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Panasonic D-snap SV-AV50 (Silver) review: Panasonic D-snap SV-AV50 (Silver)


6.0

Panasonic D-snap SV-AV50 (Silver)

The Good

Small size; combines photo, video, and audio capture; plays music files and recorded TV shows.

The Bad

Photo quality is often poor; no optical zoom; no red-eye reduction; only a few settings for each media function.

The Bottom Line

Stylishly small and loaded with multimedia functions, the D-snap SV-AV50 has too few settings for its functions and captures mostly below-average photos.
Intro
Manufacturers are cramming so many functions into their products these days, it's hard to know which ones to refer to as all-in-one devices. If anything qualifies, it would have to be the cell phone-size Panasonic D-snap SV-AV50, which combines a 1.95-megapixel camera, a 320x240 MPEG-4 video camcorder, a digital voice recorder, an MP3- and AAC-format music player, and a digital video recorder that can grab and play TV programs. That's impressive, but you won't find many of the features normally associated with those functions--there's no optical zoom, for example--and the resulting quality is uneven. The SV-AV50 is so small you really can carry it anywhere, though you'll have to lower your expectations and maybe expect some puzzled looks when it comes to sharing its recorded content. If you're a quality-first kind of person, you'll want to steer clear. But if you feel that almost any photo or video is better than none, read on. Remarkably small and lightweight at 4 by 1.95 by 0.81 inches and 4.2 ounces with the battery installed, the stylish Panasonic D-snap SV-AV50 can fit into a shirt pocket with plenty of room to spare. A side panel swings out and twists to position the 2-inch LCD on one side of the unit and the lens on the other. The screen swivels 180 degrees to allow self-portrait, overhead, and floor-level shots. The rounded, silver-colored case (it's also available in blue) is constructed of sturdy plastic with metal trim. It appears to be durable, as do the buttons that line the back of the case. The D-snap is made for handheld use, so there's no tripod mount.
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You navigate menus with the orange jog ball. The button with the red dot works as a shutter release in photo mode and a record button in video and voice modes.

We found the tiny, back-mounted jog ball difficult to control. We sometimes overshot the menu selection we wanted and had to backtrack. The LCD menus, however, are clearly marked and logically organized, in part because each function has only a few options. A mode button lets you toggle through photos, videos, and voice when recording and through photos, videos, voice, and music when playing back.

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The two controls above the power button on the rear of the device let you switch between capture and playback and choose operating modes, including photo, video, voice, and music.

The SV-AV50 is so lightweight, you won't become tired holding it for extended periods of time. The real challenge is making sure you don't place a finger too close to the lens. The fixed lens provides a wide-angle perspective, which means that your finger doesn't have to be directly in front of it in order to show up in the picture. Given the vertical orientation of the case and the back-mounted controls, it can be hard to get a grip while staying clear of the lens. We found it best to use the right thumb for the bottom controls and the left hand for the top controls. One-handed shooting works well, as long as you don't need to access the controls. With no optical zoom, capturing photos and videos is a simple point-and-shoot operation.

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Pressing the Night View button brightens up low-light videos.

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The D-snap SV-AV50 stores all recorded media on an SD card. Plan on buying a high-capacity card to get the most out of the device.

Like circus clowns who keep rolling out of a small car, an extraordinary number of functions are packed into this tiny device. But while the Panasonic D-snap SV-AV50 shines in the number of functions it offers, none is anywhere close to full featured.

You can save photos as JPEG files at three resolutions (1,600x1,200, 1,280x960, or 640x480) and two compression rates (Fine and Normal). There are four MPEG-4 video settings: Extra Fine (320x240 at 30fps), Super Fine (320x240 at 15fps), Fine (320x240 at 12fps), and Economy (176x144 at 6fps). A 2.5X digital zoom is available, though it's hardly worth using, as it significantly reduces the image quality. Monaural voice recordings are saved in a proprietary format.

