Remember when you were ten, the big fish in the small pond of primary school? You probably felt like pretty hot stuff -- until the next year, when you found yourself demoted to the status of a lowly first year in secondary school. Panasonic's PV-GS400 MiniDV camcorder is in the same position: at the pinnacle of Panasonic's consumer camcorder line, just below the professional line, which begins with the AG-DVC30.
What makes the Panasonic PV-GS400 such an advanced consumer camera are its three-chip capture system, 12x optical zoom with optical stabiliser, 89mm (3.5-inch) LCD screen and manual control over almost every function. But all these assets don't quite add up to a professional camera. The 1/4.7-inch chips may be large for a consumer camcorder, but they're tiny by pro standards, and there's a fairly strict correlation between chip size and low-light performance. And while you can control all the functions of the PV-GS400 manually, you do it using a multipurpose ring rather than the discrete mechanical controls to which pros are accustomed.
With a street price of around £700, the Panasonic PV-GS400 is one of the best consumer-camcorder deals available. Just don't mistake it for a pro camera.
The Panasonic PV-GS400 has a classic Handycam-style layout and a high-quality metallic-silver finish. Measuring 79mm high, 81mm wide and 178mm deep and weighing 700g, this is a solid package that lends itself to two-handed operation.
The right of the camera consists primarily of a top-loading, rubber-coated MiniDV cassette door, which serves as a comfortable handgrip. A wrist strap is connected to the bottom of the door, and a zoom slider sits at the door's top, under the operator's forefinger. A large 89mm, 200,000-pixel flip-out LCD dominates the left side of the camera. The more frequently used manual-control buttons reside in front of the LCD, and the less-used effects and VTR buttons sit under it along with a pop-up SD-card (not included) slot for stills.