capsule review

Panasonic PV-DV953

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At a Glance
  • Panasonic Palmcorder PV-DV953

Panasonic PV-DV953
Photograph: Rick Rizner

(NOTE: Since this article was printed in the June 2004 issue of PC World, Panasonic has discontinued this model and replaced it with the PV-GS200. The DV953 should still be in stores through July.)

If we threw an Oscar night for consumer camcorders, the 953 would be insufferable. It sweeps all other contenders off the stage in many areas, from solid design to superior video to very long battery life and extensive still-image features.

For $980, your expectations should be high. The PV-DV953 is the priciest MiniDV camcorder we evaluated. Of the models we tested, it is also the only three-CCD model--meaning the image is captured by three separate CCD chips (one for each primary color: red, green, and blue). Small wonder that in our video taste tests the 953 stood out from the pack with its sharp images and deep, rich colors in both normal and low-light situations; it earned the top scores in our tests. In addition, the DV953 takes the highest-resolution still images of all the DV cams we reviewed, at up to 2048 by 1496 pixels, the same resolution as a 3-megapixel digital camera. See "Camcorders for Video and Stills" for details of our photo-quality tests.

This cam provides more control than many of the cheaper models, including a manual focus ring (no twiddling a dinky dial), as well as a feature that produces a blinking zebra pattern in areas of the image that are overexposed so that you can refine exposure settings. You can also shut off the audio's automatic gain control (which automatically adjusts the recording volume level for the level of sound); this is useful when recording interviews where you don't want the volume to change in the quiet parts. There's also an external microphone jack, plus an accessory shoe on the top that can be used with an optional directional microphone or a video light. The top-mounted tape loader also makes it easy to change videotapes when the camcorder is mounted on a tripod. Other models (such as JVC's GR-D72US) require you to take the camcorder off the tripod before swapping tapes).

Though the PV-DV953 is not much bigger than the other models, it is heavier, weighing 31.1 ounces, almost twice as heavy as the average unit we reviewed. It's nonetheless comfortable to hold. The included battery pack keeps the camcorder well balanced, and we were able to keep a solid, comfortable grip on the camera body.

Given all its features, it's no surprise the PV-DV953 has a surfeit of buttons, dials, and menus. In most cases, Panasonic thoughtfully positioned the controls, making each one easy to reach and press. We appreciate the mode-toggle dial, similar to that on Sony's DCR-HC20; you flick it to jump quickly between camera and VCR modes. As far as menus go, Canon and Sony could learn a few things from Panasonic. Little improvements add up to a big difference. For example, when you scroll down to the bottom of a menu, you cycle back to the top--no need to reverse-scroll all the way to reach the top menu items. Also, when you scroll over an item, it shows you all the options available under that item whenever possible, making finding menu items easier.

Still, not all of the controls are perfectly placed. The worst is the menu button, which we found a strain to reach, and the zoom control, which is a little too responsive. Also, you have to flip out the LCD panel to use the VCR controls located under it, which means you burn battery juice during playback. On the other hand, thanks to Panasonic's decision to go with a 1600mAh battery (double the capacity of the 800mAh ones included with most other models), this camcorder ran a record 2 hours and 11 minutes in our tests--and this would be even longer if you used the viewfinder instead of the LCD.

Although it is on the expensive side, the PV-DV953 is a great choice for the serious videographer.

Bryan Hastings

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At a Glance
  • Panasonic Palmcorder PV-DV953

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