In the world of electronics, it is popularly believed that good things come in small packages. Panasonic's AG-DVC60--essentially an enlarged, shoulder-mounted version of the popular AG-DVC30 camcorder--is based on the opposite premise: sometimes bigger is better.
There are at least three obvious advantages to the AG-DVC60's larger form factor. First, a camera must have a certain bulk to rest on the shoulder, which is an excellent perch from which to capture steady handheld shots. Second, a larger camera offers more real estate for controls and connections, such as the professional XLR microphone inputs--rare on a camera in this price range--that come standard here. Finally, a larger camera simply looks more professional, and this is increasingly important for event and wedding videographers striving to distinguish themselves from Uncle Frank and his new MiniDV camera.
Without a doubt, this is the best camera in its category, quite simply because it has no direct competition. There are no other three-chip shoulder-mounted MiniDV cameras on the market for less than $3,000. Sony's, Canon's, and JVC's entry-level shoulder-mount cameras cost substantially more. That said, the AG-DVC60 is not really the equal of its higher-priced competitors, in large part because this Panasonic has a fixed lens and smaller 1/4-inch CCDs. But the AG-DVC60 offers amazing bang for the buck, and it's a perfect fit for low-end event work and the education market. The Panasonic AG-DVC60 has an interesting hybrid design, with the overall shape, balance, and understated style of a shoulder-mounted professional camera but with many details inherited from its smaller Handycam-style brethren.
As with most shoulder-mounted designs, the left side sprouts a laterally adjustable viewfinder toward the shooter and provides a built-in speaker over the lens. The right side contains the tape door toward the rear and a handgrip with a zoom rocker alongside the lens at the front. A generous shoulder pad takes up the bottom rear under a pair of XLR microphone jacks, and a robust handle adorns the top. For a camera of its size, the AG-DVC60 is lightweight at 5.7 pounds, but due to its carbon-fiber construction, it feels like a solid package.
The AG-DVC60's Handycam-inspired design elements include a flip-out LCD monitor on the left side of the camera, a nonremovable servo-controlled zoom lens--seemingly the same 16X zoom as on the but lacking its Leica Dicomar branding--under a built-in stereo mic identical to that of the , and a well for the small consumer-style batteries used by both the AG-DVC30 and the AG-DVX100A toward the back of the right side.
While the viewfinder looks like a professional black-and-white tube-based unit, it's actually a color LCD model--in fact, it's the same 180,000-pixel viewfinder used on the AG-DVX100A and is about as big, bright, and clear as these types of viewfinders get. Unfortunately, at only 2.5 inches--as opposed to the AG-DVC30's and AG-DVX100A's 3.5-inch screens--the LCD is rather small, but it's also less important on a camera meant to sit on the shoulder.
Compared to higher-end pro cameras, the AG-DVC60 comes up a bit short in its external controls. Many features are accessible only through menus, while others share physical controls. The best example of this latter arrangement is the thumbwheel that controls iris, shutter (1/4 second to 1/8,000 second), gain (3dB to 18dB), and headphone volume. A particularly odd control is the single ring around the lens, which may be assigned via menu settings to control zoom, focus, or iris. The good news is that all these functions can be controlled manually; the bad news is that without dedicated mechanical controls, manual operation can be unnecessarily awkward and time-consuming. This weakness is ameliorated somewhat by three customizable user buttons, which can each be assigned via the menus to control any of 16 functions. The only glaring omission here is the built-in neutral-density filter, which has no manual control.
In the area of audio controls and connections, the AG-DVC60 is much more professional than the AG-DVC30, offering a full set of audio-selection and level controls under the flip-out display, and built-in XLR microphone connections at the back. Bravo! With the exception of its more advanced audio section, the Panasonic AG-DVC60 shares almost all its features and functionality with the AG-DVC30. Like the AG-DVC30, the DVC60 has three 1/4-inch (380,000-pixel effective) CCDs and a 16X optically stabilized 4.1mm-to-65.6mm zoom lens (equivalent in 35mm-camera terms to a 39.5mm-to-632mm zoom).
