Panasonic PV-DV951 - a brief look
by John Beale, Feb. 10 2002

DV951 image1  951 image2

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 or darker.

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.

DV951 ceiling
GL1 ceiling
DV951 train
GL1 train
DV951 sign

Conclusion: 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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