A few years ago, Panasonic's NV-GS400 quietly took the lead as the sub-£1,000 camcorder of choice for video makers with professional aspirations. Sony was busy taking features off its premium consumer models to make them easier to use, but this also made them less attractive for semi-professionals. In contrast, the NV-GS400 was packed with features and had awesome image quality to match. The NV-GS500 is the NV-GS400's successor, although it's a slightly different beast. As MiniDV enters its twilight years, can Panasonic give the format a last gasp of quality?
So the NV-GS500 has a heritage to live up to, and a first glance at the specifications look promising. It's based around a trio of 1/4.7in CCDs, like its NV-GS400 predecessor. These are larger than Panasonic's lower-end three-CCD models, which use 1/6in CCDs. So the NV-GS500 should offer superior low-light sensitivity. Each CCD has a megapixel resolution, which Panasonic amalgamates for still images, and then adds a bit of interpolation to make 4-megapixels. The maximum resolution for digital photography is therefore a fairly useful 2,288 x 1,728. A SD memory slot is available for photo storage, although no memory is supplied in the box.
Aside from its image quality, the NV-GS400 gained its position of glory thanks to a comprehensive range of enthusiast features and manual controls. The NV-GS500 unfortunately doesn't quite live up to its predecessor, although it does still have plenty of premium capabilities. Optical image stabilisation is of course present rather than the less effective electronic variety - as you would expect in a top-of-the-range camcorder. Tapes load from the top, too, which will make them easier to change when the NV-GS500 is attached to a tripod. Manual focusing is facilitated by a lens ring, and a regular accessory shoe is available on the top of the camcorder. A microphone input is available, as well. But incredibly no headphone socket is included. So you won't be able to monitor audio quality, which is particularly strange when you consider that sound levels can be controlled manually.