DCRP Review: Panasonic ipalm PV-DC3000
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Thursday, November 9, 2000
Last Updated: Thursday, November 9, 2000

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The already busy 3 Megapixel camera market is about to get even more crowded, with the introduction of the ipalm PV-DC3000 ($899) from Panasonic. Besides it's somewhat unique shape, what really makes the ipalm unique is its method for storing photos. The ipalm is the first digital camera to use the Secure Digital (SD) memory card format (and it can also read MultiMediaCards as well -- also a first). Panasonic wants to make SD cards the ubiquitous storage format -- appearing not only in cameras but also in portable music players, consumer electronics and appliances. SD memory cards currently max out at 64MB, but a 256MB card is in the works.

The main thing you'll notice about the SD card (and similar MultiMediaCard, which Panasonic includes with the camera) is how small it is. Check it out below.

From left: CompactFlash, SD/MultiMediaCard, SmartMedia

Where does the Secure part come into it? Well, it really doesn't in this application. But SD cards do support the Secure Digital Music Initiative, which protects copyrighted music on portable music devices.

While it's great that you'll be able to move these cards around between devices, I feel that it just makes the already difficult process of purchasing a digital camera even more so. While CompactFlash and SmartMedia have been battling it out for the last few years, Sony and Panasonic have snuck in their own proprietary formats (Memory Stick and SD respectively) that splinter things even more. I'd love to see someone settle on a standard one of these days. OK, off the soapbox and onto the review!

What's in the Box?

The PV-DC3000s bundle is just okay. It includes:

  • The 3.34 Mpixel Panasonic PV-DC3000 camera
  • One 16MB MultiMediaCard
  • 4 AA alkaline batteries
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Adobe PhotoDeluxe and drivers
  • 64 page manual

The bundle included with the DC3000 isn't nearly as nice as the one included with the PV-SD5000 I just reviewed. Instead of getting a rechargeable battery, charger, and AC adapter, the DC3000 gets just four non-rechargeable AA batteries. You're going to want to get at least two sets of rechargeable batteries if you buy this camera. From my usage of the camera, I'd say it drinks batteries more than most digital cameras.

Another thing that I feel a $900 camera should have is a lens cap, and the DC3000 didn't come with one.

The software for the DC3000 is somewhat unique. I tested the Windows version, since the Mac version is not out yet (you'll be able to download it here). You can download photos one of two ways: load up the thumbnails in the ipalm software, choose the ones you want, and they'll be downloaded to your hard drive. Or, you can actually use the camera's One Touch Transfer function. You can hit "All" on the camera, and it will transfer all the photos. Or, hit "Page", and that photo will be transferred. There's even a "Mail" button which will download up to five photos, and automatically attach them to a new e-mail message.

The manual for the Panasonic cameras reminds me of the one you get with your VCR: confusing. There's a lot of information there, but it's just not presented very well.

Look and Feel

The DC3000 is quite a change from the last two Panasonic cameras I've tested. Where the SD4090 and SD5000 were very large and bulky, the DC3000 is small, elegant, and easy to hold with one hand. The body of the DC3000 reminds me of the Fuji 700 series, but with curves. The dimensions of the camera are 3.69 x 3.81 x 1.63 inches, and it weighs 8.5 ounces (empty, I presume). The body is a combination of rubber and metal, and it feels pretty solid.

The DC3000's zoom lens features a 2X optical zoom with a range of 6.5 - 13mm, equivalent to 32-64mm lens on a 35mm camera. The CCD is the usual 3.3 Megapixel 1/1.8" sensor, which produces images at 2048 x 1536.

Now onto the back of the camera. The 1.5" LCD is smaller than on most cameras and is a bit grainy, but it is smooth and bright. If you wish, you can adjust the brightness of the LCD via the menu system.

It's nice to finally review a Panasonic digital camera with an optical viewfinder, and the DC3000 has one. My only complaints are that it lacks diopter correction, and that your nose will smudge the LCD display.

Below the LCD, you'll find two buttons: Display toggles the LCD on or off, and Delete does just what is says.

The mode wheel below that has four choices: Playback, Off, Auto Record, Manual Record. I'll describe those in further detail in the next section.

The four buttons to the right serve various purposes, depending on the mode you're in. The buttons are:

  • Menu
  • Mode (rec) / Send All Photos (play)
  • Flash settings (rec) / Send One Photo (play)
  • Audio record (rec) / Mail Photo (play)

The only one of those buttons which requires further explanation is Mode. When you hit this button in Record mode, the camera cycles through the following choices:

Mode Selection Resolution Capacity on included 16MB card (approx.)
Super Fine 2048 x 1536 15 images
Fine 2048 x 1536 30 images
Normal 1024 x 768 80 images
Zoom 2X 1024 x 768 80 images
Zoom 3X 640 x 480 200 images
Movie Mode 320 x 240 10 sets of 12 sec movies
Burst Mode 1024 x 768 100 images
TIFF 2048 x 1536 1 image

Once nice change over the SD5000 is that Super Fine images aren't compressed as much. On the SD5000, a Super Fine image took up just 450k -- on the DC3000, it's more like 950k.

There is an uncompressed TIFF mode on the DC3000 as well, though it takes a whopping 3 minutes to store it to the memory card.

Getting back to the camera design now-- the final piece of the back of the camera is the four-way switch. If you move up or down, that changes the volume of the speaker. If you go left or right, you'll activate the zoom lens. I'd prefer to see the zoom on a separate button - I couldn't remember what part of the switch I was touching, so I'd have to stop and look.

