Panasonic HDC-SD5EG-K review

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Buying a camcorder is increasingly confusing. Not only do you have to choose between standard and high definition, there are at least four different types of recording format available. Panasonic’s HDC-SD5 opts for the relatively new AVCHD, recording to SD cards, and as such it’s one of the smallest camcorders you can buy.

The SD5 manages to fit a trio of CCDs onboard. However, each one is only 1/6in and offers 560,000 pixels. Nevertheless, Panasonic has squeezed Full HD recording out of the SD5, so the top resolution is 1,920 x 1,080. In this mode, you can fit around 2hrs 40mins of video onto a 16GB SDHC card, or you can choose one of the more economical 1,440 x 1,080 modes to squeeze more footage onto a card. The SD5 also takes still images, but only at 1,920 x 1,080.

Panasonic doesn’t include an SD card in the box, although 8GB will add only about £45 to the price. The SD5 has no accessory shoe, microphone input or headphone output, and what looks like a focus ring actually unscrews the built-in lens cover. But the joystick-controlled menu system offers a reasonable range of manual settings. The aperture and shutter speed can be varied independently. The former can be set between f/16 and f/1.8 with up to 18dB of video gain on top, and the shutter from 1/25th to 1/8,000th of a second. You can also turn on Panasonic’s Intelligent Contrast system, which enhances detail in bright and shadowy areas.

With its small CCDs, the SD5 was likely to fall down in low light and this is its Achilles heel. In poor illumination, video loses its colour and becomes grainy – a problem accentuated by the AVCHD compression system. But in full daylight, the colour fidelity was very good thanks to the three-sensor system, and image quality was perfectly acceptable in decent indoor conditions.

The Panasonic HDC-SD5 isn’t a perfect camcorder. Its lack of auxiliary inputs and poor low-light performance won’t endear it to anyone with serious video-making intentions. But it’s charmingly tiny, with a surprisingly healthy range of manual controls and decent video quality in more clement conditions.

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