We all like to jot down things on our travels and most of us just use pen and paper. The more advanced (and less shy) among us might use a voice recorder instead. Those getting even more carried away might take a digital camera on their journeys and the super keen will pack a video camera. Panasonic hopes its new D-Snap SD Video Camera will convert you to the latter from now on.
It's around the size of a dictaphone or mobile phone. The small but weighty unit is solid and well built. A cunning swivel mechanism reveals not only the screen, but the lens mount as well (see product images) and when not in use will sit comfortably in a jean pocket or inside jacket. On the back (the thinnest of the four sides) rests an array of straightforward controls. Panasonic's Jog Ball requires the dexterity of a field mouse and people with adult-sized digits may have trouble switching quickly between menus and options.
The unit ships with an 8Mb SD Card although there's no limit on the size of the recording file. This lets you to expand all the way up to 512Mb. Sadly the custom built Lithium Ion battery only lasts an hour which just isn't good enough for the road warriors at which the camera is aimed.
While the design is very James Bond, we found that we often managed to get our hands in the way of the lens, which quickly proved frustrating. To combat this we held the camera lower on the casing, but then we couldn't reach the zoom keys. As the zoom is only digital (2.5x) and not optical, you may not be fussed with this option and therefore unlike us avoid the odd finger in the shot.
Overall the video camera works well but only under strong light conditions. In an attempt to boost performance in poor lighting conditions the video camera drops the shutter speed. While this would be the logical thing to do, the frame rate correspondingly drops making the picture darker and jumpier. There's a mode which compensates for this but it merely brightens the image rather than solving the shutter speed problem. The other major problem that users might not realise is the picture quality. While the player boasts a 2mega pixel image quality this is in fact for the digital still capture functionality of the camera. The true video recording function uses the MPEG4 format and is therefore restricted to a maximum resolution of 320x240 pixels. Play this back on a large widescreen television screen and you'll notice that this player's video quality wasn't a top priority compared to a DV camera.
While this unit does have its drawbacks there is a lot more going for it than not. As a video note taker out in the field it is perfect for the job at hand. It's small, capable of taking large amounts of footage (dependant SD card size) and if you're not fussed about super crisp quality when playing back on a large television ideal for sharing those moments you've caught when out and about. It's for the James Bond in all of us- but for long trips, keep the DV or even Hi-8 to hand.