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When I decided to buy my first camcorder I had already done an extensive research for the previous 5 years! I am young director myself and all the cameras my friends and family had just didn't do it for me. Either their picture quality wasn't good enough or the size was too big or they simply looked ugly and oversized for what they could do. So, after a long research I decided to splash out and go for the semi-prof Cannon XL1. Thankfully, a month before the planned purchase, I paid a little visit to a Jown Lewis store in Liverpool...
It was there that I actually spotted this beauty...
It's weird that I'd never heard about it before because with these features this camera outweights the whole banch.
First of all, this is a three-chip CCD camera that comes under £1000. It's the same 3CCD technology used in Panasonic professional broadcast equipment, resulting in 540 lines of breathtaking resolution. Now that is great. For those who don't know what 3CCD means, it's the difference of a camera recording the whole spectrum of colours on one chip and a camera that splits the reds, greens and blues into 3 dedicated chips. That gives you crustal clear quality and if you have some good software on your computer, the editing is even easier because you can deal with colours separately.
Another feature that makes this camera special is the option of having full manual control. This was basically the reason I never bought other cameras. If you like shooting and perhaps enjoy making short movies, then you know how important it is for you to be able to tweak the exposure, brightness, focus etc. I would say, the ability to manually change the focus is a real plus 'cause it's what makes films look soft and it gives you the ability to concentrate on what you want. Say you want to start a wedding video by focusing on a leaf that is at the right corner of the screen and then gradually take the focus onto the background where the bride is walking. With other automatically focused cameras you would have to centre the leaf in your frame for the camera to focus on it and then move the camera around and put the bride in the centre of your frame for the focus to change. Automated focus can be really annoying but with this camera the problem is solved. And if you have no time for ajustments then you can simply select the automated focus option and let the camera do the job.
The quick start mode lets you turn off the camera and then turn it back on in 2 seconds. There is just no time for waiting when someone's is just about to blow the candles!
The lens of the camera is also one of the best out there, a Leica Dicomar. The tapes used are miniDV, they are quite smaller than the Hi8 tapes and they provide a much better quality. You have the option of Soft Skin Detail which makes people's skin look clear but I think with this feature you can loose some quality because what the camera does is "blur" large sections of a similar colour. Obviously the largest sections in your frame is probably going to be flesh so I guess that's why they named it "Soft Skin Detail".
Even though I don't use zooming a lot, this camera provides a 500x Digital Zoom and a good 20x Optical Zoom. The difference is that with the Optical Zoom you don't loose any picture quality because it is the lens that moves to bring the picture closer, whereas with Digital Zoom the camera digitally "chops" the image and brings it closer to you, but that means that you are only zooming into the pixels the camera has captured instead of the real image itself so you end up loosing quality or sometimes seeing the pixels.
This camcorder can also operate like a camera capturing images with a quality of 1.7 Megapixels. This is like a having another dedicated camera with you for still pictures only it is combined in this machine. You even get the full manual controls of frame speed, zoom, focus, exposure, a mounted flash light etc. and on top of that the box includes an 8MB SD Card that will store you a good number of pictures.
The camera can also operate as an internet camera so you can chat with your friends and let them see you. There is a whole banch of software that comes with it, from picture editing to software that allows you to shoot videos in MPEG-4 format that you can then send via email.
The accesories include battery charger (battery lasts about 4-5 hours), remote control, a whole banch of cables that will allow you to connect the camcorder to your VCR/TV/PC and a smart cable microphone that plugs onto your camcorder and allows you to control your camera with a few buttons on it.
The menus are very easy to navigate, the navigation is based on a simple rotating joystick and it doesn't take long till you know where everything is.
As I said before this is a very compact and lightweight machine but its specifications are outstanding. When I compared it to the famous Cannon XL1 I was really glad I didn't splash for the extra £1500. Don't get me wrong. The XL1 is a great camcorder and Cannon has the reputation of having the best lenses. But for the amount of money and the specifications of this little beast I would say you need at least to have a look at it.
I couldn't think of anything bad about this camera, if any, that would be the night vision. We are all used to the usuall green screen and the "wolf's eyes" but what this camera has is a colour night view. The pictures are captured in colour even in zero light conditions but you can't move the camera much because you get a strobe light effect.
Apart from that this is truly a great camcorder and I was really shocked why I hadn't seen it madly advertised. I bought it awhile ago for £700 (they are cheaper now) and I haven't yet seen any other camera to match it. There are now a few newer models of the Panasonic NVGS range but from what I have seen the only differences lie with the resolution of the still pictures.