Compared to other camcorders reviewed at TrustedReviews, the AG-HMC151E's video quality can't really fail to impress. Without much adjustment, it produces truly stunning footage in most lighting conditions. We were also provided with custom settings from an experienced BBC engineer, which improved things still further. Thanks to the high data rate, there is little evidence of compression artefacts, showing how H.264 has taken over the high ground from MPEG-2.
However, the AG-HMC151E doesn't provide quite the best quality in its class. The sensor system uses a trio of 1/3in progressive CCDs, similar to most camcorders at this price. Panasonic hasn't stated the pixel resolution of these sensors publicly, but the AG-DVX200 didn't have Full HD CCDs. As a result, it worked best in 720p mode, and we couldn't tell much difference between 720p and 1080p with the AG-HMC151E's footage when viewed on an HDTV over HDMI, either, implying its CCDs are similarly limited. But it did keep plenty of its colour information in lower light. Sony's PMW-EX1's larger 1/2in sensors still makes it king in this respect, but the AG-HMC151E's gain control bumps brightness without much grain. So in environments where you have no control over lighting, this is going to be a capable performer.
Editing didn't prove to be a problem for 1050i-format footage. If your computer has an SD card reader, you can simply pop the memory media straight into that, or hook up the AG-HMC151E via its USB 2.0 connection and access it as a removable drive. The files were detected as regular AVCHD by all the apps we tried. Premiere Pro CS4 proved particularly smooth with AVCCAM footage. However, the Panasonic's 720/50p mode was more problematic. Premiere Pro didn't properly recognise it, and playback was very jerky, although Adobe allegedly has an update in the pipeline to combat this.
The Panasonic AG-HMC151E is more expensive than entry-level HDV models such as Canon's XH-A1 or Sony's HVR-V1E, and goes head-to-head in this respect with Sony's HVR-Z5E. However, the convenience of the SDHC recording media is undeniable, particularly if your work requires very quick turnaround. Where these other camcorders would require an expensive external FireStore drive to provide similar workflow, the Panasonic has the benefits of going tapeless out of the box. Now that SDHC media is cheap, and AVCHD widely supported by software, this is a very timely release, and a very solid choice for a variety of intensive shooting environments.
NB: Holdan Limited is a distributor of video editing and post-production equipment and the Panasonic AG-HMC151E is available to buy from a number of Panasonic retailers listed on its site.