Priced at about £800, the Panasonic NVGS250B is not the cheapest consumer DV camcorder. And measuring roughly 152 by 76 by 76mm, it's also not the most compact. But to the discriminating videographer, it offers a three-chip capture system and improved image stabilisation -- advantages that make it a winner.
Most video cameras geared toward general consumers have a single light-gathering CCD chip. Professional cameras, on the other hand, employ a prism behind the lens, which sends the red component of the image to one chip, the green to a second, and the blue to a third. Three-chip cameras generally produce images with richer colours and in greater detail than single-chip cameras. They had been too expensive and bulky for home video use until 2004, when Panasonic introduced a series of three-chip cameras priced and sized to compete with the one-chippers. The NVGS250B represents the second generation of the company's consumer-orientated three-chip line, replacing the NVGS200B in the middle of the series between the NVGS150B and NVGS400B.
Weighing a solid 453g and clad in a lustrous silver metallic skin, the Panasonic NVGS250B feels solid and well balanced in the hand. The body is orientated horizontally in a classic Handicam-style design rather than the vertical layout of many current consumer cameras. On the right side is a top-loading tape door under a hand strap; on the left, a 2.5-inch flip-out monitor sits above an SD/MMC card slot. The Leica Dicomar 10X zoom resides next to a stereo microphone and a flash on the front, and the battery snaps onto the camera under the viewfinder at the rear.
The uncluttered design of the NVGS250B has clearly been optimised for one-handed use with the camera set on automatic, and it is at its best when used this way. Just about all special features and manual controls are accessed through a navigation system controlled by a small joystick that rests under your thumb. This navigation system is very well organised and easy to use, but such menu-based setups are better suited for the occasional mode change than for the constant tweaking required to control a camera manually. While you can theoretically command just about every aspect of the NVGS250B manually, doing so for any length of time quickly becomes frustratingly tedious. The only other significant controls are the smooth and well-placed manual focus ring and the mediocre zoom toggle, which has too short a throw to facilitate subtle zooming.