Panasonic's HDC-HS300 is currently our favourite high-end camcorder. It boasts a heady combination of excellent image quality and comprehensive features for enthusiast videomakers. But it also costs over £800. Fortunately, the HDC-HS300 has a cheaper brother, the HDC-HS200. Costing under £700, what has been removed to keep the costs down?
One thing which hasn't changed at all is the imaging system. Like the HS300 and its sibling the TM300, the HS200 uses a trio of 1/4.1in CMOS sensors (which Panasonic calls 3MOS). Each one has a gross 3.05-megapixels. So there's more than enough resolution for Full HD video, and still images at 7.95-megapixels.
However, there are quite a few features missing compared to the HS300. The internal hard disk is just 80GB, rather than the 120GB in the HS300. This is still perfectly adequate, providing enough space for nearly eight hours of video even at the top quality setting. This operates at 17Mbits/sec with Full HD resolution, although there is no progressive option.
The most significant absence, however, is a lens ring, the inclusion of which makes the HS300 and TM300 such potent options for the enthusiast videomaker. Without this facility, the HS200 relies entirely on its touch-sensitive LCD panel for all manual adjustments, although the range of options is the same as the HS300's.
In auto mode, you can still call upon the AFAE mode, which was added with this generation of Panasonic camcorders. This is a single-touch system, similar to that pioneered by Sony over five years ago, but much more sophisticated. Enabling this mode and selecting a point in the screen sets this as the reference for focus and exposure. Not only that, the camcorder will track the reference point if it moves, or if you move the camcorder, ensuring that it is always in focus and exposed correctly.
Whether in auto or manual mode, the touchscreen provides speedy access to buttons for backlight compensation, intelligent contrast, macro mode and colour night view. Switch to manual via the button on the camera body and further options appear for configuring white balance, shutter, iris and focusing. The latter isn't that easy to use with just the touchscreen, although there is an assist function which magnifies the centre of the screen during focusing to provide a clearer view.