Product: Mini DV
It took a combination of parenthood and receding memories of Jeremy Beadle’s TV show to persuade many of us that camcorders might have some worth. In truth, the new generation of models are as stunning a chunk of miniaturised technology that you’re likely to get your hands on. Forget about the naff factor. They’re cool.
Of all the camcorder formats (and there are eight) Mini DV is the most popular thanks to a classy combination of tiny cassettes, CD quality sound and razor sharp imaging. The MVX3i is typical of the trend among sub €2,000 models that deliver breathtaking pictures and stacks of features that mix the fun factor with more serious videography. True, it has just a single CCD – the imaging chip at the heart of the camera – at a time when Panasonic is pushing a 3 CCD model at around the same price but there are plenty of other selling points.
It’s a robust device aimed at the serious hobbyist rather than casual point-and-shooter. Controls are tactile and neatly sprinkled around the chassis. An unusual touch is the bottom loading cassette slot. Nice in theory but a pain if you have it anchored on a tripod. The sideways zoom button is also a little less convincing than the more familiar rocker switch, but you soon get used to it.
Better by far are the basic camcorder controls such as the power/mode select, in easy reach of your thumb as you place your hand through the grip. Two toggles on the other side let you dig deeper into the camera settings. You make your choices from a series of menus that appear on the pull out LCD screen, a bright and vivid 3.5in monitor that offers a viewing alternative to the rather mean viewfinder that sits on top of the camcorder on the end of an adjustable arm.
Combined with the tiny onboard speaker the LCD screen gives you a good quality environment to judge your footage in playback mode.
Front left are more camera controls including the manual/auto selection buttons. Manual overrides are the way to go if you want to test your camera skills. A pop up light sits above the lens to aid low lux shooting and there’s room for an accessory shoe further back.
So far so good, but the most annoying design decision was to plonk the stereo microphone beneath the lens barrel; worryingly close to the focus ring. Yes, it does pick up the extraneous sounds of finger fumbling.
There are the inevitable clutch of ‘digital’ extras. Most useful is the image stabilisation feature which takes excessive shake out of shooting. More dubious are a digital zoom mode (anyone for a pixelated 200x effect?) and a range of special effects. There’s the increasingly obligatory still camera facility for taking digital snaps with bundled software enabling easy transfer to a desktop and a degree of image management.
The MVX3i supports standard PC connectivity through USB and FireWire (also known as I-link) ports. These are crucial because the computer synergy takes the pain and strain out of video editing, the bane of the hobby and the reason that the next door neighbour’s invitation to see their holiday video is a guaranteed snorefest. With basic and affordable software it’s now much easier to cut and paste home videos into more watchable fare.
All things considered, minor irritants aside, the MVX3i is a fine camcorder, inspiring confidence, feeling like money well spent. The bottom line is that it delivers in the performance stakes with sharp and vivid images and bright sound.
By Ian Campbell