There's not much action on the top of the camera. You'll only find the shutter release button, which worked just fine. The DC3000 lacks an LCD info display up here.

Now onto the side of the camera (the other side has nothing of interest). You can see the speaker bulging out towards the top, and the USB and power ports just below that. To the right of the power port, there's a switch that opens the door to the SD card slot (bottom). The door stays shut, and the card slot is spring loaded (much like SmartMedia slots), so it's easy to remove.

And finally, the bottom of the camera. Down here you'll find a metal tripod mount, as well as the battery compartment. The only thing of note here is that sometimes, removing the batteries was a little tough -- I found that you need to extend the door out all the way when it's open, for best results.

Using the PV-DC3000

I'm going to discuss record as well as playback mode in this section.

Record Mode

The DC3000 takes a little less than six seconds to warm up before you can start taking pictures. That's about twice as fast as the SD5000 model I just reviewed. The shot-to-shot time is about five seconds in Super Fine mode. The Rapid Fire feature that helped speed up processing time on the SD5000 didn't make it to the DC3000 for some reason.

Since the DC3000 doesn't have an LCD info display on the top of the camera, Panasonic put some of the same information on the main LCD, as you can see above. The word "Light" in the middle indicates that this is a low light shot (and it came out grainy, as you'll see).

One thing I noticed was that there isn't a button for macro on the camera itself -- instead, you'll need to enter the menu system to set that.

Menus in Record Mode

And that brings us to the menu system. The DC3000's menus are easier to navigate than those found on the SD5000. Here's what you'll find in the menu system in record mode. If the feature is only available in Manual mode, I'll put it in bold.

  • Exposure compensation (-1.5EV to +1.5EV in 0.5EV increments)
  • Self timer (on/off)
  • Focus (auto, macro, portrait, landscape)
  • White balance (auto, sunlight, halogen, manual)
  • Metering (Auto, spot)
  • Slow Shutter (on/off)
  • Time Lapse (take a shot every so often... ranging from one minute to 24 hours)
  • LCD brightness
  • Beep (on/off)
  • Clock Set

It's nice to see the manual white balance feature on the DC3000. You just take a picture of whatever you want to be white, and the camera will use that going forward.

The DC3000 suffers from the same low light problems as the SD5000 did: it just can't do it. The shot above was taken from the usual spot on Twin Peaks on a windy, clear, and cold night. Even with slow shutter turned on, the camera captured very little light. Turning up the exposure compensation didn't help. If there's one good point here, is that there's no noise to speak of.

It took me quite a few tries to get a decent macro shot with the DC3000. I ended up turning on Slow Shutter mode because the noise was so great without it. The camera's auto white balance settings did a good job in this situation, where my Coolpix 950 has trouble.

Like the SD5000, the ipalm DC3000 has a QuickTime movie mode, that lets you capture 12 second mini-movies with sound. Due to time constraints, I didn't have any time to test this feature, but I'd imagine that the SD5000 sample movie will give you an idea of the output in this mode.

As far as overall photo quality goes-- I found the photos to be lacking something -- saturation perhaps. They're better than the SD5000, but not by much. In low light situations (see the two indoor shots in the gallery), the results were very grainy, and using the flash didn't help in those situations.

To see what I mean, compare the two un-retouched shots below:

Shot from Panasonic PV-DC3000 Shot from Olympus C-2100 Ultra Zoom

Playback Mode

The DC3000's playback mode has many of the same quirks as the SD5000 -- at least the menus are a little better. The things that bother me about the playback mode are:

  • To get into thumbnail mode, you have to hit Mode. That's okay. But to get into zoom & scroll mode, you have to hit Mode again, then select an area, hit the shutter release, and then you're zoomed in.
  • Once zoomed in, you cannot scroll around the photo. Instead you have to back out and select another area to zoom into.'
  • There's no exposure information about the photos available - just the basics like date/time and filename
  • While the very nice multiple photo delete function is there, image protection is not.

It takes around three seconds to scroll between high res photos on the LCD -- this is about average.

The only other features of note in playback mode are a slideshow function, as well as DPOF print marking.

How Does it Compare?

While I hate to be negative in reviews, I feel that it's my duty to give you all an honest opinion, before you spend your hard-earned money. But that's why you're here, right? The Panasonic ipalm PV-DC3000 is a camera with an interesting design, and decent features, it's just not competitive in the fast paced world of 3 Megapixel cameras. Priced at $899, the DC3000 is in the same price range as such cameras as the Kodak DC4800, Canon PowerShot G1, Nikon Coolpix 880 and 990, and the Olympus C-3000Z and C-3030Z -- all of which are much better cameras for the money. I'm hoping that the next version of the camera will let the DC3000 catch up with these other cameras.

What I liked:

  • Nice design - solid, easy to hold, good looking
  • Uncompressed TIFF mode
  • Movie mode with sound

What I didn't care for:

  • Poor low light photos - worse than average
  • Outdoor photos seem unsaturated
  • Expensive for what you get
  • No real manual controls
  • I'm not a big fan of proprietary memory cards
  • Playback mode unrefined

I just listed a bunch of cameras that you'll want to consider -- and here's a few more: the Sony DSC-S70 and DSC-P1, Toshiba PDR-M70, Epson PhotoPC 3000Z, and the Casio QV-3000EX.

As always, I recommend trying the DC3000 and its competitors out at your local reseller before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Nobody else has reviewed this camera!

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.

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