We like the new look of this Panasonic camcorder which is styled with more curves than sharp angles. Though it does not represent a major design overhaul, the new form factor of the NV-GS150 sits well in the hand and provides an ergonomic grip for one-handed operation.
Initially, we were impressed by the manual ring on the lens barrel which we thought would be similar to the manual focus ring on the NV-GS400. However, this turned out to be a red herring. Taking a cue from Sony, the manual ring is actually the open/close switch for a sliding lens shield which has replaced the lens cap used on previous Panasonic camcorders. Yet though the lens shield slides into place with a quick flick of the ring, we can't emphasis enough on the adjective "quick" -- too slow a motion and the shield will snag in mid-closure.
Part of the new changes for the 2005 breed of Panasonic camcorders is the overhaul of the menu system, which is now given a more graphical and colourful fade. Easier now to pick up even with full manual mode engaged, the new menu is flanked by a clickable quad-directional joystick that has the tactile feel of an Xbox analog control. This new physical interface also has a shortcut feature that is accessible when the main menu is off.
Pressing the joystick inward will activate a neon blue light on the joystick and pull out a circular icon on the lower right of the screen. To make things intuitive, separate functions (e.g. replay, white balance mode and shutter speeds) are tied to the four compass points and each new press of the joystick will change the shortcut feature set, which is also relevant for the current camcorder mode. For instance, white balance controls will not be available in video playback mode and vice versa for playback controls in camera mode. This makes menu navigation far more fuss-free than our previous experiences with Panasonic camcorders.
Joystick aside, though most users probably would have no use for the optical viewfinder, it would have been ergonomically more useful if the viewfinder could be tilted at an angle as opposed to being extendable only lengthwise.
Fronted by a Leica Dicomar lens, the NV-GS150 is one of the tiniest 3CCD camcorders we have seen so far. Besides built-in flash for digital stills, the NV-GS150 has a relatively clean body uncluttered with dedicated hardware controls for functions like focusing and shutter control. Instead, Panasonic seems to be banking on the new joystick to fulfill most of the manual controls. Though some purists may miss the fun of fiddling with all the switches and buttons at their fingertips, newbies would appreciate the convenience.
However, users would be mistaken if they think the automatic mode on the NV-GS150 is as idiot-proof as Sony's line of camcorders. Though there has been a huge improvement in terms of the interface, the auto adjustments on the Panasonic are a little sluggish and the joystick is still behind the hybrid touch screens used in Sony camcorders.
The hot accessory shoe on the NV-GS150 means doing without the need for battery-powered devices though it would also be at the cost of the camcorder's recording time.
Panasonic is known for the flexibility of its manual controls. Focusing, shutter speed, white balance, zooming functions, gain and aperture controls are fully configurable on the NV-GS150 which, though not a need for most, is an ace up the sleeve on other camcorders in the same price range. However, focusing with a joystick is not exactly as easy as with a manual ring.
For fast bootup, the NV-GS150 has a Quick Start function that puts the camcorder on standby. As it is not completely off, this allows the camcorder to start up within 2 seconds instead of the normal start up time of 5.4 seconds. One failing is that the zoom level goes back to the default magnification rather than retaining its current setting, so it's not such a quick start once you factor in the time required to zoom back in. Besides, it also eats into battery life.
Offering both still image and video capture, the NV-GS150 has a decent range of resolutions for stills (1,760 x 1,320, 1,280 x 960, 640 x 480) as well as a burst mode that can shoot up to 10 pictures at a single go (at 640 x 480 only). Pictures turn out well in daylight largely thanks to the varied camera adjustments, though the limited range of the built-in flash turned out grainy night shots.
With 3CCD, video quality in our day shoots were quite decent, displaying ample colours though night scenes proved to be its weakness, even when we switched to the night mode (with slow shutter resulting in blurry shots) and used the LCD as a makeshift video light. The results were dimly lit videos (under 0 lux conditions) at best.