When it comes to home videos — and the camcorders that make them — smaller really is better. After all, it’s the sheer capacity of videotape that enables Uncle Phil to make the family sit through the entire three hours of your cousin’s second wedding. Again. And again.
The Panasonic SV-AV100 D-Snap SD Video Camcorder will win beauty contests for its size as well as the brevity of its recordings. A little thicker than a tin of Altoids, the D-Snap packs VHS-quality video recording in a package small enough to fit in your pants pocket. It’s no more obtrusive to operate than a digital still camera, and its limited recording capacity means that you have to choose your shots carefully. You may not consider this an advantage, but your extended family will.
The SV-AV100’s most useful feature is MPEG-2 video recording, which it performs either at 352 x 480-pixels at 30 frames per second (normal) or 704 x 480-pixels at 30 frames per second (fine). The lens provides a 10x optical zoom. Aided in part by the camera’s built-in image stabilization electronics, the quality of these videos is remarkably good, comparable with tape, although not quite the DVD quality touted by the manufacturer. However, you’ll fill up the included 512MB Secure Digital card in about 20 minutes (10 minutes in fine quality mode). That isn’t much if you’re trying to record someone’s wedding, graduation, or birth. Additional capacity is pricey: a 512MB card from SimpleTech will run you about $285. (1GB cards are in the works from Panasonic and SanDisk, but pricing has not been announced.)
For longer recordings, you can use the D-Snap’s MPEG-4 mode, which captures images at resolutions from 176 x 144 pixels to 320 x 240 pixels, for one to 10 hours of recording time. Whatever the setting, the MPEG-4 movies are grainy and jumpy. If you’re intent on re-creating the style of early silent movies, you might like this feature; otherwise, it’s mostly a gimmick.
The D-Snap also takes still photos, though they’re relatively small (640 x 480 pixels). The shutter delay is about 1.5 seconds, and the camera takes another one or two seconds to recover from each shot. It also lacks a flash. The resulting pictures are predictably poor and blurry, especially in low light. Trying to take a snapshot of a toddler in motion is an exercise in frustration.
The camera’s design is simple and compact. The 2.5-inch LCD screen flips out and swivels to accommodate almost any shooting angle; it’s bright and crisp. A button panel facing the LCD provides easy access to the camera’s main playback features. Because they’re so close to the screen, it’s slightly awkward to manipulate the buttons. The record button is more conveniently situated at the top of the rear panel where you can press it with your thumb. A speaker on the top delivers usable sound for on-the-spot playbacks. For family gatherings, the camera’s AV output connects to any composite audio-video input. An external remote simplifies playback control and can also be used for recording — handy if you want to set the D-Snap in a hidden place and play Alan Funt.
The D-Snap has USB 2.0 connection, although its data transfer rate of just 5.8Mbps is disappointing. Its battery is no workhorse, either, delivering just 49.5 minutes of recording time. Use it for more than 20 minutes and it gets quite warm.
Still, all those limitations and the camera’s steep price can’t detract from one alluring fact: The SV-AV100 makes fine short videos and can easily be hidden in a pocket. That’s enough to keep videophiles lusting for this tiny camcorder. -Dylan Tweney
Panasonic S-Snap SV-AV100
Weight: 6.4 ounces
Size: 2.5 x 3.5 x 1.3 inches
Specs: MPEG-2, MPEG-4 video recording; 640 x 480-pixel still photography; 512MB SD card; 10x optical zoom
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