Panasonic HDC-SD100 review

£635
Price when reviewed

Sony and Canon have adopted CMOS technology with open arms in their camcorders. But Panasonic has resolutely stuck with CCDs. At least, it did until the latest generation. The HDC-SD100 finally makes the switch to CMOS, although it still uses three smaller sensors rather than the single larger one favoured by Canon, Sony, and JVC.

The adoption of CMOS technology, accompanied by a new video processing engine, means greater claimed sensitivity. But the SD100’s predecessor, the HDC-SD9, already offered video quality which most would find sufficient and the newcomer only improves a little on its main weakness – low light performance. Although video is brilliant in most conditions, the best competitors using a single large CMOS, such as Canon’s HF10 and HF100, still surpass this camcorder in the poorest illumination.

Where the SD100 is really unique is in its features, however. Central to this is the manual focus lens ring. Hardly any consumer camcorders offer this mode of control, and Panasonic’s version is particularly well realised. This is just the beginning. Flick a switch and the ring controls the zoom instead. Press another button, and a menu appears offering white balance, shutter and iris options. The ring then scrolls through them, and once you have selected one, you can then use the ring once more to configure your chosen setting. It’s the best control system we’ve seen in any current consumer camcorder.

The SD100 also includes a viewfinder, a feature no other AVCHD models offer. You probably won’t use it very often, but it will come in handy when bright conditions mean the LCD is hard to see. Of course, it goes without saying that there’s a full-sized accessory shoe for attaching external peripherals, alongside minijacks for hooking up a microphone and headphones.

Even point-and-shooters are well catered for with the iA Intelligent Auto mode, which develops the friendly features of Panasonic’s previous generation. In regular shooting, this simply enables Intelligent Contrast. But when it detects human faces, the recognition system kicks in alongside the Portrait scene mode to ensure correct exposure and skin tones. When the light drops, the Low light scene mode is enabled automatically.

Nevertheless, serious professionals will be most interested in this model, particularly as it all comes in a package weighing under 400g, thanks to the use of SDHC Flash memory. Feed in a 16GB card and you have two hours of storage even at the top 17Mbits/sec data rate. If the supreme portability of the HDC-SD100 doesn’t quite entice you, try the HS100 instead. This has exactly the same features, with the addition of a 60GB hard disk, for around £60 more. Either one puts an unprecedented level of features at your fingertips.

Specifications

Camcorder HD standard 1080p
Camcorder maximum video resolution 1920 x 1080
Camera megapixel rating 0.6MP
Camcorder recording format AVCHD
Accessory shoe? yes
Camera optical zoom range 12.0x
Camera optical image stabilisation yes
Electronic image stabilisation? no
Screen size 2.7in
Touchscreen no
Viewfinder? yes
Built-in flash? yes
Number of sensors 3

Audio

External mic socket? yes

Storage

Integrated memory N/A
Camcorder internal storage type N/A
Memory card support SD/SDHC Card

Accessories

Remote control? yes

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