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Panasonic AG-DVC30 review: Panasonic AG-DVC30

Panasonic AG-DVC30

Ben Wolf

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6 min read

8.1

Panasonic AG-DVC30

The Good

A surprising number of professional features for the price; solid, compact design; responsive performance; Infrared mode; excellent video quality.

The Bad

Controls are more consumer-oriented than the feature set; Movie-Like mode inferior to true progressive imaging; no built-in XLR ports.

The Bottom Line

A compact model with a wealth of features for its price, the Panasonic AG-DVC30 offers one of the best values in a three-chip MiniDV camera.
Intro
Panasonic's AG-DVC30 represents the company's entry into what you could call the prosumer-lite camcorder category. These cameras are a step down from higher-priced, entry-level pro cameras with 1/3-inch CCDs, notable examples of which include Canon's XL2, Sony's PD170, and Panasonic's DVX100A. Cameras in the prosumer-lite category have three 1/4-inch chips and are more compact, simplified, and consumer-oriented than their more-expensive siblings. The AG-DVC30 raises the bar in this category by offering both a broad range of pro features and appealing touches such as a clean IR mode and a handsomely designed magnesium-alloy body. It offers perhaps the most bang for the buck of any three-chip DV camcorder available, making an excellent choice for the serious amateur, or as a discreet second camera for the accomplished pro. At first glance, the Panasonic AG-DVC30 looks like a shrunken AG-DVX100A. Like its big brother, the AG-DVC30 has a classic three-chip prosumer camera design: lens and microphone in the front, viewfinder and battery in the back, tape compartment and wrist strap on the right side, and a flip-out LCD as well as most of the controls on the left.

The cassette hatch opens from the top, so you don't have to remove the camera from your tripod when you want to change tapes.

Although small, this camera definitely doesn't seem chintzy--its magnesium-alloy chassis gives it a nice solid feel, and its 2.4 pounds balance well in your hand. Unlike with the AG-DVX100A, the AG-DVC30's carrying handle is removable. Without the handle, this model makes for a very compact and discreet camera, which, with its stealthy, black color, could be easily mistaken for a much less sophisticated model.


In addition to the primary record button in its usual place at the rear of the camera, there's a second one near the lens.

While the AG-DVC30 has many of the features as the AG-DVX100A, it has far fewer physical controls. As a result, many features are accessible only through menus, while others share controls. The best example of the latter arrangement is the thumb wheel, which controls the iris, the shutter, the gain, the audio levels, and the headphone volume. A particularly odd control system is the single ring around the lens, which may be assigned via menu settings to control the zoom, the focus, or the iris. The good news is that all these functions can be controlled manually. The bad news is that, without dedicated mechanical controls, taking manual control is often awkward and time consuming. This weakness is alleviated somewhat by three customizable buttons that can be programmed via the menus to control a variety of common functions.


Playback controls and a few recording options, including image stabilization and zebra stripes, are found behind the flip-out LCD.


Using one thumb wheel to adjust the iris, the shutter speed, the gain, the audio levels, and the headphone volume makes manual control somewhat time consuming, but three user-customizable buttons allow you to program a more efficient setup.

The AG-DVC30's batteries and LCD are exactly the same as the AG-DVX100A's. That's a good thing, as the 3.5-inch LCD is big and bright, and the world doesn't need yet another proprietary battery design. The AG-DVC30's viewfinder is quite similar to the AG-DVX100A's, though its lens and rubber eyecup are significantly smaller. The AG-DVC30 also comes with a larger eyecup, which may be swapped out according to personal preference. The lens and removable hood are also reminiscent of the AG-DVX100A's, but the AG-DVC30's lens diameter is a modest 43mm.

As is the case with many small cameras, the AG-DVC30 combines many connectors. Audio and video RCA jacks are combined into a single minijack, which requires a proprietary cable.