While the lens has no truly manual zoom control, you can choose from three menu-selectable motorized zoom-speed curves. And while no focal-length markings appear on the barrel of the lens, a helpful 0-to-99 zoom indicator can be displayed in the viewfinder. As with all servo-controlled lenses, manual focusing can be a bit dicey, but the AG-DVC60 offers a focus-assist feature that helps mitigate this weakness: when in manual focus, at the push of a button the camera zooms in, it autofocuses, then returns to the initial focal length. Because of its larger size, the AG-DVC60 has space for a lens control lacking in the AG-DVC30: a small secondary zoom rocker atop the handle, behind a secondary start/stop button. These latter controls are very helpful for low-angle shooting.
The AG-DVC60 offers an exceptional range of menu-controlled features, including true SMPTE color bars, used for setting up monitors and editing systems; rich time-code functionality (user-settable time-code and free/record run options); viewfinder peaking, which makes it easier to focus; customizable zebra stripes to aid in judging exposure; synchro scan to reduce flicker when shooting computer screens; letterboxed and squeezed 16:9 modes; and date/time stamp, necessary for certain types of legal video.
The menus also include a rich set of image controls. You can choose from four independent Scene Files, each consisting of user-customizable detail, chroma, color-temperature, master-pedestal, skin-detail, and gamma settings. Although the AG-DVC60 lacks progressive-imaging capability, it offers a reasonable lower-resolution facsimile, which makes for an attractive built-in film look.
As we mentioned in , the AG-DVC60's built-in XLR connections and audio controls are unrivaled at this price point and will be familiar to those used to handling professional cameras costing 10 times as much. Under the flip-out LCD, you'll find discrete audio-level controls, mic- and line-level switches, and audio-routing controls. Since these capabilities are already beyond those of other cameras at this price point, it hardly seems fair to note that the AG-DVC60 lacks phantom power and the automatic audio-level options offered in most high-end cameras.
The AG-DVC60 also incorporates an odd blend of consumer-oriented features, unusual in a non-consumer-oriented three-chip camera. Most noteworthy are three modes of IR Super Night Shooting--which enables monochrome image acquisition in the dark by using an infrared LED--extensive digital-zoom options, and LumiFlik, a crude filmlike flickering effect. Oddly, though the AG-DVC60 generally seems positioned as a more professional variant of the AG-DVC30, the former includes digital picture effects that are unavailable in the latter, such as wipes and fades. The Panasonic AG-DVC60 responds quickly and appropriately to all control inputs. Zooming, focusing, and exposure all react predictably and repeatably, though all are somewhat limited by the lack of independent manual controls. The zoom stands out as extremely good for a nonmechanical control. You can zoom the lens through its full range in 1 to 100 seconds. And whatever the speed, the zoom starts and ends with the gentle ramping that is a hallmark of professional video.
The various automatic functions all perform well. The autofocus is as good as it gets--quick and accurate, provided you want to focus on whatever is in the middle of the screen. The autoexposure excelled within the limitations of such systems, and the auto white balance generally seemed spot on. The optical image stabilizer performed admirably, enabling steady handheld shooting even at the long end of the zoom.
The built-in stereo microphone has the same limitations as nearly all built-in mics, meaning that because it's not very directional, it easily picks up unwanted sounds. However, this seems like nitpicking in a camera with the AG-DVC60's ability to interface with all sorts of pro audio gear. When this camera is connected to high-end mics, its sound is crystal clear.
Finally, the battery life is good but not spectacular. Panasonic should be applauded for including a generous 5,400mAh battery, but even this large cell will keep the camera going for only two or three hours. With its full-day run times, Sony is still the leader in power technology. The Panasonic AG-DVC60 produces outstanding interlaced video, with accurate colors, good latitude, and sharp, contrasty images. It's at the top of its class for a 1/4-inch-chip camera.
Probably due to its advanced 12-bit digital processing, this camera delivers an unusually clean image for a 1/4-inch-chip camera. This is particularly helpful in low-light situations, when you might boost the gain. In informal testing, the gain was so clean as to be virtually undetectable up to 9dB.
As we mentioned in the section, the AG-DVC60 offers a depth of image controls unrivaled at this price point. These controls render much discussion of the camera's imagery moot, since you can tune the camera to produce a wide variety of looks.