Panasonic D-Snap SV-AV100

If you like your camera equipment small, then you won't be complaining about Panasonic's D-Snap SV-AV100 camcorder, which the company claims is the smallest MPEG 2 SD Video Camera on the market today.

The camera fits snugly into your jeans pockets or a small handbag thanks to its weight -- a mere 185g -- and dimensions of 3.32x8.98x6.49cm. Combine that with its ability to take sharp pictures and you have something that will appeal to many consumers.

The D-Snap SV-AV100 records MPEG 2 or MPEG 4 video directly onto a Secure Digital (SD) memory card, meaning video can be transferred easily and quickly to your PC. The camera is smaller than conventional camcorders because no cassette mechanism or disc-loading mechanism is needed.

The MPEG2 format shoots at 25fps, which is PAL (TV) quality. Within the MPEG 2 format there are two modes: Fine at 704x576, and Normal at 352x576. In Fine mode, data gets recorded onto the memory card at a rate of 6Mbps which means that a 512MB memory card (which is supplied) can hold a little more than 10 minutes of video. Image quality in this format is very impressive. Take note that if you are shooting for long periods such as recording sports or bootlegging a concert, be sure to come armed with some spare SD cards. And they don't come cheap, at $699 a pop.

In MPEG 4 format there are three settings. The first is Super Fine 320x240 and Fine 320x240, both of which record at 12fps; Super Fine transfers data at 1Mbps, and Fine at 420Kbps. The remaining two settings are Normal (176x144 at 12fps) and Economy (176x144), which shoots images at a meagre 6fps. As you can imagine, the quality of the Economy setting is quite low, and is only advisable if you want to send a moving image via e-mail.

Although shooting is great outdoors, don't expect to do any decent recording in dim light situations such as poorly lit interiors. The stereo sound, though, is a constant delight. I found it be excellent in picking up sound, and quite clearly, too. The only setback was the excess wind noise, but there is a wind reduction mode which you can set to minimise this noise.

Taking the moving images is rather easy, but playing them back is a bit tricky. The camera stores the MPEG 2 movies as .MOD files rather than .MPG, so the only way to view them is via the software that comes with the camera. And this software is pretty unimpressive. However, a quick search on the Net brings you to this site: http://www.softpedia.com/public/scripts/downloadhero/11-2-2-40/. Stinky's codec, once downloaded and installed, allows you to rename the file extension from .MOD to .MPG. It also allows you to view the file in media players, such as Windows Media Player. A minor nuisance, but this process takes a few minutes to install and you are away.

Although sold as a DV camera, it does take still images which are saved as JPEG files. However, this process can be painfully slow as it takes about a second for the CCD to capture the image. I found this a real setback when taking shots of a 15-month-old toddler that couldn't sit still. Also, the image quality, at less than 1Mp, makes them good for only Web or e-mail. The fact that it does not have a flash also limits it to scenes with bright light. On the plus side, the 10X zoom does allow you to get close to your subject.

Other features include a swivelling 2.5in LCD monitor, which allows thumbnail displays and playlist editing on top of easy viewing of the recorded subject. The camera is USB 2.0-compliant and the software loads on Windows 98 and above.

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Howard Dahdah

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