DCRP Review: Panasonic PV-SD5000
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Thursday, October 26, 2000
Last Updated: Thursday, October 26, 2000

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Everyone knows about the success of the Sony Mavica line of digital cameras. People love floppy-based cameras for the convenience of a cheap, universal storage format. They forget about the slow read/write speeds, and minuscule size of the floppy, and plop down nearly $1,000 for the privilege to own a floppy-based camera. Panasonic caught on, and said, "why not use Imation's SuperDisk format, which holds 120MB per disc!", and the PV-SD4090 was born (see our review). The new PV-SD5000 ($1099) improves upon that model, adding a number of higher end features, as you'll see below.

You might have gathered from the first paragraph that I'm not a big fan of floppy-based cameras, and I want to make that clear up front. The SuperDisk format confuses me even more -- if everyone had a SuperDisk drive in their computer, then this would be great. But the fact is, very few people have them -- and as a result, the SD isn't nearly as universal as a floppy. So essentially, the SuperDisk is as proprietary as all the flash memory formats (SmartMedia, CompactFlash, Memory Stick, etc), but much slower. Of course, the cost is a big factor -- a 120MB SuperDisk costs only $10, whereas a 128MB CompactFlash card costs upwards of $300!

If the issues I've raised above don't bother you, then feel free to erase them from your memory. You came here for an opinion, and there you have it! <grin>

Now, on with the show!

What's in the Box?

The PV-SD5000 has a great bundle, with everything you need right in the box. It includes:

  • The 3.34 Mpixel Panasonic PV-SD5000 camera
  • 120MB Imation SuperDisk
  • One PV-DBP5 Lithium-ion battery (rechargeable)
  • AC adapter / battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • CD-ROM featuring Adobe PhotoDeluxe and drivers
  • 75 page manual

Panasonic gets two thumbs up from this reviewer for including a nice Li-ion rechargeable battery, as well as a charger which doubles as an AC adapter. The battery reminds me of those found on camcorders (maybe it's the same one). Panasonic says that you should be able to get 200 photos out of a fully charged battery. It takes 1h40 to fully charge the battery.

Panasonic includes a nice neck strap with the camera, and a lens cap with a strap, which always earns points with me.

On the Mac, plugging in the camera to the USB port gets you a disk on the desktop, which you can then work with like any other storage device. You can actually use the camera as a floppy drive if you want! On the PC side, I understand that it works about the same way.

The manual, while covering everything, seemed pretty cluttered to me.

Look and Feel

The SD5000 is a huge camera -- after all, it does have to hold a floppy drive. If you're looking for a camera you can stuff in your pocket, this is NOT it. Take a look at the photo below to see what I mean.

PV-SD5000 shown with Jeff's cool Nokia 8890 phone and a CompactFlash card

The cameras dimensions are 5.68 x 4.38 x 3.25 inches, and the camera weighs in at a very heavy 1.53 pounds! For comparison's sake, the Canon PowerShot G1 I just reviewed, which I consider a pretty big camera, had dimensions of 4.7 x 3.0 x 2.5 inches, and it weighs 14.8 ounces!

I didn't find the SD5000 terribly easy to hold, either. While there's a grip for your right hand, it's not big enough to really get a good hold of. There is plenty of room for your left hand, though. One good thing about such a big camera is that it's well built. It's not going to split in two if you bump into a wall or drop it (not that you should try).

Starting our tour with the front of the camera (see the first picture on this page), we come to what I'm calling "the lens". This same lens has been found on cameras from Canon, Casio, Epson, and Sony. It's a 7-21mm zoom lens, which is equivalent to 35-105mm on a 35mm camera. One thing I've learned after looking at the results I got from this camera (see the gallery) is that the lens is not everything. The photos on the other cameras are light years ahead of those that I got from the SD5000.

Now onto the back of the camera, complete with a smudged LCD (oops). Right here is what would eliminate the PV-SD5000 from my shopping list -- it lacks an optical viewfinder. While the SD5000 has a beautiful LCD display, it's no substitute for an optical viewfinder -- plus it drinks the battery like crazy.

The 2.5" LCD is huge, bright, and fluid. As I said in the SD4090 review last year, this one is as nice as those found on Panasonic's camcorders. The LCD's brightness is adjustable from within the menu system of the camera.

