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Snapping on a Whim

Panasonic's SV-AV10 is worth a shot for frivolous picture-taking


It's summer, which means plenty of weekend getaways. But without pictures to wow my friends at the office, it's as if those quick trips never happened.

No longer.

Though I'm no avid shutterbug, I've been hungering for a small, portable digital camera to snap stray shots of whatever piques my interest, be it a passing car or a street performer. The only dilemma has been price versus quality.

Panasonic's SV-AV10 is a solid compromise.

The price is decent, between $350 and $400. About the size of a deck of cards, the unit is compact enough to fit in my pants pocket.

If only it were a bit better, I'd be in paradise.

The device, part of Panasonic's "e-wear" line of highly portable, small electronic gadgets, is a perfect camera to have when you're out with friends or just want to take a few snapshots.

This is not the camera for highly detailed pictures of your best friend's wedding. It's one for recording the frivolity of the reception because it is easy to use with just one hand and is incredibly light, weighing about 3.5 ounces.

It's also feature-laden. Besides snapping pictures, it can record audio and video and play MP3 music files.

But what it boasts in ingenuity it lacks in practical use.

First, some basics. The SV-AV10 uses SD Memory Cards, a light and small storage medium that can handle multiple file formats, including MPEG4 video, JPEG images and MP3 audio.

The SV-AV10 comes with a 64-megabyte card, which is fine for holding hundreds of pictures, a few minutes of video and some audio files. It'll also use 128-MB cards, but there's only one slot for one card, so if you fill one up, you've got to turn off the device, pull out the card and put in another.

Getting the information onto the PC isn't convenient. You can't hook up the camera directly. Instead, the cards have to be put in a Universal Serial Bus reader-writer that comes with the camera. That means you have to take the reader with you if you want to e-mail pictures during your trip.

Using the SV-AV10 is fairly simple: Turn it on, flip open the 2-inch liquid crystal display viewfinder and decide whether to shoot some stills or go for full-motion video.

The menus are bright, colorful and easy to navigate. Once you've found your subject, press the button on top and the shot is done or the video rolls for as long as you'd like--at least until the memory runs out.

The quality of the images, though, leaves something to be desired.

During the day, my shots were relatively clear, but the small, quarter-inch CMOS image sensor with a 320-by-240 maximum resolution doesn't boast any zoom, so you have to be close to your subject.

Shooting at night isn't a problem with the built-in flash.

The pictures lose luster beyond any size larger than a 3-by-5-inch print. However, putting them on a Web site is ideal because they're small.

The video component is a nice touch, but don't expect to shoot any serious homage to Kevin Smith or make your film school opus. The motion is a bit jerky and sometimes the voices don't sync with the picture, but at least the camera does let you include audio.

A caveat: The built-in flash works only with photos, so nix any ideas of shooting movies in the dark.

If audio is your goal, you can listen to a card full of MP3s using the ear buds that are included. But you can only skip tracks; you can't fast forward to the middle of a song.

It's not a deal killer, but I didn't like having to endure the beginning of Chicane's "No Ordinary Morning" when all I really wanted to hear was the chorus.

My chief complaint is the lithium battery. When I used the device to play MP3s, the battery spiraled down in only two hours or so. That meant I had to drag the power brick around to keep it juiced up.

Generally, it's a fun audio-video device, but the lack of detailed pictures means it'll forever be consigned to casual use. If Panasonic can develop the same thing in the same size but with better imaging, it'll be a serious contender.

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