Panasonic VDR-D150 review
Although at the budget end of the range, you can still expect great image quality and a healthy range of features
A decade ago, when consumer digital camcorders first arrived on the market, they cost around £2,000. But these days, you can pick one up for under £300. Despite the price crash, these budget models are still capable of better image quality than some of the first premium units to arrive.
When shopping for a camcorder at any price, there are a number of key features to look out for. Megapixel ratings are only relevant to still photo abilities, as DV (Digital Video) is a standardised resolution of 720 x 576 in the UK. More important for video quality is the physical size and number of CCDs. Larger sensors capture more light, so will perform better than smaller ones in darker conditions, while having three CCDs instead of one triples the colour resolution for much better fidelity.
Models with a microphone input and accessory shoe let you add an external or wireless microphone for better audio, or you can use the shoe for a video light. And don’t be taken in by the size of digital zoom, as this will be unusable. Instead, look for a larger optical zoom.
A tape mechanism that loads from the top or side is also preferable. If you’re using a tripod, bottom loading will force you to remove the camcorder to change tapes. But compared to models that record onto DVD, tape camcorders are a pain since you have to wind them to the position you want and then wait in real-time to transfer footage to your PC. Panasonic’s VDR-D150 records onto 8cm DVD-RAM, DVD-R and DVD-RW discs. If you use a DVD-RAM disc, you don’t even have to finalise the disc before simply popping it into your set-top DVD player. DVDs also allow you to copy footage quickly onto your hard disk for editing.
Although camcorders that record straight to DVD are still at a premium, prices are starting to drop. Panasonic’s VDR-D150 is one of the first to dip below £300, so we put it up against this month’s DV contenders to see how it compares for features and quality. Unlike the NV-GS180, the VDR-D150 only offers a single 1/6in 800,000-pixel CCD, and can only manage still images at 640 x 480. However, it has a reasonable level of manual features, as we’ve come to expect from Panasonic. There’s no accessory shoe, no microphone and no headphone jacks, but shutter speed can be varied from 1/50th to 1/8,000th of a second, gain from 0 to 18dB and aperture from f/2 to f/16.
With its single 1/6in CCD, the VDR-D150 wasn’t going to be the best performer for image quality. Colour fidelity was decent in daylight conditions, although with noticeably more noise than Canon’s MVX460 or the NV-GS180. Colours were still faithful in lower light, but the grain increased. In our lowest light tests, the grain made the image unusable.
The VDR-D150 is no match for its similarly priced DV stable mate, the NV-GS180, for quality. It does have the convenience of DVD recording in its favour, but it’s clear DV still offers better value for money.