Below and left of the LCD is a four-way switch, used mostly for menu navigation. It also adjusts the volume and moves through pictures in playback mode.

To the right of that you'll find three buttons: Rec Mode, Menu, and Flash. The last two need no explanation, but here's what you get from Rec Mode:

  • Super Fine Mode (see below)
  • Fine Mode
  • Normal Mode
  • Zoom Mode (2X or 3X digital zoom, which lowers the resolution to 1024 x 768 and 640 x 480 respectively)
  • Motion Image Rec Mode (AKA Movie Mode - more on this in the next section)
  • Burst Rec Mode (Up to 5 images at one image every 0.9 secs at 1024 x 768)
  • TIFF format (no compression)

A few notes on some of these items. First, though Panasonic calls it Super Fine Mode, it may not be so "Super" after all. Files at this "low compression" setting take up only 450k or so. A SuperFine shot on the also 3.3 Megapixel PowerShot G1 can take up anywhere from 1.2 to 2.3 MB!

And while I'm happy to see a TIFF feature on any camera, be prepared to wait after you take the picture. It takes 2-3 minutes to write a single TIFF to the SuperDisk!

The following chart illustrates how many photos you can include on a single 120MB SuperDisk. For regular floppies, divide these numbers by 100 (!).

REC Mode Resolution Capacity on SuperDisk (approx.)
Super Fine 2048 x 1536 240 images
Fine 2048 x 1536 340 images
Normal 1024 x 768 1,000 images
Zoom 2X 1024 x 768 1,000 images
Zoom 3X 640 x 480 1,500 images
Movie Mode 320 x 240 70 sets of 12 sec movies
Burst Mode 1024 x 768 1,400 images
TIFF 2048 x 1536 12 images

To the right of those three buttons you'll find a nice big speaker, which you can use to playback your movies, or hear the 5 second audio clips you can attach to still images.

Finally, at the top left, you have the zoom lever. While the lever doesn't move as much as I'd like, the zoom control was smooth and accurate.

On top of the camera, you'll find a microphone, mode wheel, and shutter release button.

The mode wheel has five choices:

  • Manual Record
  • Record
  • Off
  • Play
  • PC

The plastic shutter release button doesn't provide enough tactile feedback. You cannot tell when the button is pushed down halfway... most of the time I ended up pushing it all the way down without knowing it.

On this side of the camera, you'll see the IO ports (hidden), and three strangely located buttons. Under a solid, rubber cover, you'll find the ports for USB, A/V, and DC in.

The weird buttons are for controlling some "manual" functions, that can be used in Manual Record mode. Your choices here are:

  • Focus
    • Macro
    • Auto Focus
    • Zone AF (1 - 2 meters)
    • Zone AF (2.5 - 3.5 meters)
    • Zone AF (near infinity)
  • Exposure [Compensation] (from -1.5EV to +1.5EV in 0.5EV increments)
  • Program AE
    • Iris [aperture] priority - f8.0
    • Iris priority - f2.0
    • Program AE
    • Shutter priority - 1/125
    • Shutter priority - 1/500

I'm not sure why you only get those choices for the priority modes... who knows?

Here's the other side of the SD5000, complete with SuperDisk. The disc eject button requires the camera to be on to remove the disk. The drive itself is safely protected by a plastic door that stays shut.

Finally, the bottom of the camera. Down here you'll find the battery compartment, as well as a metal tripod mount. The battery compartment door is sturdy, as are all the doors and covers on this camera.

Using the PV-SD5000

I'm going to discuss record (still and moving pictures) as well as playback mode in this section.

Record Mode

The SD5000 takes an unbelievable 11 seconds to warm up, before you can start taking pictures. The lens doesn't extend until the very end. I have no idea what's going on before then -- perhaps reading the SuperDisk?

Once you're finally up and running, things don't get much faster when taking pictures. You'll have to wait 7-8 seconds for the photo to be written to the card before you can take another one. Panasonic has come up with one nice feature to help out here though, called RapidFire. This feature lets you take several photos (ranging from 3 to 12) which are stored in memory. Once you fill up your quota, then they're all written to the disk. The shot-to-shot speed falls dramatically while you've got this on, so this is one feature you'll probably always want turned on.

