Panasonic NV-GS400B test and review

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Panasonic NV-GS400B

Panasonic's NV-GS400B looks to be an appealing package, but is it good enough to steal the Sony DCR-TRV950's mantle as the best low-cost, semi-pro three-chip camcorder?

Although the top end of the prosumer market is hotly contested by Sony's VX2100 and Canon's XL1S - along with some of the cheaper professional models - there are fewer choices for those with less than £2,000 to spend. Canon's XM2 is a great camcorder, but for value, Sony's three-CCD DCR-TRV900 and its replacement, the 950, have been hard to beat. However, Sony has discontinued the TRV950, and replaced it with the DCR-HC1000. But this is aimed at a slightly different audience, leaving vacant an important slot in the market.
Enter Panasonic's NV-GS400B. Whereas the company's other recent contributions, such as the NV-GS200B, have brought three-chip technology into smaller, cheaper, more consumer-orientated units, the NV-GS400B is much more traditional, and more like an heir to the sorely missed NV-MX500. However, the NV-GS400B has something significant in common with its siblings - a low price. It's not as cheap as Sony's DCR-HC1000 (review, p78), but there's not much in it. Never before has such a professional range of camcorder features been priced so low.

The heart of the machine
The NV-GS400B is built around a trio of 1/4.7in 1.07 megapixel CCDs, just like Sony's HC1000. These are served by an f/1.6 Leica Dicomar lens, with a 43mm thread for adding optical filters. There's a 12x optical zoom, which can be digitally boosted to between 24x and a very silly 600x. The image-stabilisation system is optical, as expected for a camcorder aimed at semi-professional usage. Tapes load from the top, so the camcorder will be perfectly happy with a tripod quick-release screwed to its underside.
The body is a fairly standard squared barrel shape, and a little large compared to today's pocket-friendly upright models. But it's well balanced and comfortable to use with either the viewfinder or LCD monitor in a wide range of different shooting positions. The monitor is a pleasingly large 3.5in, and offers a decent 200,000 pixels of resolution. This makes keeping track of the details easy, even when the camcorder is being held far from the eyes. However, we found the angle of vision a little limited, so some careful positioning is needed for viewing at a distance.

Although the NV-GS400B isn't as aggressively priced as its stable mates, and costs more than Sony's HC1000, it delivers a lot for the money. The range of manual features is impressive even compared to Canon's XM2, and you'd have to push towards £2,000 to get many more professional bells and whistles or better-looking video images. With the highly effective Pro Cinema progressive widescreen mode as well, this should be a very popular camcorder with its intended enthusiast buyer. And, all that's without taking the high quality still images into consideration. Anyone hoping to replace an ailing TRV950 should look no further - Panasonic's NV-GS400B has everything a semi-professional needs at a very reasonable price.

James Morris

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Reviewed in this issue:

Panasonic NV-GS400B
Three-CCD consumer camcorder, £1,030

Pinnacle Liquid Edition 6 Pro
Windows analogue and digital video editing software, £600

Pinnacle Studio Plus 9
DV editing software for Windows, £60

Sony DCR-HC1000
Three-CCD consumer camcorder, £989

Wacom Intuos 3
A4 graphic input device with pen and mouse, £345

In February's news:

HD-compatible Canopus Edius Pro 3;
Ulead cut-price DVD Workshop options;
Acronis Windows disk imaging software, True Image 8;
Mediachance's no-nonsense DVD authoring with DVD-lab Pro;
Cut-price HD-compatible hardware/software Edius bundle from Canopus;
Apple Motion training with Motion PowerStart;
Video Forum 2005 preview; multi-format optical disc recorder with 160GByte HDD from LiteOn;
V7 of 3ds max from Discreet; enhanced video editing, authoring, streaming and digital imaging with Nero Reloaded

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