Panasonic SDR-S100 review
Panasonic was one of the first camcorder manufacturers to enter the brave new world beyond DV tape, but its SD-card-based SV-AV100 never quite had the impact we hoped. Since then, JVC has been grabbing all the headlines with its Everio models, such as the GZ-MC500; this records video straight to the supplied 4GB Hitachi Microdrive. Now Panasonic is hitting back with a much more mature device, the SDR-S100.
The S100 is a direct competitor to JVC’s MC500, with both including three CCDs. However, where the JVC has three 1/4.5in 1.33-megapixel CCDs, the S100’s trio of CCDs are 1/6in with 800,000 pixels apiece. This means the JVC holds two advantages: the larger CCD size should perform better in lower light conditions, while more pixels increase the resolution of still photos. One area where the Panasonic wins out over the JVC, however, is its optical image stabilisation, which is considerably more sure-footed than the JVC’s electronic system.
The S100 records video to SD memory, with a 2GB card supplied. Although this is half the size of the 4GB Microdrive included with JVC’s MC500, Panasonic manages to squeeze 50 minutes of video out of it in SP mode. Panasonic’s proprietary MPEG2 compression means its SP setting is about twice as efficient as standard MPEG2.
The dinky 238g S100 is comfortable to use single-handed. There’s a built-in iris lens cover, which opens and closes automatically, and the 2.8in widescreen LCD is clear and surprisingly large for such a small camcorder. A decent range of manual controls is available too. No lens ring is provided, but you can focus manually using the jog dial on the back. The aperture can be controlled from f/2 to f/16, and shutter speed from 1/50th to 1/8,000th of a second. White-balance options include the usual automatic, fully manual, and indoor plus outdoor presets. Video gain can be adjusted from 0dB to 18dB, and Sports, Portrait, Low Light, Spotlight and Surf & Snow auto-exposure modes are available.
Despite the trio of CCDs working beyond their native resolution to provide 3.1-megapixel photos, the S100 can’t match the 5-megapixel JVC MC500 for sheer resolution. Maximum still image size is 2,048 x 1,512 but, while colour fidelity fell behind the JVC, overall contrast was slightly better.
Video performance in good lighting was nothing short of awesome, with superb colour fidelity, clear contrast and plenty of detail. The S100 also held its own in less favourable indoor conditions. It’s only if you go below around 60 lux – say, an indoor room lit by a standard lamp rather than overhead lights – that the S100 begins to struggle compared to the JVC, with noisier results.
Despite its high-end optical specification, the S100 is clearly aimed at gadget freaks rather than anyone serious about shooting video – it has no accessory shoe, no microphone input and no headphone jack. The lithium-ion battery pack can be removed, but as it’s enclosed within the body of the unit no extended life option is available either. The standard battery lasted for around 80 minutes, so it might be wise to buy a spare or two.
Unfortunately, it’s price where the S100 struggles: JVC’s MC500 costs under £800, including VAT, and you’ll need to buy an extra 2GB SD card for the S100 to match its capacity. Don’t dismiss the S100, though. If you’re after a pocketable point-and-shoot DV camera that shoots high-quality video, it’s a good choice.