With the DVC-30, Panasonic has done a good job of cramming the DVX100’s main features into a smaller case – and adding a few of its own. However, it hasn’t achieved scaling the body size down to that of a consumer-camcorder – a feat achieved by Sony with the PDX10.
The DVC-30’s design is flexible. The basic shell is thin, light and can be carried in-hand for long periods without hand strain. The handle allows the optional XLR adaptor to be attached, though this is when you may want to use a tripod. This gives the user two channels of balanced audio to work with, and the control switches – over the standard choices such as mic/line – are well laid-out. The tiny volume wheels for each channel are extremely fiddly though, and almost impossible to use with nails.
Back on the body of the camera, most controls are found where you’d expect if you’re used to using the DVX100. The ND filter switch and the zoom wheel are missing – normal for this type of camcorder. However, you can use the focus ring for zoom and iris control when auto-focus is turned on. The single focus ring is large enough to always find easily and is extremely smooth to use. It’s not as good as having separate rings, but it’s the best you’ll get at this form factor.
The lack of a scene selection wheel is more annoying. The DVC-30 features four scene modes (the DVX100 has six) that allow you to build your own presets, but you can’t even set the otherwise-flexible user buttons to change between them. Changing modes means navigating the DVC-30’s menu system. The DVX100’s scene dial has proved invaluable when following a subject who keeps going indoors and outdoors, for example.
The built-in film scene mode was one of the top reasons to buy the DVX100. It’s improved in the DVC-30, as the auto-focus can happily co-exist with the frame mode. If you’re going for a film-look, you shouldn’t be touching the auto-focus, but it’s useful for those who want progressive capture for other output situations, such as Web video.
The film-like scene mode transforms the traditional DV-look (top) into a movie-style colour space (bottom).
The Leica Dicomar lens is excellent and the captured video quality is the best we’ve seen so far from a camcorder with 1/4-inch CCDs. For a camera that will be popular with amateur and independent digital filmmakers, it’s a shame that the DVC-30 doesn’t feature CCDs capable of true 16:9 capture like the PDX10. Anamorphic capture is possible through internal transformation (called Digital Squeeze by Panasonic). However, unlike the DVX100, an anamorphic conversion lens isn’t available.
According to Panasonic, the DVC-30 is the first three-CCD camcorder to offer an infrared-based night-shooting mode. This uses an infrared light on the front of the unit to record anything a few feet away in total darkness. You can use the Super_IR mode to improve the range but this drops the shutter speed to 1/3 second, at which point trails become a serious problem. The Colour NS mode offers colour footage in near darkness, but with a shutter speed of 1/3 second and poor quality. IR modes are rightly scorned by consumer camera users – who wants to see party footage in black-&-white – but for work such as nature documentaries, it’s important.
The DVC-30’s 3.5-inch LCD screen shows excellent levels of detail and colour representation. However, it’s not as usable in sunlight as those found on Sony’s recent models (such as the PD170 and more than a few consumer camcorders) and it lacks the PDX10’s touchscreen, which was great for quickly choosing auto-focus and spot metering points. The colour viewfinder works well, but we prefer Sony’s approach of using black-&-white viewfinders for better focus and contrast detail. As a leftie, I wasn’t pleased by the inability to turn the eye cover around, but it’s a minor gripe.
Currently, the DVC-30’s main competition is from its DVX100 big brother. The DVX100 isn’t too much bigger, offers larger CCDs and more controls and manual functions, and you can pick one up for around £2,100 plus VAT. Panasonic is currently quoting £2,000 for the DVC-30 (with the optional XLR unit, which it hasn’t priced yet), but as it hasn’t shipped yet, this is merely a list price. £2,000 on the list usually translates to about £1,500 on the street, and we expect the XLR unit to cost you between £150-£200, based on US prices. At that price, the DVC-30 is a solid, affordable performer that is eminently usable, though it’s certainly worth spending the extra cash for the DVX100.