Panasonic's use of three-CCD (charge-coupled device) technology in consumer-grade camcorders has clearly been a success. The number of models available has been growing steadily. But with so many options now, Panasonic's own range is starting to compete within itself. All offer great video quality, with the main differentiator being the features included.
The NV-GS180 is the successor to the mid-range NV-GS150, and its specifications are remarkably similar. It's still based around a trio of 1/6in 0.8Mp (megapixel) CCDs, offering true 2.3Mp still images at 1,760x1,320. However, it lacks the GS150's built-in lens cap, relying on a clip-on plastic cap instead. The latter's built-in flash has also been removed, so this model isn't quite as good at doubling as a stills camera.
Despite its budget price tag, the NV-GS180 offers microphone and headphone jacks, with a regular accessory shoe on the top for external add-ons. The tape mechanism is top-loading, so you won't have any trouble changing media when the Panasonic is screwed to a tripod.
The little joystick on the back gives immediate access to various options, including shutter and iris settings and video gain. In Focus mode, the joystick is also used for manual focusing – this is a little fiddly but workable. You'll need to enter the full menu to enable one of the five auto-exposure modes, which include the usual suspects.
As we've come to expect from Panasonic's three-chip consumer range, image quality was a cut above most similarly priced single-chip camcorders. This was particularly noticeable in low light or when shooting indoors. The only down side was that the GS180 uses electronic image stabilisation, which works well in good lighting but isn't so effective in poor illumination – and you can't use it at all in widescreen mode.