The Panasonic PV-GS320 camcorder represents Panasonic's top of the MiniDV line. It uses three CCD (charge-coupled device) sensors to capture video; most use just one.

The Panasonic PV-GS320 is the only 3-CCD camcorder the company offers in the MiniDV format and, although it's reasonably priced, its only competition in terms of video performance in our recent camcorder testing came from an HD (high definition) model that costs twice as much.

Design and usability

The Panasonic PV-GS320 replaces the 2006 award-winning Panasonic PV-GS500. The Panasonic PV-GS320 looks like a slightly slimmed-down version of that model.

The Panasonic PV-GS320 camcorder fits nicely in the palm, and both its zoom control and its menu dial with joystick button were right at our fingertips.

Carried over from the design of the Panasonic PV-GS320 is one of our pet peeves: the SD Card slot for saving still photos is on the bottom of the unit. If you're using a tripod, as we do in our testing, you must unscrew and remove the tripod shoe whenever you want to remove or insert a card.

Another questionable design decision puts the FireWire and USB ports for transferring the Panasonic PV-GS320's video to your PC under the battery. You must remove the battery and plug your AC cables into the wall in order to transfer video.

The Panasonic PV-GS320 is also missing a headphone jack and external microphone input--this can be a deal breaker for serious video jockeys. The camcorder has an accessory shoe for self-powered lights and other accessories.

The Panasonic PV-GS320's menus were easy to navigate via the controls. However, they take up the whole 2.7in LCD screen, which makes it hard to preview changes to your settings without backing out of all of the menus.

Performance

The benefits of the Panasonic PV-GS320's design were quickly apparent in our testing, as our assembled panel of editors gave the video quality a Superior rating, both in low light and in normal shooting conditions.

Our panel gave the Panasonic PV-GS320's 3.1Mp (megapixel) still shots a rating of Very Good and scored its highest marks for colour accuracy. The only performance detail that did not rate well was battery life. With just 81 minutes of video captured on a full charge, the Panasonic PV-GS320 earned a rating of Fair.

The image-quality rating of the Panasonic PV-GS320 is based upon a panel of judges' opinions in five categories: exposure, colour, sharpness, distortion, and overall. Battery-life testers follow a precise script, including shots with and without flash, until the battery dies.

Panasonic PV-GS320: Specs

  • 3x 1.6in CCD
  • 2.7in widescreen LCD
  • 12x optical zoom
  • 3.1Mp still-image capture
  • 81-minute battery life
  • SD/SDHC memory card support
  • 80x78x135mm
  • 0.45kg
  • 3x 1.6in CCD
  • 2.7in widescreen LCD
  • 12x optical zoom
  • 3.1Mp still-image capture
  • 81-minute battery life
  • SD/SDHC memory card support
  • 80x78x135mm
  • 0.45kg

OUR VERDICT

Compared with other 3-CCD MiniDV camcorders - including the Sony DCR-HC96 and the model it replaces - the Panasonic PV-GS320 is a bargain. Despite some design quirks, the video performance and high-quality video and still shots make the Panasonic PV-GS320 a good choice for people who want great-looking video without paying high definition prices.

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