The GS250's reasonably well weighted and built, although those with smaller hands may find it a touch tricky supporting the camera with the base of one hand. Likewise, at 500 grams, this is a solid camera, but one that's not too difficult to carry around for an afternoon's family filming. All of the unit's primary controls are built into the camera's right-hand side, and once you've spent a surprisingly small amount of play time, you'll be right in the thick of the action, thanks to some very solid ergonomic design. The key to this is that the main functions of the camera, including all menu selections, are performed from one simple navigation joystick that's surrounded by the unit's selection wheel.
As with most consumer-level camcorders, there's an integrated and flippable LCD screen, and if you're not the LCD screen filming type, there's also a standard optical eyepiece, although that also sends to an LCD within the eyepiece. The camera is suitable for tripod mounting from the base, and comes bundled with a small remote, allowing you to alter shots on the move.
The NV-GS250 uses a 3CCD sensor built around a Leica Dicomar f1.6 lens with a 10x optical zoom. It ties that in with a surprisingly good 3.1 Megapixel still image recording facility, saved to separate SD cards that slot into the bottom of the camera itself. The GS250 has what Panasonic calls Mega O.I.S, offering optical image stabilisation via an inbuilt motor in the camera that, in theory, compensates for handshake and jitter errors while you're filming.
On the software side, Panasonic bundle a USB driver (not needed for our test Windows XP system), along with a copy of Motion DV Studio 5.0 LE. The USB driver should give away one of the GS-250's other interesting features, that being USB 2.0 connectivity. In a world where Firewire is the norm, USB 2.0 is the exception, although those of you worrying about connecting it up to dedicated devices like DVD recorders -- which often only feature Firewire -- needn't worry, as the GS-250 is dual-connection capable, with firewire and USB 2.0 ports on almost exactly opposite sides of the camera.
It's most likely that the GS-250's going to see heavy usage in family environments, so we tested the unit by shooting a short home movie over the Easter long weekend. Like most home movies since the invention of celluloid, it was long, boring and terribly shot -- but none of those factors were the fault of the GS-250, which actually performed quite well in some quite adverse conditions.
We shot indoors, outdoors at day and night-time, and generally got results we deserved, along with some we didn't. When used badly, the GS-250 gave us bad shots of knees, sky and carpet, but the GS-250 stood out in terms of low-light shooting, where we got better than expected results, and in terms of audio pickup. The small microphone on the front of the camera is remarkably sensitive, although clearly if you want to shoot epics with this camera, you're going to need a reasonably quiet cameraman.
To really give the Mega O.I.S a shake-up, we attempted to film a hyperactive three year old running around the room, and while it can't deal with every handshake and tremor, it certainly dealt with a few less-than-smooth motions in a pleasing manner. At the end of the day, unless you're deliberately going for that news-cameraman-in-a-war zone feel, though, a tripod will give you much smoother shooting.
The supplied Motion DV Studio 5.0 LE software does a basic but acceptable job of capturing video and then offering a somewhat assisted video editing procedure. To be honest, however, we weren't thrilled with the interface, which is often not that friendly to non-video editing types. For the pro crowd you'll probably find it a tad limiting, and at the consumer end fed on diets of Windows Movie Maker and iMovie, you may find it perplexing. It will, however, output in a variety of video formats, starting with DV and moving down in quality, and naturally, you'll need to give it a fair bit of time, and processing cycles in order to do so.
If you're looking and drooling at the likes of a Sony HDR-FX1, then the GS-250 won't likely whet your appetite. On the other hand, if you want an easy to use DV camcorder that can make reasonable results out of even the most ham-fisted shooting, then the Panasonic GS-250 is an easy recommendation.