Panasonic's menu system is really clunky. There are things in menus that shouldn't be, especially in playback mode. Here's what you can edit in Record Mode's menus (items in bold are for manual mode only):

  • Audio (5 sec clips with each photo, except TIFF and continuous)
  • Self-timer (cannot be used with RapidFire)
  • LCD Brightness
  • OSD (equivalent to the Display button on most cameras)
  • RapidFire (on/off)
  • White balance (Manual mode only - auto/halogen/sunny/manual)
  • Metering (Auto or Spot)
  • Slow Shutter (no idea just how slow though -- see the nightshot test for the disappointing results)
  • Time Lapse (Take a picture every so often -- from every minute to once a day. Use the AC adapter of course!)
  • Clock Set
  • Beep (on/low/high)
  • Quick Rec - "This feature allows quick recording on a floppy disk which is readable on this unit, however it may not be readable on another floppy drive"

Now onto photo quality. One of my big complaints about the SD5000's predecessor was the poor photo quality. Well, the SD5000 may have a 3.3 Mpixel CCD and the same lens as the highly rated PowerShot G1, but it's photos aren't even closed. I don't know what the problem is, but the photos in our gallery seem a bit too green and unsaturated. It's not just my camera though -- take a look at the Steve's Digicams gallery and you'll see the same thing.

In macro mode, it came out way too dark and unsaturated.

Back in Program mode, the lighting was fine, but the sharpness wasn't quite there.
Download a TIFF of this shot (2.6MB)

Things got pretty weird with the macro test, too. When I set the camera to macro mode, it quickly zoomed all the way out to wide angle, and the image on the LCD darkened. When I took the picture, it came out sharp, but way too dark and lacking color. So I turned off macro mode, things lightened up, but it wasn't quite as sharp as before. Panasonic says you can get as close as 6 cm in macro mode.

Things didn't get any better in our nightshot test, from Twin Peaks. The shot above was taken focused out to infinity, with slow shutter mode turned on. You'll find this shot in most of our other reviews for comparison. (If you want to see the best shot, check out the Canon EOS-D30 gallery.)

The SD5000 has a movie mode as well, which lets you capture up to 12 seconds of QuickTime video (with sound) at 10 frames per second. You cannot use the zoom during filming.

Click to view movie
(QuickTime format, 1.4MB)

Playback Mode

Like the menu system, I found the SD5000's playback to be clumsy as well. Features that are usually buttons on the camera body are forced into the menu system, including thumbnail mode and zoom and scroll. The zoom and scroll function specifically is implemented very poorly. To zoom into an image, you must hit the Menu button, change Display Mode to Zoom, hit Menu again, select the area you want to zoom into, hit the shutter release, and then you're zoomed. But once there, the only wait out is back -- you cannot scroll around in your zoomed image.

Another thing missing from Playback mode is information about the pictures (aside from data and filename), such as exposure information.

Scrolling between photos (high res to high res) takes 2-4 seconds, which is about average.

One nice surprise was a Multi Delete function, which lets you delete a group of photos. Finally, someone besides Nikon has added this feature!

Other features in playback mode including copying, DPOF print marking, and slide shows.

How Does it Compare?

The Panasonic PalmCam PV-SD5000 is a camera with a lot of promise when you look at the specs. But unfortunately, it doesn't deliver on those promises. The slow processing speeds, clunky interface, and poor photo quality leads me to believe this is a camera you should steer clear of. For the whopping price of $1099, you can do much better with one of the cameras listed below.

What I liked:

  • SuperDisk media - low cost per megabyte
  • Uncompressed TIFF mode
  • Movie mode with sound

What I didn't care for:

  • Photo quality disappointing
  • Slow access speeds
  • Clunky menu interface
  • Overpriced at $1099
  • It's too big and heavy
  • Unsure of SuperDisk benefit (aside from cost/MB)

There are tons of other cameras you'll want to consider before you buy. If you've got your heart set on a floppy-based camera, you'll want to check out Sony's Mavica line. Otherwise, some other good 3.3 Mpixel cameras include the Canon PowerShot S20 and G1, Casio QV-3000EX, Epson PhotoPC 3000Z, Fuji FinePix 4700, Kodak DC4800, Nikon Coolpix 880 and 990, Olympus C-3000Z and C-3030Z, Sony DSC-P1 and DSC-S70, and the Toshiba PDR-M70 (phew!).

As always, I recommend trying the SD5000 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?

Check out Steve's Digicams PV-SD5000 review!

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

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