Panasonic NV-GS200B test and review

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Panasonic NV-GS200B

It's one of the cheapest three-CCD camcorders around, takes 2.3 megapixel stills and fits in a pocket. Where's the catch?

Strange things are afoot in the camcorder world. While JVC is trying to convince everyone that its GR-PD1 progressive camcorder shows that single-chip recording can be as good as three-chip, Panasonic is going the other way and attempting to take three-chippers into the mainstream. Last year's vanguard was the NV-GS70B, and less than a year later Panasonic has upgraded the spec to create the NV-GS120B and the camcorder we're looking at here, the NV-GS200B.
Unlike the GS120B, which uses the same trio of 540,000-pixel CCDs as the GS70B, the GS200B has 800,000-pixel CCDs. These are still 1/6in in size, though, which is quite small for a camcorder with prosumer pretensions. The usual end result of packing extra pixels into the same-sized CCD is reduced light sensitivity.
In a three-CCD cam, the greater number of pixels is only of real benefit for still images and electronic image stabilisation. Generally, digital camcorders use a reduced area of the CCD when electronic stabilisation is turned on, to compensate for physical camera jitter. With a larger-than-needed CCD pixel count, however, there's no need for a loss in quality. We weren't able to confirm whether the GS200B used this method, and although its electronic stabilisation is better than most at this price, it's still not up to the standard of optical stabilisers.
Aside from being a remarkably cheap three-chipper, the GS200B retains its predecessor's compact dimensions. It's so small, in fact, that it competes with the likes of JVC's sit-up-and-beg-style GR-DVP9EK for pocket portability. Yet, unlike many miniature or budget cams, the GS200B is fully-featured. For starters, Panasonic has managed to fit a top-loading tape mechanism - which means this camcorder is tripod-friendly, unlike so many Canon models.
The GS200B is also well-endowed when it comes to AV connections. The FireWire port is bi-directional, and we found it had no problems communicating with a variety of different OHCI FireWire adapters for device control and capture. There's a full-sized S-video connector, and that's bidirectional, too. We tried hooking the camcorder up for digital-to-analogue conversion duties to a PC running Canopus Edius 2 in OHCI mode, and it successfully converted the program's real-time DV output to S-video, allowing us to preview the output on a TV set. Next to the S-video and FireWire sockets is a USB port. This can be hooked up to a PC to gain access to the memory card on the camera body and to use the camcorder itself as a webcam.
There's a headphone mini-jack socket, for audio monitoring during filming, but this also doubles as a composite video and audio connector. Like the S-video socket, this AV jack has input as well as output. There's a microphone mini-jack input, too, and this again doubles up - as a connector for the Freestyle wired remote, which also incorporates a narration mic. The only downside is that it's not possible to attach a third-party microphone to the accessory shoe at the same time as the Freestyle remote, which is a shame, as the remote is handy when using a tripod.

While the GS200B isn't going to be replacing Sony's TRV950 in a semi-professional's camcorder collection, it could serve a useful secondary role simply because it's so portable. At around half a kilo, and with such small dimensions, it can easily fit into a coat pocket. The image quality has a few faults, but it's sufficiently comparable to more expensive three-chippers to be used alongside them for hand-held documentary-style work. However, the inability to adjust audio recording levels manually could be a major negative point for most professionally-oriented purposes.
As a hobbyist camcorder, the GS200B fares much better. Now that still image abilities have reached the printable level, this is one camcorder that can double as a digital stills camera for holiday snaps. The resolution isn't good enough for capturing the detail in places of natural beauty, panoramas or landmarks, but for family photos it's more than adequate. Couple that with video performance that's a cut above most cams in the price range, and the GS200B makes a great proposition for the hobbyist who's more serious about image quality.

James Morris

Read the full review in August 2004's Computer Video magazine.


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