side, so if that is a major concern, then you could opt for a different camcorder model with a 3 or 3.5 inch (or greater) LCD screen, but you will pay dearly for this feature. One very nice element in the DV51 is the audio/video fade-in or fade-out alternative. Using fades can make transitions much smoother and more professional in appearance.

I did quite extensive research on Digital Video cameras and discovered that most of the cameras in this price range were not mini-DV cameras. Of those that were, they almost invariably had only 460,000 pixel CCD, but the Panasonic PV-DV51 has a robust 680,000 pixel CCD. There is also a slot for adding a light, which you must purchase separately. The User's Manual is easy to understand and will walk you step by step through use of the various features. After misplacing mine, I downloaded an Adobe PDF version from the Panasonic Website and printed it on regular 8.5 x 11 inch paper. The larger size is much easier on my eyes and I use it more often. It is a handy, easy-to-use reference when I want to learn or try out a new facet of the camcorder.

Thus far, the Panasonic PV-DV51 Digital Palmcorder has been a great buy. There are some memorable events which do not translate adequately with only still photos. You miss too much with even the best of still cameras. I thoroughly enjoy videotaping my children doing their various activities from horseback riding to playing football or soccer to singing in the school choir. The zoom lets me surreptitiously videotape special moments that would have been ruined by the shutter click of my digital or 35mm camera.

Using a standard IEEE-1394 “firewire” PC interface, you can download your video directly into your computer for editing and then convert the edited video into VCD (Video CD) or even DVD format if you have a recordable device on your computer. However, it is not packaged with S-video cables or an IEEE-1394 “firewire” connection cable which would have been nice to have. I purchased both separately and they work fine. One other criticism is the battery that shipped with the camcorder will only record a limited span, depending on whether you use the LCD screen (1 hour) or the viewfinder (1.5 hours). Pick up an extra battery with a longer life and you will be glad you did. Current Internet purchase prices for this model, now out-of-date, but still available, ranged from $468 to $529.95 at the PriceTool Website.

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