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What is the mark of a great digital video-camera? Since discovering the Panasonic NV GS320 last week, I have been slaving over this question, pondering and musing, desperately trying to seek a definitive answer. Is it astounding quality, or diversity of features; is it value for money, or incredible good looks? I have all of these things. But the Panasonic NV GS320 does not. On paper, it is a fantastic video-camera; indeed, I thoroughly enjoyed using it. It offers a variety of useful features, boasts remarkably high quality for the extremely reasonable price tag, and even my beautiful fiancée managed to understand how to use it. But it is an ugly beast a tragic and unrivalled fashion disaster. It is wide and chunky, poorly proportioned, and incredibly embarrassing to hold. As someone who takes enormous pride in my gadgets, I knew I would never be able to own something like the NV GS320. Even the person from whom I borrowed it looked uncharacteristically bashful when surrendering their piece of newly-acquired technology for a week. The extent to which this matters is a purely personal and subjective decision, but for all those image-conscious youths out there, the NV GS320s looks may prove a big turn off. However, for those who are perhaps more enlightened, the cameras various other assets make it a must-have in this price-range. Aesthetics Panasonics NV GS320 does not pride itself on its good looks. For all its qualities elsewhere, it fails to match them with the sort of flashy, swish design that one might hope for from a video-camera of this calibre. The digital age brought a revolution in style as well as technology, and other Mini DV video-cameras often demonstrate a certain elegance and sharpness in their design that reflects their high quality. However, the moment I saw the NV GS320, I noticed its aesthetic flaws. Its width is excessive, with the tape holder taking up far too much room on the right hand side of the camera, creating a bizarre bulge that looks embarrassingly out of place. Despite not being an overly large or heavy device, this poorly proportioned approach makes the camera look and feel bulky. The lens protrudes further out of the camera than it should, making the NV GS320 look what can only be described as bug-eyed. From certain angles, the device looks so odd that I wondered whether it was a digital video-camera at all. Admittedly, it lacks clutter on the outside, utilising a small joystick for menu-navigation purposes rather than a bunch of inconvenient buttons, but if youre looking for beauty, you are best advised to look elsewhere. Quality However, if you are looking for quality at an affordable cost, and are rather more charitable about looks than myself, the NV GS320 may be just the ticket. Boasting 3CCD imaging technology, the camera is able to capture colours and images with greater precision than many of its rivals, helping to produce filming of formidable quality. Often, video-cameras produce movies with dull colours and poor lighting, but, with the NV GS320, this is overwhelmingly not the case. Movies are colourful and bright, even in poor weather, and the resolution is also superb, providing for crisp still images as well as films. The 2.7 inch colour LCD display is also of a high quality, allowing the user to play back movies on the go. While the quality of still images on the NV GS320 is extremely high compared to other video-cameras, at 3.1 megapixels, it fails to rival your average digital camera. But, obviously, this is not the devices main function, and its film quality is undoubtedly above average in this price range. The camera also does well in terms of audio quality. Using a standard built-in microphone, sounds and voices can be heard clearly on playback, and, in my experience, muffled audio is almost non-existent, with a wind noise reduction system also helping to reduce the sound of outdoor gusts. At the fairly low price, compared to many other cameras, of £329.99, this model delivers film, audio, and even still images, at an impressive quality, providing the user with clear value for money. Functions The primary function of the Panasonic NV GS320 is, unsurprisingly, to record videos. As we have seen, it performs well here, delivering high quality movies with fantastic colour. Given its effectiveness with colours, the NV GS320 is especially good for filming outdoors. So whether youre out on a stroll at sunset, or having a picnic on the grass, this video-camera is perfect for capturing the moment. Furthermore, the camera also serves to capture still images, which is useful if you dont have a standard digital camera to hand, and can, of course, be used as a webcam if youre feeling particularly cheeky. These additional functions add a touch of variety to the camera, but it doesnt claim to be an all-in-one solution. It doesnt have a personal organiser, it cant boast an mp3 player, and it cannot connect to the web. Nor can it fly. It sticks to what it does best, and, indeed, does it very well. Features The NV GS320 proudly packs in all the usual features. Perhaps most impressive is its powerful 700x digital and 10x optical zoom, allowing the user to zoom in with a vengeance. This is especially useful for shots where distance is required, or for slowly zooming into the subject for dramatic impact. The camera also boasts a range of different shooting modes, such as surf and snow and sports mode, which optimise the camera for a variety of shooting circumstances. The low-light mode, for example, is particularly useful when there is little light available, helping to enhance the film quality where other cameras would fail. The standard backlight compensation and night-mode features are also included, and a handy remote control is available to manipulate the camera from a distance. Predictably, the NV GS320 doesnt try to do anything too innovative here. Save, perhaps, being able to take photos while filming simultaneously, there are no revolutionary gadgets. But it boasts all the features that are expected of it in this price range, and the amateur filmmaker cant go wrong providing theyre willing to keep things simple. For something more daring, offering more interesting features, one would undoubtedly have to go further up the price scale. Uploading, Playback, and Editing Videos and images are uploaded from the video-camera to the computer via an included USB cable, but can be played back, though not edited, on the camera itself as well as on the computer. Furthermore, videos can of course be played back and edited on the television, and transferred to tape. For still images, the NV GS320 can use PictBridge technology, which allows for direct printing of photos from the device itself, without having to use a computer as a medium between the printer and the camera. Battery-life The NV GS320 isnt so competitive here, with the battery lasting no more than a couple of hours, and even less if features such as the zoom are used repeatedly. The price of the camera is probably a good explanation for this, and if, like me, you wish to use the video-camera extensively, it would be wise to purchase an additional back-up battery. Usually, these days, this isnt necessary, and the NV GS320 thus falls down considerably on this front. A good way to save battery is, of course, to use the viewfinder rather than the LCD screen when recording movies, but I certainly resented having to do this. The rechargeable Lithium-ion battery will self-discharge over time, probably by about 5% per month if charged sensibly, and will probably last for about 30 months, giving the camera an excellent lifespan before a battery replacement is required. Overall This is an affordable, reasonably high quality video-camera, with some good features to boot. It is easy to use and understand, and thus a good option for the less experienced and less well off filmmaker. However, it is without doubt an extremely ugly device, and the battery-life is notably unimpressive. Furthermore, while the camera does boast all the usual features, it doesnt push any boundaries. Many people would love this video-camera, some might even find it attractive, but it is all a matter of taste. If you want something a little more flashy, with a few more features, then youre going to have to pay a higher price. In its price range, the NV GS320 does well. Key Facts £329.99 (Amazon, August 07) Width: 7.9 cm Depth: 13.6 cm Height: 7.3 cm Weight: 450 g Media Type: Mini DV Digital Zoom: 700x Optical Zoom: 10x Battery type: Lithium-ion, rechargeable Cables Included: A/V cable USB cable System requirements for pc connection Operating System Support: MS Windows XP, MS Windows 2000, Apple Mac OS X 10.3 - 10.4
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