Last week I found myself out in the Canary Islands enjoying some very warm weather, a superb helicopter ride and a short jaunt on a camel! The reason for this expedition was the opportunity to get my paws on Panasonic’s new high definition camcorders – honestly! What better way to test a camcorder than from a helicopter swooping down over volcanoes?
The big news was the announcement of two new high definition camcorders, using the AVCHD H.264 standard – that in itself is reason enough to rejoice, as anyone who’s filled their hard disk up with HDV footage will tell you! With your raw footage already efficiently compresses, it will make storage far less of a concern, while the need to edit and offload big projects won’t be as pressing.
The big difference between the two models is that the HDC-SD1 uses SD cards to record the video, while the HDC-DX1 uses DVD discs. I spent most of my time with the former and I was pretty impressed overall. I’m a firm believer in flash memory as a digital recording medium, and now that SDHC cards are available, busting through the previous 2GB limit, the format looks even more compelling. Impressively, Panasonic actually bundles a 4GB SDHC card in the box – quite a boon, considering that most traditional camcorders don’t even ship with a tape in the box!
Weighing in at only 430g, the HDC-SD1 will be hardly noticeable in your bag, while dimensions of 74 x 69 x 142mm mean that it won’t take up much space either. But it’s not just the size and weight that impressed me, the SD1 is also very comfortable to hold and use, while the light weight makes one handed operation an option. One handed operation is made all the more tangible by the fact that Panasonic has also implemented optical image stabilisation so you can get the best out of the Leica Dicomar lens. With a 12x optical zoom, that OIS definitely comes in handy at the telephoto end!
General handling on the SD1 was superb. Sliding my hand through the strap allowed me to wrap my fingers around the barrel for a very solid grip. Holding the camcorder in this way means that most of the main controls will be easily accessible by your thumb and general operation soon became instinctive. The start up time on the SD1 was also impressive, with a rough guess at around five seconds from powering on to shooting – that’s not great by digital still camera standards, but for a camcorder it’s pretty damn good. The upshot being that you’re more likely to catch those impromptu movie opportunities with the SD1.