The DVD camcorder is supposed to be aimed at the carefree consumer, at least if Sony’s TV advertisements are anything to go by. But Panasonic clearly has other ideas. The company’s latest VDR-D300 partners the convenience of being able pop your recordings straight into your set-top DVD player with a trio of CCDs and optical image stabilisation. These are the kind of features you normally expect to see in semi-professional models, or at least premium camcorders aimed at the serious hobbyist.
The VDR-D300 has a very similar optical specification to its NV-GS250 MiniDV sister model. It’s based on a trio of 1/6in CCDs, with 800Kpixels apiece. While these aren’t as large as or as high resolution as the 1/4.7in sensors in the flagship NV-GS500B, having one for each colour signal should still make for significantly improved fidelity compared to single-CCD camcorders, by reducing the cross-talk between colour signals.
Of course, while video can benefit from physically larger CCDs, the primary recipient of increased resolution is stills photography. Here, Panasonic has magically combined the three 800Kpixel CCDs to make 3.1Mpixels, with a maximum image resolution of 2,048 x 1,512. The VDR-D300 also incorporates a built-in flash, for better indoor results. While photos can be captured to DVD alongside video, there’s also an SD memory slot if you want to keep them separate, although no actual media is supplied for this.
The Panasonic has a number of features which give it a sense of polish. There’s a built-in lens cover which retracts when the unit is in record mode, and the LCD panel is a 2.7in widescreen affair. However, while the latter’s aspect ratio feels appropriate in an era when HDTV is bubbling under, it only uses 123K pixels, so can’t really do the camcorder’s video quality justice.
Considering the professional optics, you’d expect to see a full complement of manual controls, and here the D300 doesn’t disappoint. It doesn’t have a manual focus ring or headphone jack, but there’s an accessory shoe and microphone input. As the discs load from the top, you won’t need to unscrew this camcorder from a tripod to change media. This is particularly important when you can fit less than 20 minutes of footage per disc.
The camera’s manual settings are readily accessible using the illuminated joystick, which is handily placed right where your thumb will be during shooting. This allows you to adjust the iris from f/16 to f/1.8, and then add video gain up to 18dB, and vary the shutter between 1/50th and 1/8000th. The joystick is also used to enable Tele Macro and Soft Skin modes, plus the two night view modes. In 0 Lux Colour Night View, the LCD panel must be reversed to face the subject, whereupon it blanches white to act as an impromptu video light.
Quite a range of choices for recording media are available, although all discs must be of the 8cm form factor. You can choose between DVD-R and DVD–RW, and unlike DVD camcorders from Sony and Canon, the Panasonic also records to DVD-RAM. The set-top friendly DVD-Video format can be recorded to DVD-R and DVD–RW discs, or the editable VR format to DVD-RW or DVD–RAM, which is less likely to be compatible with your standalone DVD player.