Panasonic PV-DV951 - a brief look
by John Beale, Feb. 10 2002
I had a brief look at the Panasonic PV-DV951 3-CCD camcorder in a store.
Comparing the camera to the size of my hand in the photos above, you can
see how compact it is. This is a "brief look" rather than a review, because
I simply looked at the camera (and recorded a little bit of video) in the
store, as opposed to trying to use the camera at some real location with
some real purpose. The camera was sitting next to a Canon GL1 and I took
some shots with both cameras to compare the image.
My impressions of the DV951 are mixed. It wins points by being the smallest
3-CCD camera I'm aware of, and I could not see any signs of lens flare from
the Leica brand 10x zoom lens. The 3.5" fold-out LCD screen is large,
but its colors look pale compared with GL1 or TRV900 displays. (LCD screen
only- the image when viewed on a TV screen looks OK.) From what I could tell,
the 951 can do true progressive-scan recording, which is not true of the
Sony models (15 fps only) or the Canon models ("frame mode" does not have
the resolution of true progressive-scan).
The DV951 uses 1/6" CCD chips, which are smaller than any of the other 3-CCD
cameras I am aware of, and this made me wonder about its sensitivity in low
light. I compared it with the Canon GL1 and when viewing the same scene,
the DV951 used either the same aperture, gain and shutter speed as the GL1,
or 1/2 stop slower, yet the image looked darker, so it seems that the CCD+electronics
of the 951 are about 0.5 or 1 stop less light-sensitive than the GL1. The
DV951 can add electronic gain up to +18 dB (GL1 max one stop less, at +12
dB) but at high gains the image is almost black-and-white, and is also more
blurry (the 951 apparently turns on an internal noise filter when gain goes
up.) You can put the camera in manual exposure and the thumbwheel near
the lens will control the aperture in 1/8 stop increments (which is rounded
off to 1/2 stop in the display). This is an improvement over the control
of other consumer cameras, which adjust exposure in 1/2 stop increments,
making a more obvious "step" in the image as it suddenly becomes brighter
The DV951's tape cassette compartment loads from the bottom, which I find
awkward because you have to remove the camera from a tripod or other mounting
to change the tape. I did not test the still image capabilities of the camera.
The images below are from standard interlaced video recorded on MiniDV tape,
captured later into a computer via firewire and exported as a 640x480 still
image with no further processing of any kind done. Because of the luminance
ranges specified in the DV standard, unprocessed DV frames always look dull
on a computer screen because the pixel histogram does not occupy the full
range of 0-100% brightness. However, the images between the two cameras can
be directly compared because I treated the files identically.
if you need the very smallest possible camera with very
good image quality, the DV951 may be the best choice for you. If you need
low-light performance the Canon GL1 does better, and the Sony VX2000 does
much better; though both of these are larger cameras. The store I visited
no longer sells the TRV900 so I couldn't compare that one directly, but the
TRV900 remains a good model as well. If any DV951 owners would like to add
their own impressions to this page I'd love to hear from you. -jpb
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