The Panasonic Palmcorder PV-GS50 surprised us by fitting into the range of affordable ultracompact camcorders without making a lot of compromises. The camera is small and inexpensive, offers above-average battery life and good image quality, and includes more features and manual controls than we usually see in this class. The PV-GS50's still-photo options aren't the best, and its low-light modes are limited, but if those items aren't on your must-have list, this Palmcorder is an excellent value.
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The Quick Start button lets you quickly enter recording mode when the camcorder is on standby or even off.
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|You access various functions from a panel behind the LCD. These flat, touch-sensitive controls give no tactile feedback.||The Menu button is just out of thumb's reach on the back of the body, but one touch of this handy jog dial takes you to settings for white balance and exposure.|
The PV-GS50 is comfortable for extended one-handed shooting sessions. Relatively few controls are on the outside of the body, and menu navigation is simple. You both scroll and select with the jog dial. One minor complaint: While the individual menu functions are easy to understand, you'd think Panasonic could have come up with more-descriptive labels than Other Functions 1 and Other Functions 2, the categories that contain a quarter of the available options.
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|The PV-GS50 accepts tapes up top, memory cards at the side, and lithium-ion cells on the back, so the camcorder can stay on your tripod during media and battery changes.|
You won't find an infrared mode on this camera. Instead, Panasonic gives you low-light options that slow the shutter speed, producing less than optimum results. If your subject is within about three feet of you, you can white out the LCD and flip it around for use as a rather dim assist lamp.
The PV-GS50 accepts analog input, so you can use the camcorder to convert your old analog tapes to DV. You'll also find an accessory shoe and jacks for an external microphone and headphones. One unusual inclusion is Panasonic's MagicWire, a stick-shaped tethered remote. Its Record, Zoom, PhotoShot, and Talk controls allow easier, shake-free tripod shooting. A conventional IR remote comes in the box, as well.
The PV-GS50's still-image options are extremely basic; the camera captures 640x480-pixel photos to SD/MMC media. You can also record MPEG-4 videos for e-mailing or Web posting.
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The included 680mAh lithium-ion battery impressed us. Despite heavy LCD use, the cell lasted for more than 90 minutes of playback and recording.
Though the 2.5-inch LCD doesn't offer the highest resolution, its small size keeps the image relatively sharp. The screen remains usable even in direct sunlight. The color viewfinder lacks detail, and we couldn't focus manually with it. It extends backward but not upward, so looking into it during tripod shooting is difficult.
The front-mounted stereo microphone captures clear, strong audio, and the zoom-microphone feature increases its sensitivity when you zoom in on distant objects. We couldn't detect any motor or lens noises on our recordings. Cameras often sacrifice resolution for compactness, but the Panasonic Palmcorder PV-GS50 captures surprisingly sharp, detailed images under good lighting conditions. Outdoors and in well-lit rooms, it delivers rich, accurate colors, and its automatic white balance produces excellent results. The camera quickly adjusts when light varies across a fast pan, and the programmed automatic modes ably handle subjects such as speeding cars and snowy landscapes.
Dim situations, however, desaturate colors and introduce noise. The Magic Pix low-light mode brightens up the scene but reduces the shutter speed so much that all moving subjects look very blurry, so the option is useful mainly for static shots. Illuminating the scene with the LCD works better but just barely; the screen doesn't put out very much light.
At 640x480 pixels, the PV-GS50's stills lack detail, and indoor photos are a muddy mess. Pictures taken outside, however, have decent color. The MPEG-4 videos are OK for quick e-mail clips, but in frame rate and image quality, they're nowhere near comparable to the camcorder's DV footage.