Panasonic provides a software program to help you bring your music into the D-snap SV-AV50. SD-Jukebox 4.0 converts your CDs to 96Kbps AAC files and transfers them to the device via a USB connection. You bypass the computer entirely when bringing prerecorded video into the D-snap. In addition to recharging the battery, the USB cradle acts as an A/V input/output adapter. A supplied cable provides composite-video and stereo-audio plugs, which you can connect directly to a VCR, a DVR, an A/V receiver, or a TV for video recording and playback.

Other noteworthy features include a Night View mode that brightens the image but lowers the frame rate of video recordings, stereo earbuds (the camera's built-in microphone, however, is mono only), and a remote control that's handy when you're listening to music files. There are no manual exposure settings or specialized shooting modes other than Night View. The camera's fixed-focus lens can't focus on subjects within 1.7 feet, which will disappoint macro fans.

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The D-snap SV-AV50's tiny rechargeable lithium-ion battery held out for just 255 photos.

While you can't expect a tiny multifunction device to outperform a larger single-function device, it shouldn't be so slow that it's unusable. The Panasonic D-snap SV-AV50 offers marginal responsiveness that makes it best suited for static shots and moderately paced action. With its slow wake-up-to-first-shot time of about 8 seconds, you'll have to pay attention and be ready to grab the camera in a hurry. Shot-to-shot times for nonflash and flash-illuminated shots were 5.9 and 7.9 seconds, respectively, which are slow compared to those of a typical 2-megapixel point-and-shoot camera.

Shutter lag in our tests was in the 3-second range, depending on the light. That's very slow, so don't expect to take a lot of shots over a short period of time. The camera has no burst mode either, and holding down the shutter release won't trigger a second shot.

The LCD menus were also sluggish. While there's no practical way to measure how long it takes to navigate a camera's settings since menu options differ widely between devices, we experienced a perceptible lag between pressing a menu button on the D-snap SV-AV50 and seeing the corresponding change on the LCD. If you find this kind of delay frustrating, you'll be better off with a more responsive camera.

Even though the removable lithium-ion battery is necessarily small and rated at just 530mAh, it performed reasonably well in our battery-rundown tests. It racked up 255 photos before dying completely. We didn't receive much of a warning; once the battery indicator started flashing, we were able to snap only 15 additional photos.

Our photos varied from average quality to just plain awful. The better shots were taken outside with plenty of light. We found that focus errors and visual noise increased significantly as the light levels fell. Interior shots often looked very grainy. The built-in flash helped, though it has a limited range and often overilluminated the scene. The camera does not provide manual controls to compensate for focus or exposure deficiencies. It also lacks an option for red-eye reduction, which was a problem with flash shots.

As a 1.95-megapixel camera, the Panasonic D-snap SV-AV50 falls short of most dedicated digital cameras with similar resolution. Many of our 1,600x1,200 shots looked like typical VGA or 1-megapixel shots blown up to higher resolution. Sharpness and image detail were below average in most of our photos. On the other hand, the SV-AV50's color accuracy and contrast range were generally very good for a small point-and-shoot camera. Some photos did exhibit a slight yellow tinge. Overall, we found that the SV-A50 took acceptable photos as long as there was plenty of light and the subject wasn't too close to the camera. With other shots, the quality was hit-or-miss.

Our MPEG-4 video captures fared a bit better. While it was subject to the same quirks in color, focus, and visual noise as the photos, the video didn't suffer from the jerkiness and the horizontal splitting that we've seen with similar SD-card devices. Even though 320x240 video at 30fps can't compare with video recorded on a MiniDV camcorder, it's good enough for casual viewing and e-mail (assuming you have a broadband connection). The other video settings are pretty good, considering their lower frame rates. We're not talking VHS-quality video here, but compared to other small photo/video hybrid devices that store MPEG-4 video to an SD card, the SV-AV50 does reasonably well.

6.0

Panasonic D-snap SV-AV50 (Silver)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 4Image quality 5