- Good video quality, above average still images
- A little awkward to hold, controls not that nice to use
A high performance video camera that could use a little tweaking
Price$ 1,979.00 (AUD)
Home video cameras used to almost be as big as buses. It's easy to forget this, and worth bearing in mind. Our first reaction when picking up Panasonic's VDR-D300 was that it was quite heavy. Of course, compared to cameras produced even a few years ago, it isn't. Even if it is, we can probably forgive it, as the Panasonic VDR-D300 is a very impressive camera. The VDR-D300 is one of the latest slew of cameras that can write directly onto mini DVD discs. The VDR-D300 supports DVD-R and DVD-RW as well as DVD-RAM. Each little disc can store about an hour of film. In addition, an SD slot allows the camera to operate as a digital camera, taking photos up to 3.1 megapixels in size.
The VDR-300 certainly isn't the smallest or lightest camera on the market. This is partly due to the fact that having an on board DVD drive adds a fair amount of weight. However, when we were out and about using the camera we didn't find it bulky or cumbersome to hold. One complaint we would have is that the buttons aren't positioned in the most intuitive manner. Getting used to this took a while, but after using the camera for a few days it felt more comfortable, although the thumbstick was just plain cumbersome. Other than this we found the VDR-300 to have a good range of features: 10x optical zoom, 700x digital zoom, stereo microphones - everything we would expect from a high end camera.
Where the VDR-300 shines is the quality of its video. The camera records in a native widescreen resolution complete with a widescreen LCD. We were particularly impressed with the LCD's performance, offering bright and clear images even in direct sunlight. The video quality, while not possessing the quality and resolution of a pre-recorded DVD, is outstanding. Video playback is smooth and crisp, with nice tonal balance. Day time shots look fantastic with vivid colours and beautiful definition. We weren't blown away by the performance in low light levels, however, with poor contrast and slight image degradation. The real advantages of using DVD are shown when comparing the output to traditional Mini-DV cameras.
The differences between Mini-DV and DVD video are not so pronounced when viewing on a standard television, but when viewing on a high resolution computer screen it immediately becomes clear that the DVD possesses far greater detail, clarity and resolution. It is much better to be able to play back video direct from the DVD than having to go through the rigmarole of transferring footage from a DV tape onto the computer. There is no sacrifice in quality and no need to spend hours tinkering with software. The VDR-300 automatically splits up each day's recording into a separate chapter, making playback a whole lot easier too. Other than the constraint of cost, we can see no reason for anyone to buy a DV tape camera over a DVD camera.
The VDR-300 also functions as a still image camera. While this is a nice feature, it isn't in a position to rival having a dedicated still digital camera, much in the same way that the video functions on still digital cameras are in no position to compete with the VDR-300. Most of the functionality you would expect from a basic digital camera is present on the VDR-300 including flash, multiple quality modes and red-eye reduction. With the advantage of using the built in 10x optical zoom this all sounds promising.
Unfortunately, the VDR-300 failed to live up to our expectations, though it is still above average for a video camera. Firstly, it is slightly annoying that images have to be stored on an SD card; there is no option of saving them to the DVD. Worse, is the fact that the image quality isn't that good. Though it is higher quality than most video cameras provide, 3.1 megapixels just doesn't cut it these days, and in conjunction with some over-saturation images aren't that spectacular. Having said this, they would be fine for making 6x4 prints, so if you just want a few holiday snaps and only want to take the one camera, then the VDR-300 would do the job.
Overall, Panasonic have produced a good camera that is a little rough around the edges. It may not be the most comfortable to use, but its high quality video and images set it apart from the crowd.
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