03:46 PM

Panasonic Adds Optical Stabilizer To Under-$1,000 Camcorder

Panasonic again upped the value for pro-quality video imaging in sub-$1,000 digital camcorder models by incorporating optical -- not digital -- image stabilization into the new PV-GS250.

NEW YORK — Panasonic again upped the value for pro-quality video imaging in under-$1,000 digital camcorder models by incorporating optical -- not digital -- image stabilization into the new PV-GS250, introduced at CES 2005 earlier this month.

A year ago, Panasonic drew attention and praise in the camcorder world by introducing the lowest-priced three-chip camcorders ever, the PV-GS120, at $699.95, and the PV-GS200, at $999.95.

"They are doing very well, however, we can not provide sales figures," said Rudy Vitti, national marketing manager of the Panasonic Optical Group, when asked about these low-priced three-chip models.

All professional video camcorders use three-chip (3CCD) designs, because of superior picture quality, while most consumer models use a single image sensor. Similarly, optical stabilizers are generally considered superior to electronic versions, but most consumer camcorders use the less expensive electronic method.

Panasonic has incorporated electronic image stabilizers for years in most of their consumer camcorders, though Vitti said optical stabilizers have previously appeared in a few high-end models in the $1,500 price range. "This is the first time it is being offered under $1000," he said.

"Optical stabilization is the most effective way to compensate for unintentional hand shake with minimal loss of resolution," Vitti said. "We are one of the few companies with this expertise and have been able to implement it with a cost that will enable more consumers to benefit."

Other camcorder makers offering optical stabilizers include Sony and Canon, but this feature is generally reserved for high-end models. Even Panasonic's top-of-the-line 3CCD model from 2004, the $1,499.95-priced PV-GS400, uses an electronic stabilizer.

Optical stabilization uses mechanical motion compensation to physically move the lens, and hence the image that falls on the image sensor, in the opposite direction from the camera shake. It is widely considered the superior, though more expensive, method of battling camera shake.

Electronic image stabilizers (EIS), also known as digital image stabilizers (DIS, or D-EIS), take advantage of image sensors with more pixels than the video image requires. The video image is like a "window" that moves around within the larger frame of the image sensor -- when camera shake moves the image up, EIS moves this "video window" down to compensate.

One might think, with image sensors offering ever more pixels at lower prices, EIS would keep getting better, and optical stabilizers would be on the way out.

Panasonic's PV-GS250 proves otherwise, and suggests that regardless of how many pixels the image sensors have, optical stabilizing techniques may remain superior. The $999.95 list priced PV-GS250, available this March, features 3-mega pixel digital still capability, and also sports another semi-pro "must have" feature -- a manual focus ring.

Will optical stabilizers trickle down to even less expensive camcorder models next year? "As our expertise increases, we are usually able to find more economical ways of doing things, however we can't speculate at this time as to when it will reach other price points," Vitti said.

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