Just like London buses, you wait all year for a fully-featured AVCHD camcorder, then two come at once. In the case of the Panasonic HDC-HS100, this isn’t so surprising as it’s the sibling of the HDC-SD100, in the same way that the HDC-SD9 is the sibling of the HDC-HS9. Where the SD100 records exclusively to SDHC flash memory cards, the HS100 uses a hard disk instead.
The hard disk has a 60GB capacity, which isn’t as large as the top models in JVC and Sony’s ranges. But it’s still enough for 7.5 hours of footage even at the HS100’s top HA quality setting. This records at 17Mbits/sec, which is still the highest data rate of any AVCHD camcorder currently available, although there are models due later in 2008 that will exceed this. The hard drive pushes the HS100’s weight to 482g with battery, 100g more than the SD100. It’s also about 1cm fatter.
The HS100 is Panasonic’s second camcorder to sport CMOS sensors instead of the company’s usual CCDs. But it still uses three smaller 1/6in units, rather than the single larger one favoured by virtually every other manufacturer now, even JVC. Whilst three sensors have traditionally allowed a better colour signal, one large CMOS has proven the better choice for low-light performance in consumer models.
Thanks to the fatter body, the HS100 shifts its camera/VCR mode dial back to the rear, with the record button in the middle – a more familiar location for Panasonic camcorders. The joystick remains in its new position on the side, underneath the LCD, which is nowhere near as convenient as with earlier designs. But, as with the SD100, you don’t actually need to use it for the main manual functions. Thanks to the lens ring, these are actually easier to access and use than ever before.
The lens ring has two primary modes. Flick the nearby switch once, and the ring performs manual focusing duties. A second flick and it becomes an alternative zoom control to the one on the top of the camcorder’s body. But the lens ring has still more functions than this. The CAM FUNC button beneath the focus/zoom switch calls up a short onscreen menu, giving access to White Balance, Shutter Speed and Iris. The lens ring then scrolls through the options, with the CAM FUNC again used to make a choice. The lens ring then configures the settings. The HS100 has a healthy four white balance presets, as well as manual and automatic options. Shutter speed can be varied from 1/50th to 1/8000th, and iris from F16 to F1.8, with the ability to add up to 18dB of video gain on the top. Shutter and iris can be varied entirely independently, too, for complete control.