Let’s face it; there are a lot of crappy camcorders out there. That being said, the device has generally come a long way from its beginnings as a videotape recorder. Today, you still have tape options, but the industry is moving closer to switching to mini discs year after year. The Panasonic VDR-M53 miniDVD camcorder is one in a new generation of camcorders. By now, a reader might have created very high expectations for this camcorder. However, dial it back a few; this camcorder gives you what you pay for.
The average price you’ll find the VDR-M53 for is around $550. This is one of the cheapest camcorders on the market, but for very good reason. You are buying a camcorder that is worth every cent of its cheap price, but nothing more. This is not a camera for high-quality shooting, nor is it a good substitute even for a phone’s snap-shot capabilities. This is not the camera to buy if you’re thinking about heavily editing films. No, this camera is for the cut and dry basics of video; shoot it, show it.
The VDR-M53 is a single-CCD with a 24x optical zoom. It has a 2.5 inch LCD screen. The screen is one of the best aspects of the camcorder. The navigation menus are easy to use and well-organized. However, the four-way controller that you have to use to get around the menus is too small, and can cause an irritable headache.
The quality of the images reflects the low list price of the VDR-M53. The contrast is too heavy, and when the light is low, the footage simply breaks up. However, this fault is typical of single-CCD camcorders. In general, the image quality is average. The images that the camcorder captures seem to suggest a blue tint, and often there’s too much image jittering and the edges are rough.
The still-shot feature is of low-quality as well. The images are formatted with a fixed resolution of 640×480, and they appear blurry and matte. Don’t expect miracles here.
The VDR-M53’s redeeming qualities include good audio and an autofocus that works accurately. The tone of the video is overall just and the colors are precise, albeit with that slight blue cast.
Another problem surfaces, however, with the analog and interlaced monitor. Flaws might not be noticeable in the monitor itself. This is one factor that contributes to your surprise when you print out stills, which are simply horrible.
The VDR-M53 has no PC link for uploading to a computer. Instead, the mini-DVD disc, which takes too long to finalize, is played directly onto an external monitor, or otherwise can be edited with the software that Panasonic provides. That’s a whole other fiasco. Don’t bother trying to edit the MPEG-2 video files; it doesn’t work either.
In conclusion, if heavy editing is your game, go for the MiniDV-tape camcorders instead. If quality video is your preference, the VDR-M53 isn’t for you. The only pro is the price.