Panasonic PV-GS500 MiniDV camcorder

The Panasonic PV-GS500 is a fine piece of equipment: it offers great control, excellent video quality, and broad operational flexibility. And although it’s at the high end of the feature scale, it’s moderately priced for what it offers.

The highlight of this camcorder is its video quality: it got top marks in tests, in both normal and low-light conditions. The video has bright, accurate color and plenty of fine detail. The 16:9 wide-screen video looks equally impressive, and the excellent 2.7-inch wide-aspect LCD screen makes it easy to see what you’re shooting, even outdoors.

It is on the large side, at 1 pound and 6 ounces. The upside is that it feels very solidly constructed, with a tough metal frame that should protect it better than the lightweight plastic body that many camcorders have. As with the PV-GS300 (   ), a lot of the weight (such as the lens and the battery) is on the left side of the camcorder, which means that it can tilt to the left unless you keep a tight grip.

However, it fits well in the hand and puts commonly used controls (such as the Zoom and Record buttons) at the fingertips. You control the on-screen menu with the joystick located next to the mode dial. This is awkward—you’ll probably be able to reach the joystick with your thumb, but it’ll be a stretch—you really need two hands (one to brace the camera while you loosen your grip to reach the joystick and mode dial). This can also be a pain when you’re using the manual controls, as most of them are set with the joystick.

You get a good selection of manual controls with the PV-GS500: you can put the camera into a fully manual mode, or use shutter and aperture priority (as well as a selection of scene modes for automatic use). This camcorder is also unusual in that its manual focus is actually usable: instead of having to fiddle with an on-screen control to focus, you can use the focus ring on the front of the camcorder.

There’s no built-in light, but there is a way to illuminate a subject: when the LCD screen is in MagicPix mode and you turn it to face the subject, it acts as a light source. It’s not especially bright, but it is fairly effective. The flash on the front of the camera is for still images only.

The battery life of the PV-GS500 is also impressive: at 132 minutes, it’s long enough for a couple of days away from a power source.

There are a couple of omissions, though: there is no headphone socket, and the manual controls are not as easy to use as they were on previous models in this Panasonic line (the PV-GS400 was a particular favorite of serious videographers, as it had a headphone socket, a bigger screen, and more-easily accessible manual controls). These do limit the appeal for serious shooters, but they won’t be a problem for most people.

performance

Still Image Quality Superior
Video Quality Superior
Battery Life Very Good

Scale = Superior, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor

How We Tested: The image-quality rating of the camera is based upon a panel of judges’ opinions in five categories: exposure, color, sharpness, distortion, and overall. Battery life testers follow a precise script, including shots with and without flash, until the battery dies.—Tested in conjunction with the PC World Test Center.

specifications

LCD Size 2.7-Inch
Optical Zoom 12x
Still image resolution 2,288 x 1,728
Size (wxhxd) 2.9 x 3.6 x 6.0
Weight (oz.) 22

Macworld’s buying advice

The Panasonic PV-GS500 is a great pick for shooters who want the benefit of automatic control and the flexibility of manual control. And it takes great-looking video and stills.

[ Richard Baguley is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in PC World, Wired , and other publications. ]

Panasonic PV-GS500 miniDV

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