One of the world's smallest MPEG-2 camcorders, the Panasonic D-Snap SV-AV100 measures a scant 1.25 by 2.1 by 3.5 inches. But don't let that size fool you: the camera's surprisingly rich feature set includes a 10X optical zoom, a sharp 2.5-inch LCD, and video storage on SD media rather than tapes. For such a tiny device, the SV-AV100 shoots exceptional MPEG-2 movies, but a typical MiniDV model will still do better, and the supplied 512MB SD card holds a mere 10 minutes of highest-quality footage. Still, there's no denying that this pocket-size D-Snap could serve as a blueprint for future camcorders. The Panasonic SV-AV100 fits handily into a shirt pocket, but you may want to steer clear of this purchase if you're clumsy with small electronic devices. You're more likely to drop a palm-size camcorder than a standard model, and the D-Snap's mostly plastic case probably wouldn't survive a fall onto concrete. At only 6.7 ounces with its rechargeable lithium-ion battery installed, the SV-AV100 is easy to carry for long periods of time. The only real drawback of its light weight is that you may have a hard time pressing the controls without shaking the camera.
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|Getting the hang of these navigation buttons (left) may take some time. They sit behind the LCD on the left panel, rotated 45 degrees toward the camera back. The rest of the SV-AV100's controls are laid out similarly to a typical camcorder's.|
The SV-AV100's LCD measures a typical 2.5 inches, but it seems disproportionately large on this miniature device. The screen swivels more than 180 degrees, so you can aim it downward for overhead crowd shots and forward for self-portraits.
The D-Snap's menus are easy to use. That's partly because there aren't that many choices, but the system is also clearly labeled, with high-resolution graphics and subtle color coding that aids navigation. In general, the controls are logically placed and intelligently configured. We especially like the multifunction buttons: one toggles between recording and playback; another cycles through the MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and still-photo modes. During playback, you adjust the volume with the zoom lever. Opting for an ultracompact device too often means sacrificing advanced features. That generally isn't the case with the Panasonic SV-AV100. In addition to a 10X zoom and a large LCD, this mini camcorder offers both automatic and manual focus, exposure, and white balance. And for difficult exposure environments, the D-Snap supplies five scene modes: Sports, Portrait, Low Light, Spot-Light, and Surf & Snow.
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|A nice add-on is the included A/V cradle, which lets you send video directly from the SV-AV100 to a TV or a VCR. Even more impressive, the accessory can route an external source's footage to the camera, so you can, say, copy a VCR tape to the SD card and watch the movie on the LCD.||While saving MPEG-2 video to SD cards isn't very cost-effective, keep in mind that flash-memory capacities tend to double each year, significantly reducing the media's price.|
Because flash storage costs far more than a MiniDV tape of the same duration, the SV-AV100 provides a range of resolution and compression options. You can record 704x480 or 352x480 MPEG-2 video at 30 frames per second. According to the company, the higher-resolution footage transfers to SD memory at 10MB per second, and only Panasonic sells media capable of that rate. While the package does come with a 512MB card, it can store just about 10 minutes of best-quality video. The lower-res movies have a 3MB-per-second transfer rate. Many--but not all--third-party SD cards can do the job.
You can record in MPEG-4 at different resolutions and data rates: 320x240 at 798Kbps or 384Kbps, and 176x144 at 180Kbps or 64Kbps. The bundled card will hold 610 minutes of lowest-quality MPEG-4 video.
The SV-AV100 saves 640x480 JPEG stills at one of two compression levels. The 512MB card can store a whopping 3,520 photos at the lowest compression setting and 7,040 at the highest.
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You can cram only so much power into a small space. When we combined shooting and viewing, the battery often died within 30 minutes. We strongly recommend purchasing an extra.
The image stabilizer performed reasonably well, going a long way toward countering any shake caused by the SV-AV100's lightweight case. Manual focus worked as promised, though the complicated button sequence will likely send you scurrying to the instructions for a refresher course. Fortunately, the sharp LCD makes it easy to see the results and zero in on your target.
Like other palm-size camcorders, the SV-AV100 has a microphone on top rather than in front. Even in this less than optimal position, the stereo mike did a good job picking up a scene's sounds. Audio quality was excellent, with a fair level of stereo separation. For shooting on the move, the Panasonic SV-AV100 can't keep up with a MiniDV camcorder, despite having approximately the same resolution. The 704x480 MPEG-2 setting records footage that's roughly equivalent to DVD video; if the D-Snap sits perfectly still, its output can be so sharp and richly detailed that you could read the fine print on a newspaper in the scene. Motion, however, immediately generates considerable distortion. Moderately brisk pans often turned our backgrounds into a blur. Even slight shifts in camera position brought on distracting bouts of compression artifacts. Much of our test video also suffered from odd electronic jitter; it was barely visible on the SV-AV100's small screen but quite prominent on our computer display.
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The SV-AV100's still-photo quality matches that of a typical budget camcorder.
Those problems keep the SV-AV100 from competing with the majority of full-size camcorders. But the D-Snap's MPEG-2 video is still vastly superior to what you'll see from most of the devices we've tested that record MPEG-4 video to flash memory cards, the exception being the Sanyo Fisher .
In other respects, the SV-AV100's MPEG-2 video was roughly comparable to that of a standard budget camcorder. Colors came out a tad too saturated, especially in low light, but noise levels were fine in both bright and dim scenes. Exposure was generally accurate; when it was off, it tended to err on the dark side.
As you'd expect, our MPEG-4 recordings exhibited more compression artifacts and noise, which decreased sharpness and color accuracy. The two lowest-quality MPEG-4 settings are appropriate for only e-mail attachments and Web streaming.