If you want to take a step up from the kind of movie quality offered by budget entry-level digital camcorders, then you need to take a look at a 3CCD model, and the Panasonic is one of the few remotely affordable options on the market.
With this technology, the light is split into three separate colour channels, each of which has its own CCD sensor. The colour information is then combined to produce the video image. The result is higher quality footage, especially for those with the expertise to set the camera up carefully for each set of shooting conditions, and the time and patience to use a tripod (though you do get an image stabiliser).
The results aren’t broadcast-quality – that costs more money again – but they’re visibly better than the average amateur camcorders, so the GS400 is going to suit those who are a bit more serious about their movies.
It can also shoot stills at a resolution of 4-megapixels, which makes it sound like a match for a still camera. It’s not quite that simple, though. The tiny sensor area of the Panasonic means that while the resolution is there, the definition isn’t. Images are much more ‘granular’ than you’d get with a conventional still camera, and while they’re still fine for snaps, they’re not up to big enlargements.
The zoom on this camera is a bit longer than on the average digital camcorder, and you get the benefit of an image stabiliser to help smooth out those long-range shots.
Tape isn’t quite dead yet. MiniDV still offers cheap, practical, large-scale storage of movie footage, and extra tapes are easy to get, even on your hols. You can also shoot stills onto tape and transfer them to an SD card later.
The GS400 proves to be an excellent camera for movies but is only mediocre at shooting stills, and is not a good buy if you’re looking for an even balance between the two.