When it came out a couple of years ago, the AG-DVX100 (further improved as the AG-DVX100A) was a revolutionary camera--the first to offer 24P imaging and a pro feature set in a prosumer model. The Panasonic AG-DVC30 is much more of an evolutionary camera, borrowing various features from the AG-DVX100A but offering little else that's new other than value.


There's an S-Video port, but audio and video RCA connections are combined into a single minijack port. You can attach an optional XLR adapter for compatibility with pro audio equipment.

Like its competitors at this price point, the AG-DVC30 captures images with three 1/4 -inch (380K effective pixel) CCDs. The 16X zoom range and optical stabilization of its Leica Dicomar lens are also competitive but not exceptional.

What is exceptional about the AG-DVC30 is its unprecedented range of menu-accessed pro features, including true SMPTE color bars for setting up monitors and editing systems, rich time-code functionality with user-settable time-code and free/record run options, viewfinder peaking for easier focusing, customizable zebra stripes to aid in judging exposure, synchro scan to reduce flicker when shooting computer screens, and two 16x9 modes (letterboxed and squeezed).

The AG-DVC30 also has an unrivaled set of image controls for its class. It offers four independent scene files, each consisting of user-customizable detail, chroma, color temperature, master pedestal, skin detail, and gamma settings. While it is beyond the scope of this review to describe each of these, suffice it to say that you can create four distinct looks, which can easily be called up at any time.

The DVC30 also incorporates an odd blend of consumer-oriented features, unusual in a three-chip camera. Most noteworthy are three modes of Infrared Super Night Shooting, which lets you shoot monochrome video in the dark; extensive digital zoom options; and LumiFlik, a crude, filmlike flickering effect. There is, however, no provision for high-resolution still imaging.

So what's missing? If you're in love with the AG-DVX100A's cinematic 24P imagery, you'll definitely miss it here. While this camera has no progressive capability, it does offer a reasonable lower-resolution facsimile, similar to Canon's Frame Mode. The AG-DVC30 also lacks the professional audio connectors and controls necessary to interface with high-end audio gear, though these features may be added via a nifty-looking optional adapter that mounts neatly on the handle. And finally, Canon's competing GL2 offers a larger optical zoom range.

The Panasonic AG-DVC30 responds quickly and appropriately to all control inputs. Zoom, focus, and exposure controls all react predictably and consistently, though they are somewhat limited by the lack of independent buttons and rings.

The various automatic functions all perform well. Autofocus is very quick and accurate, providing you want to focus on whatever is in the middle of the screen. Autoexposure also works well, and automatic white balance generally seemed right on. The optical lens stabilizer performed admirably, allowing reasonably steady handheld shooting, even at the long end of the 16X zoom.

The built-in stereo microphone is mediocre, as is generally the case with built-in mics. As it's not very directional, you'll pick up unwanted sounds easily. Furthermore, due to the microphone's placement on the camera, camera buzz and handling noise are inevitably recorded. In short, if you're looking to record good sound, you should consider the optional XLR audio adapter a must-have item.

The AG-DVC30's low-light performance at least matched that of competing models from Sony and Canon, although you'll capture grainier-looking images than you would with the current crop of 1/3-inch-CCD cameras. In extremely dark situations, this camera is unique in offering infrared shooting modes.

Finally, battery life is decent but not spectacular. Expect to get one to two hours of shooting out of the included battery. If that's insufficient to meet your needs, you can invest in a larger, higher-capacity battery. This is one area where Sony, offering the ability to shoot all day on a single battery, clearly has the lead.

The Panasonic AG-DVC30 produces outstanding interlaced video, with accurate colors, good tonal range, and sharp, contrasty images.

Since it also offers a depth of image controls unrivaled at its price point, the AG-DVC30 can produce a much wider variety of looks than the competition. If you're a serious shooter, it will give you the capabilities you need to control your images.

While not as sharp nor quite as cinematic as true progressive imaging, the Movie-Like mode produces a decent film look.

8.1

Panasonic AG-DVC30

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 8Image quality 8