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The zoom control is very smooth and as long as you’re not too rough with it, the auto focus can keep up. Of course, I’m hoping that most camcorder users have progressed beyond the constant “zoom in – zoom out” antics that have traditionally plagued home movies. Please, for the sake of your viewers, set your focal length and then shoot your footage – having the focal point constantly jumping forward and backward doesn’t make for an immersive watching experience!
Both camcorders utilise a 1/4in 3CCD image sensor, providing 520,000 (x3) effective pixels. Theoretically the 3CCD system will provide better detail resolution than a single sensor setup, whether CCD or CMOS – something that Panasonic was keen to evangelise at the event. Like the Sony HDR-HC3, the new Panasonic models shoot at 1,440 x 1,080, and like Sony, Panasonic refers to this as full HD. Strangely the HDTV manufacturers are pretty convinced that full HD means 1,920 x 1,080, and since neither myself or the other journalists could figure out the discrepancy, we asked one of the engineers. The answer seemed to be that scaled 1,440 x 1,080 was good enough, while the reduced resolution also kept the size of the sensor down and ultimately the size of the device. It’s true that footage recorded at 1,440 x 1,080 does look exceptionally good, but I think I’d still like to see 1:1 pixel mapping if I had a 1,920 x 1,080 television!
Getting your footage off the SD1 couldn’t be easier – especially when you consider that most traditional digital camcorders don’t even come with a FireWire cable in the box. Since your video is written to SD card, you can simply whip the card out and stick it in a card reader or pull it direct from the camera using a USB cable. So when you take the bundled card into account, you really are getting almost everything you need in the box.
Like the Sony HDR-HC3, the HDC-SD1 has an HDMI port so you can watch you movies direct from the camcorder on you HDTV in all their high definition digital glory. Going back to my “almost” everything in the box, unfortunately you’re not getting an HDMI cable, but at least you do get a component video cable thrown in.
The SD1 will shoot in three quality modes with varying bit rates of 6Mbit/sec, 9Mbit/sec and 13Mbit/sec – the lower two settings utilise a variable bit rate, while the top quality setting records at a constant 13Mbit/sec. Using the middle “normal” setting, you’ll get an hour of footage on a 4GB SDHC card, and with 4GB cards available for around £45 online you should be able to carry a couple of spares in your pocket.